UPSL’s Sporting AZ Proves The American Dream – Defeated Drogba’s USL Team in PKs
In a country where the idea of capitalism allows everyone an opportunity to succeed, it’s only natural that we see a soccer tournament that does the same.
America is known as the land of opportunity. In American soccer, there is a tournament that allows for established professional soccer clubs to be challenged and even defeated by upstart amateur clubs. The tournament that I am talking about is the US Open Cup, and while success is measured differently for each club that qualifies, even one magical night in the tournament can stay with some for a lifetime.
Tim Marchisotto grew up a soccer fan in Syosset, New York in the 1970s.
For him, it was watching the New York Cosmos play in the North American Soccer League (NASL) and the New York Isles of the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL). He actually spent most of his childhood playing at the Shep Messing Soccer World, an indoor complex named after the Cosmos legend Shep Messing. After competing for Syosset High School and the Syosset Soccer Club, Marchisotto continued his soccer career collegiately at SUNY Cobleskill in Upstate New York.
After two years there, Marcisotto transferred to Arizona State where he would be introduced to a different side of soccer. “Arizona State didn’t actually have a men’s soccer program and I had already sustained an injury playing,” laughed Marchisotto. “But, we did have an indoor soccer team, the Arizona Sandsharks. That was kind of my first soiree into professional soccer in terms of learning the business side of things. I always knew that I wanted to coach, but I always knew that I wanted to run a franchise.”
Unfortunately, that would not last long for Marcisotto.
The league folded after his first year with the team and Marcisotto was forced to move back east. “I was coaching soccer at a camp in Long Island and was offered an assistant coaching job at Bowdoin College,” said Marchisotto. “I was 25-years-old at the time so I said yeah sure, and that was the start of my coaching career.
From there, Marchisotto moved on to become the Head Coach at Stevens Institute of Technology where he helped the team qualify for the NCAA Tournament in his first season. Marchisotto then moved back west again to become the Head Coach for Division II powerhouse Grand Canyon University. Marchisotto stayed out west, accepting his next job as the Head Coach of a Paradise Valley Community College before spending his next three years as the Head Coach for the Division I Arizona State Sun Devils. After a successful spell there, Marchisotto went back to Grand Canyon as Head Coach, then as Assistant Coach position at Embry-Riddle University before getting the opportunity to start the soccer program at Benedictine University, where he still coaches to this day.
Marchisotto’s time spent out west coaching at the collegiate ranks laid the groundwork for what would become one of the greatest nights in Amateur soccer that this Country has ever seen.
“When I moved back in the 2000s, the Arizona Sahuaros were up-and-running and I became the Assistant Coach for the team,” added Marchisotto. “This was my introduction to professional soccer.”
Throughout the 2000s, the Sahuaros played in three different professional and amateur soccer leagues. The hiring of Petar Draksin as the Head Coach from 2003-2009 saw the club bring in many talented players and winning many significant games and leagues.
After moving to the USASA in 2009, the club was essentially stagnant. “We weren’t really doing anything,” said Marchisotto. “In 2016, the son of one of my former youth players approached me and suggested reviving the club.”
Marchisotto would take over as Head Coach and the team re-branded as Sporting AZ. Without a youth team in the club, Sporting formed a roster through multiple channels.
“It’s threefold,” said Marchisotto. “Number one we get players from open tryouts. Then we will have invitation-only tryouts. The third is we get calls and recommendations from coaches that are trying to place kids. Whether it be someone that’s not in college yet that needs a new platform to showcase their skills or a college coach that needs somewhere for his players to play during the offseason.”
The club then joined the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) in 2017 where it would go on to win the Arizona Conference and make a National Quarterfinals appearance in year one.
The following year, history was made.
Sporting AZ hired Aidan Davison as Head Coach for the 2018 campaign, moving Marchisotto into the General Manager position.
The club won the UPSL Southwest Conference and made it all of the way to the National Championship game.
The successful UPSL campaign saw the club’s birth in the US Open Cup. The Cup allows for any Amateur or Professional Soccer Club in the United States to compete for the trophy if the clubs are able to qualify.
All Major League Soccer clubs are given an entry into the tournament, while clubs at lower levels either have to go through qualifying or enter at earlier stages. After surviving the qualification rounds, Sporting was pitted against National Premier League’s FC Arizona for a “Rivalry in the Desert”. Sporting got the best of its rival in a 1-0 victory in the club’s tournament debut.
Nobody predicted what was about to happen next.
A first-round victory saw Sporting move into round two. The opponent? The mighty Phoenix Rising FC of the United Soccer League (USL).
Not only was the club a member of the second division of professional soccer in the United States, but the club was actually owned by Chelsea FC legend Didier Drogba.
A late goal by Sporting tied the match at one against the heavily favorited Phoenix club before heading into extra-time and eventually penalty kicks, where Sporting put away five of six PK’s to record the biggest upset in US Open Cup history.
While the regulation time score was 1-1, the 5-4 PK victory was historic. Phoenix Rising’s Chris Cortez opened the scoring in the 65th minute and Daniel Arrubla equalized for Sporting in the 67th minute. Phoenix had the majority of possession, the better passing accuracy and more shots on goal. But Sporting AZ won and advanced in the U.S. Open Cup to the next round In every way, this was a match to remember and encapsulates the American dream.
“It was an amazing night, it was electric,” said Marcisotto. “It was one of those nights that I’ll remember the rest of my life and it still gives me goosebumps to think about it.”
Marchisotto’s not the only one who felt that way either.
“It’s something people still talk about, people still remember,” said Marcisotto. “I remember I went into a pub and someone recognized who I was and said that they still remembered that game and it was an amazing night.”
I love to hear people saying, “I was there.”
As for the future, the club plans to build off of past success. Marcisotta and company have built strong partnerships with successful business professionals who have soccer backgrounds to ensure the successful continuation of the club.
Gennaro Buonocore is a 25-year veteran of the investment banking and capital markets sector. Buonocore is an investor for SSC Napoli of the SerieA, the first division of Professional soccer in Italy. Heber Venezuela has served as Director of Marketing for Phoenix Rising FC and has recently come on as one of Sporting’s partners.
Andres Abadia is an International Marketing Specialist and alumnus of Arizona State University. Antonio Rosacci owns his own law firm and is a member of the FBI Phoenix Citizens Academy Alumni Association. “It’s all of us coming together and bringing together our different resources and skillsets for what we do and what we’ve done within the game,” said Marcisotto.
“It’s pretty exciting. Two out of the three years, we have been one of the top amateur clubs in the Country and we want to maintain that.”