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May 29, 2011 - Lamar Hunt US Open Cup

DV8 SC finished up its season achieving something that no one thought was possible at the beginning of the year: an opportunity to take on professional teams and play to hoist the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

DV8 played in the United States Adult Soccer Association Region IV qualifier in Sacramento, and dominated group play in dramatic fashion. Although the Redwood City side fell short of a penalty kick victory in the championship, DV8 earned one of the two USASA berths in the U.S. Open Cup.

"It was a valiant effort by the lads," coach Eduar Mafla said. "If you told me nine months ago when we were preparing for this tournament that we would score 14 goals and only concede two goals in group play, I would have perhaps expected the opposite."

DV8 kicked off the tournament against CV Eagles FC, the champions from Tracy. The Defenders scored in the first five minutes, and after that the floodgates were open. DV8 used its 3-5-2 formation to create space on the pitch and carried a 3-0 lead into halftime. The rest of the match saw goal after goal scored by the Defenders, who finished with a 9-0 victory.

"We were very happy with the result," manager Tono Aspinall said after the match. "We play in a competitive league against some quality opponents and 9-0 was the best result we have had all season." The second game was against San Francisco Italian AC. DV8 scored three first-half goals to secure the win, placing it atop Group A with six points. All seven substitutes were used in the second half for the team, which only needed a tie in the third and final group match to proceed to the tournament finals and qualify for the Open Cup.

The Defenders dominated early against their next opponent, New Mexico Metro FC, and nearly scored several times. However, the longer the game went on, the more frustrated the team became, and in the final minutes of the first half N.M. Metro capitalized on a goalkeeper error near the edge of the penalty area to take a 1-0 lead. The tide would turn for DV8 just minutes into the second half, when a N.M. Metro player was booked with a red card. Utilizing the man advantage, the Defenders equalized with a superb diving header goal. Unfortunately, the next 35 minutes proved to be the worst half of soccer for DV8 during the entire tournament. Another goal was conceded as a N.M. Metro winger made a fantastic run down the flank and crossed the ball in between two defenders to find the lone striker waiting inside the six-yard box for an easy tap-in.

"We played our worst half of the tournament in that one," Mafla said after the game. "We should really have been up three or four goals by halftime, but it was one of those games where things just didn't go our way."

The Defenders pressed hard into injury time and finally a much deserved penalty was awarded as one of the N.M. Metro Defenders took down a DV8 player in the area. The penalty was converted and the referee blew his whistle shortly thereafter, calling the end of the game.

The entire DV8 squad celebrated in elation as the club had just made it to the finals and qualified for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in dramatic fashion.

"We are very happy to advance to the U.S. Open Cup," Aspinall told reporters. "This is our first time in the tournament, so we weren't sure what to expect, but our guys were up for the challenge. We didn't expect to advance, but luck was on our side with the draw that we got and we made the most of our opportunity."

Although the Defenders had already clinched a berth in the Open Cup, they still had the championship game against Doxa Italia FC, the winners of Group B, left to play. Doxa Italia, the storied squad from Southern California with a history of tournament success throughout the nation, proved to be a formidable foe for DV8.

About 25 minutes into the match, it was DV8 who struck first with a fantastic strike from a set play that found the net. The score would remain with DV8 in the lead until the 78th minute, when Doxa Italia equalized from a set play of their own.

The teams remained deadlocked for 90 minutes and an additional 30 minutes of overtime was added. Chances came from both sides, but with such equal talent, penalties were inevitable. Eventually, Doxa would beat out DV8 in penalties and claim to be the Region IV champs. However, the Defenders walked away with their heads held high as they achieved what they set-out to do: Qualify for the Lamar Hunt tournament.

"We have a very special team," Aspinall said. "They are amazingly talented players, with a great sense of teamwork and pride, and I feel so privileged to have witnessed and become a part of this memorable moment. It will definitely go down as one of the greatest highlights of my managerial career. US Open Cup, here we come!"

The team's first round match in the Lamar Hunt Cup will be on June 14, 2011.