There are amateur soccer teams that want to be a community outlet for players. Then there are amateur teams that have ambitions to enter the professional ranks.
Count LA Wolves FC in that second group. The UPSL outfit, who beat Cal FC 2-1 in the second round of the 2016 U.S. Open Cup qualifiers last weekend, is on the cusp of qualifying for the Open Cup for the first time. But the hope is it’s just the beginning for them as a club.
Wolves president and general manager Yan Skwara spoke exclusively to SoccerNation.com this week about his club and their ambitions.
Although the club is in their league playoffs in the UPSL, Skwara noted reaching the Open Cup is the biggest priority at the moment.
“We’re one game away and that’s our focus right now,” he said. “We’re not really looking at anything else but that game and we’ll know in a few weeks who our opponent is.”
One of the issues for amateur teams who reach the qualifiers, let alone the proper tournament, is the breaks between games and the challenges for team cohesion. Players who are not professionals may have to work, for example, and may not be available to play in a key match. But Skwara said that amateur teams often have to think strategically in order to position themselves best for a competition like the Open Cup.
“In many ways it is very similar to how a pro team runs, because you’ve got to manage your roster professionally, and that’s really the trick of the U.S. Open Cup, at least from my perspective. You have to prepare in advance what your roster is going to look like. You have to check who’s going to be available and who’s not.”
The current incarnation of the LA Wolves began play in October 2014, but have consciously reached back to a chapter of Los Angeles soccer history in crafting their identity, sharing the name with the former NASL team that helped found the original league in 1968.
“The history of the LA Wolves is significant. A lot of people don’t realize this, but the LA Wolves were the first professional soccer team in Los Angeles, in 1967,” Skwara said.
“Just over a year ago, I was looking to establish a club here in the Torrance area, and a colleague of mine and I were just discussing some name options and that name came up, and we saw that the name had been abandoned,” he explained. “So we grabbed the name and ran with it, and we formed the club.”
Given the professional roots of the first LA Wolves, is the current club looking to move beyond the amateur ranks and go professional in the future?
“As we’ve grown, we’ve picked up new sponsors, new investors that agree with the vision that we have, which is a professional vision for the club,” Skwara said. “We would like to see the club at a professional level. At this point we’re reviewing the different options that are available, and at the same time I think it’s important to stay focused on the product on the field, because things come a lot easier when you perform and put wins on the board.”
“[The UPSL] was a great starting point for the LA Wolves, because there are a number of very good teams that compete in the UPSL…It’s been a good fit to launch the team into the community.”
As for the team itself, which has included former LA Galaxy and Chivas USA midfielder Paolo Cardozo, Skwara highlighted the contributions of a trio of players: Goalkeeper Kifi Calani, who he called “hardworking and dedicated,” Malian defensive midfielder Sori Keita (“very dedicated, very loyal…an iron man”), and midfielder Duncan Capriotti, who “quietly does his job.”
Are any of those players laying the groundwork for a pro version of the LA Wolves in the future? Stay tuned, but in the meantime, they’ve got one more game to win before they’re in the 2016 U.S. Open Cup. If their ambitions are any indication, it could be the first of many such appearances.