This is as close as you can get to a true David vs Goliath match in the United Premier Soccer League Quarterfinals between the Colorado Rush and the LA Wolves FC. Both of these teams have had excellent seasons and are playing top form footy going into what will play out to be a gauntlet of soccer for the team that keeps winning.
The UPSL National Playoff format starts with eight teams who each won their respective conference, which in turn earned them the ticket to Los Angeles to face the best of the best in a two-day slug fest to decide who will raise the cup. At this point in the season all the teams that made it this far are deserving and quality sides but the way it shook out, Rush will have to climb a massive mountain to advance to the semi finals.
Rush is coming off a stunning victory over FC Boulder to win the Colorado conference where both teams fought all the way until the game was decided in a shootout where Rush keeper Shailer Thomas made a brilliant save to punch their ticket to Nationals and give Rush a 5-4 victory over Boulder. They finished their inaugural UPSL campaign with a record of (9-2-5) and are in top winning form heading into Nationals. Shailer Thomas offered up his thoughts on the season and how they will approach the Wolves in the Quarters.
SoccerNation: It was a tough road getting into the National playoffs and you were called on to save the day in the championship game. Can you talk a bit about the playoffs and the game against Boulder to make it to Nationals?
Thomas: “As playoffs came closer our back four definitely stepped up to the plate. We could not have done it with out their solid performances across multiple games. We finished pretty well in playoffs enough to get us by. In the game against Boulder I think we should have put them away much earlier and missed some open chances. We were up a man for over 35 minutes. However, we got the job done, it doesn’t always have to be pretty.”
SoccerNation: You started the season on a tear going unbeaten in seven games and then hit a little slump but were still able to take care of business at the end of the season. How were you able to rebound and pull it all together at the end of the season to finish top of the division?
Thomas: “We started the season in top form, it’s a long season though so ups and downs will come. We weathered the storm pretty well when we were struggling to pull out games. I mean we were still tying teams and grabbing a point. We started to hit our stride again and a little luck for some other teams to drop some games in order for us to finish on top of the table. It all really came down to us scoring goals. Our goal differential was the highest in the league, but if we would have finished all of our chances it would have been +40 or +50. During that slump we just struggled to put the ball away at times.”
SoccerNation: You drew the LA Wolves FC in the quarterfinals and they have only dropped one game in the UPSL this season. What are you expecting from them and what will you guys have to do to win the game?
Thomas: “LA is a good team. I’m sure we can expect them to be disciplined and move the ball well. Any team is beatable, we just have to make sure we finish our chances and don’t lose the ball in bad spots. We are a great team, we just have to prove it.”
Wolves FC is the mountain that Rush will have to climb if they want to see the semi finals and it will not be an easy task. The Wolves finished the season at (17-1-0) and are led by U.S. Soccer legend and Hall of Famer Eric Wynalda. Wolves FC recently won a State Cup Championship and will have the chance to win a National Championship in early August. They will also be looking to add the UPSL League Trophy to their case.
SoccerNation: You’ve been coaching these guys since January and have had one heck of a season, can you tell us a little bit about the season and how returning to coaching has been?
Wynalda: “I wanted to get into coaching again and I was put in a great situation when I came here and already had a lot of good players. The two loses that we have on the season came early in the season and then the second was in the U.S. Open Cup and I take sole responsibility for both of them. We were able to win the State Cup this year and I was extremely proud of my guys.”
“The season really says a lot about the guys and their dedication to fitness. Some of them are looking to make the jump to the next level and we usually get out and train three times per week.”
SoccerNation: You will square off against Colorado Rush in the quarterfinals and haven’t played them before. Is there anything that you’ll need to do differently to prepare?
Wynalda: “Anyone who has played soccer in the west from a youth age knows who Rush is and we have a good amount of respect for the club. We won’t be changing anything going into this match and will prepare the same way we always do. This is going to be a tough weekend because it’s three games in 36 hours if you make it to the final.”
Each of these teams are in form and have a solid amount of momentum to carry with them after winning their respective divisions. Rush will play the role of the underdog in this match up and are definitely looking for the early upset and to extend their run to the semi finals. Rush head coach Joe Webb echoed his thoughts about the quarterfinal match.
Webb: “We are really excited about getting the opportunity to play in the UPSL National Playoff and in the upcoming quarterfinal against the LA Wolves. The Wolves have been reputed to be the best pro development team in the country, We always want our players to compete with the best clubs in the country and we enjoy playing at these high level competitions. If you take a look at what both teams are capable of, throw a possible UPSL Cup in the mix, and then your sure to have a good match up taking place here.”
The UPSL Ed Eid Cup/ Colorado Conference Championship was as about as exciting as it could get, all of the clubs in Colorado Conference worked hard this year and the results were really good. The teams in the Conference were super competitive, and the playoffs really tough. Its been a great season but now we look forward to representing Colorado in the UPSL National Playoff.”
The tournament starts on Saturday July, 29th at SilverLakes Sports Complex. Kick off for the quarterfinal game will be at 10:00 am.