The next step of Sacramento Gold FC's 2015 postseason campaign will see the squad travel a few hundred miles down Interstate 5. A third consecutive spot in the West Region Final is on the line, but a familiar and motivated opponent awaits in the semifinals.
Saturday night, Sacramento faces a team looking to break through while earning some playoff redemption in the process. In the latest edition of “Know Your Opponent,” learn more about the San Diego Flash.
Founded: 1998 (revived 2010)
City: San Diego, CA
Stadium: El Cajon Valley HS
Director of Operations: Robb Watson
Head Coach: Warren Barton
One of the oldest clubs in the league, the San Diego Flash was originally founded as a pro soccer club in 1998. The Flash competed in the A-League until 2001, when the club folded due to management and financial concerns. However, the team returned to the field at the beginning of the decade thanks to the efforts of former English Premier League striker Warren Barton and former U.S. National Team forward Eric Wynalda. After an exhibition season in 2010, the Flash joined the NPSL's Southwest Division in 2011.
The new ownership group certainly has the pedigree for a return trip to the professional ranks. In addition to former pros and current FOX Soccer analysts Barton and Wynalda, the ownership is controlled by San Diego Soccer Partners, Inc., which is headed by former Flash part owner Clenton Alexander. Barton also uses his expertise as head coach, with help from assistant coach and former Flash pro Jerome Watson.
Part of the reason for such a heavy-handed ownership group is the attraction of a tremendous location. Home to Major League Baseball's Padres and the National Football League's Chargers, San Diego is also part of the major soccer hotbed of Southern California. With three universities in the city, as well as several clubs in the surrounding area, the beautiful city also provides the flash with ample weapons for its arsenal.
As for a stadium, the club has been a bit less stable. Since opening its exhibition season in Balboa Stadium, the Flash has bounced from Westview to Del Norte and Mira Mesa High Schools. San Diego has already used three different fields this season, beginning at Lincoln High School and shifting to Serra High School later. The club's current home is El Cajon Valley High School located at the far east of the city.
Since joining the NPSL in 2011, San Diego has been among the Southern California powers, making the playoffs in each of its five seasons. The Flash has also claimed three conference titles along the way (2011, 2012, 2015). However, San Diego has yet to win a playoff game, having been eliminated by Sacramento (2011, 2014) and the Sonoma County Sol (2012, 2013). The Flash will be out for revenge Saturday night.
Brandon Zuniga: Perhaps no one on the Flash is hotter right now than Zuniga. The former Cal State San Marcos star (tied for the program record with 10 goals in one season) has been striking the back of the net for San Diego since 2012. Zuniga has been crucial in the late minutes of games, scoring the winner over Temecula FC to clinch the Southwest title. He also netted a brace in a vital 3-2 win over Deportivo Coras USA U-23 late in the season.
Blake Milton: The Flash has also relied on youth to propel it to a first round bye this year. One of San Diego's youngest players (22), Milton is among the team's top scorers on the season. Quick and often tough to mark, Milton can be relied on to put games out of reach for San Diego's opponents. Milton and Zuniga are two important pieces of the Flash attack, which helped San Diego tie for the West Region lead in goal differential (21).
James Stroud: Of course, the other factors of the tremendous goal differential are a strong defense and great goalkeeping. To the latter's end, Stroud has been the man between the pipes for San Diego. His quick reflexes and swift decision-making helped the Flash post two clean sheets this season. Just once has an opponent scored more than two goals in one game, and two goals were allowed only twice. The lesson: score on San Diego, keep the ball.
San Diego has responded from early bumps in the season to put forth arguably its best season since joining the NPSL. After surviving the Southwest Conference rounds, the Flash suffered a convincing loss to FC Tacoma 253 in the final leg of U.S. Open Cup qualification. After two wins to start the regular season, the Flash had their worst defensive performance in a 3-1 loss to Coras in April.
Since then, the Flash has not lost a single game, with its last draw coming in May. Powered by two 8-1 wins over Temecula FC, San Diego climbed back into contention in a race to catch the fast-starting Coras. The Flash has won its last five games, its last two being a 3-2 win over Coras which essentially clinched the Southwest conference title and a 2-1 win over Temecula to make it official.
All-Time Regular Season Results:
Sunday, May 15, 2011: Sacramento 1 @ San Diego 3
Sunday, May 27, 2012: San Diego 3 @ Sacramento 1
All-Time Playoff Matchups:
Saturday, July 9, 2011: Sacramento 2 @ San Diego 1
Saturday, July 5. 2014: San Diego 1@ Sacramento 2
Saturday, July 18, 2015: Sacramento @ San Diego, 6:30 p.m., El Cajon Valley HS
Three Things You (Probably) Didn't Know:
From 2011-2013, the Flash was one half of the San Diego Derby, an annual contest against fellow NPSL club San Diego Boca FC (later San Diego iCon FC). The rivalry came from the teams' owners, with both ownership groups having been part of the original A-League Flash ownership. The rivalry ceased when Boca folded after the 2013 season.
The old San Diego's former league, the A-League, was the MLS of its time. Originally the American Professional Soccer League, the A-League served as the top-flight soccer league in the United States until Major League Soccer's introduction in 1996. The league later rebranded itself as the USL First Division (2004) and USL (2015). Former A-League teams include the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers, Montreal Impact, Vancouver Whitecaps, Atlanta Silverbacks, Puerto Rico Islanders, California Jaguars, and Sacramento Geckos.
San Diego is playing with a heavy heart this season. On Valentine's Day 2015, Flash CEO Clent Alexander passed away due to illness. The loss has left San Diego devastated, with dozens of former coworkers, fellow San Diego soccer powers, and higher-ups across minor league soccer providing fantastic memories and heartfelt memorials. Alexander was also a proud advocate of organ donation, having his life saved earlier due to donations.