By Gabe Zitrin
With the final whistle blown on the third annual Bay City Derby, San Francisco City FC says goodbye for now to some familiar faces, including past and future teammates, on the University San Francisco Dons squad. But the next game brings a new storyline that few would have anticipated a year ago. When SF City heads to Palo Alto to take on the reigning back-to-back NCAA champion Stanford Cardinal on Friday, they’ll find no fewer than five future teammates lined up against them, most still basking in Tournament glory.
While USF has always been a natural strategic partner for SF City given their close ties in the San Francisco community (and as of 2017, shared home stadium), City have significantly ramped up their operations with the influx of talent from such a major national program. In just their second Premier Development League season, it’s clear City intend to forge ties throughout the entire Bay Area in their push for San Francisco soccer greatness.
“Stanford is a local phenomenon to San Francisco fans,” said SF City President Jacques Pelham, “their players are Bay Area players, people we get to say we saw play, from John Elway to Jordan Morris. It’s a name the kids in the community recognize and look up to from a very young age, it’s a place a lot of them dream of being one day.”
Of course, the same could be said of Stanford archrival UC Berkeley (well, if you replace Elway with Aaron Rodgers and Morris with David Bingham), and the Golden Bears have made their mark on City, too, in the form of defender Trevor Haberkorn. Will we see more Cal players in the future, and City become the famous rivalry’s demilitarized zone? Pelham just smiles. “Club soccer makes for some strange bedfellows.”
It certainly did for Morris and Stanford striker Foster Langsdorf, soon to join SF City after winning co-Player of the Year in the Pac-12 in 2016. Products of rival MLS academies, they battled hard for Seattle and Portland’s youth teams, respectively, before joining up at Stanford to put past differences aside and win a championship together.
Sam Werner, Stanford and soon-to-be SF City midfielder, is another Timbers Academy product. He had similar observations on the eve of battling his future teammates. “It’s kind of fun making those connections all across college soccer,” Werner said. “Almost any game I’m playing, I’m going against players I’ve known from somewhere. That’s the setup with the amalgam of the PDL.” As one of a growing number of college standouts looking to stay sharp in the PDL between NCAA seasons, Werner saw San Francisco as an ideal spot. “It’s a great destination just to be able to spend time outside of being on the field,” he said. ”I have teammates playing for the Burlingame Dragons, too, so that’s going to be a fun rivalry game.”
But before enjoying the benefits of their growing South Bay partnership, City will have to fight for respect first against the champs, after having lost 4-1 in Palo Alto last year to a team coming off a national title and building towards what would become another. Strong play by their soon-to-be teammates is just one more obstacle to overcome in a game every SF City player is intent on winning.