Checking In To Michigan

Halfway through the NISA Championship Tournament we catch up on what has been going on since they arrived in Michigan
Published Sep 27, 2020


By Nina Capriotti

On Sunday, September 20th, Cal United Strikers took flight from LAX Airport bound for the NISA Championship Tournament in Detroit, Michigan. Upon arrival the team took a bus to the Marriot in Troy where all eight NISA teams are staying. After first arriving in Michigan, every player and staff member league-wide were administered COVID tests. Fortunately, not one player, coach or staff member tested positive for COVID-19.

But getting through the COVID testing was only the first hurdle.

The team had one day to train before they had their first match of the tournament against the New York Cosmos. With this being their first time playing against the legendary club, the team knew they would need to be flexible and play their game. Don Ebert made sure to let them know that the teams that are the most flexible in the bubble will be the teams that succeed. Without much knowledge of the Cosmos, Cal United had a game plan to start off quick and try to keep the pressure up throughout the game.


Left to right: Steven Barrera warming up. Omar Nuño getting his mind right 

The first 25 minutes of the game turned out to be a bit of a feeling out period as both teams shared bouts of possession but offering no real threat to their opponent. As Cal United started to settle into the match, they became more dangerous and the breakthrough finally came in the 40th minute. The defense fed a ball into Shinya Kadono who turned and threaded a perfectly weighted through ball to a sprinting Christian Thierjung. On a breakaway, Thierjung faked one way then hit a shot across the goal that was parried right into the path of 16 year old Shane Kaemerle who calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net for his first professional goal. We asked Shane how he felt after scoring “It feels amazing to score a professional goal this age, and thinking back at it it still almost feels as if I was dreaming”.


Left to right: Shane Kaemerle after scoring his first professional goal. Christian Thierjung and Shane Kaemerle post game after each scoring a goal against the New York Cosmos

Christian Thierjung, who like Shane Kaemerle was developed in the Strikers FC youth system, had this to say about his young teammate: “Shane is a really skilled and talented soccer player. He has great vision on the field and is very good with the ball at his feet. Given the fact that he’s so young, can hold his own on this team, play significant minutes, start numerous games and score his first professional goal, it’s a fantastic accomplishment. The future is very bright for Shane and I’m honored to join him out on the pitch and grateful that he is a crucial part of our squad. He will continue to play a big role on this team and help us win games”.


Left to rigth: Starting XI against Los Angeles Force. Signed ball for Shane Kaemerle's first professional goal. Shane Kaemerle receiving the signed ball from his team

After the first goal was scored Cal United could feel the momentum shifting and solidified their win with a second goal from Christian Thierjung. “After scoring the 2nd goal I immediately kept thinking, let’s keep going. We had a great combination in the midfield, where Mike played a fantastic ball in behind their defense for me to run onto and slot one past their keeper. Especially, as an attacking player, you are always thinking to push for another goal to put the other team away. 2-0 is a very dangerous lead in soccer, especially against a good team like the Cosmos” says Thierjung.

The team had two days of rest before they would take on their rivals Los Angeles Force on Friday September 25th. During that time the players had morning training and got to spend some quality bonding time together. Many players packed boardgames and their Xbox and Playstation consoles to continue their competitiveness off the field. Many have also been making sure to get their treatment in with Jill Ayres who has been a huge asset to maintaining the health of the players. As professional athletes, the player’s jobs are all about taking care of their bodies to make sure they’re healthy and ready to compete on the field. That means there’s a lot of work off the field they have to do, especially in a tournament environment with so many games in quick succession.


Left to right: Evan Waldrep with Christian Thierjung and Shinya Kadono on their way to lunch. Shinya Kadono and Aydan Bowers playing nintendo switch waiting for treatment. Kevin Jeon, Gustavo Villalobos, Aydan Bowers playing a board game. Shane Kaemerle, Christian Thierjung, Evan Waldrep, Aydan Bowers, Shinya Kadono walking back from dinner during sunset.

On Friday, Cal United Strikers met fellow So Cal team, Los Angeles Force who have emerged to become an organic rival. Former Cal United player, Cristian Gordillo who is now with Los Angeles Force ended up scoring a hat trick in the game against them, adding fuel to this ongoing rivalry. The intensity was evident from the opening whistle and the battle between these two teams produced arguably the best game of the tournament thus far. The match was played with good hard soccer but was unfortunately marred by a couple hard fouls that forced two of Cal United’s players, Xavier Fuerte and Duncan Capriotti to leave the game early with injuries that will likely keep them out for the remainder of the tournament.

In In the 36th minute of the game, LA Force broke through and made a run in the box where Michael Bryant’s late tackle was whistled for a penalty kick that resulted in the start of Cristian Gordillo’s hat trick. With the injuries and fouls that had gone on the referee added 4 minutes of stoppage time to the first half. In the 46th minute Cristian Gordillo had his second goal of the night with a flick header to the back post off a free kick.

At halftime coach Don Ebert made a few adjustments with the most significant being Omar Nuño whose presence during the second half completely changed the momentum. In the 58th minute, Omar Nuño bodied one of the Force’s defenders off the ball near the side of the eighteen, cut back towards goal, and hit a bending right footed shot to the back post to make it a 2-1 game. “Scoring that goal was a big relief for me. Not only because it was what the team needed to score a goal, but also to help build my confidence” said Omar. With that goal, the game opened up creating an intense back and forth between the teams. In the 69th minute Cristian Gordillo would capitalize for his third goal of the night before being subbed out. But Cal United refused to give up. In the 74th minute, Nuño bicycle kicked the ball to the back post where Christian Thierjung was waiting and scored his second goal for the tournament. Cal United continued to press and had a few good chances that could have been put away, but the game ended in favor of LA Force at 3-2.



Left to right: Xavier Fuerte with Cristian Gordillo during the coin flip before game against LA Force. Chris Klute with the ball against LA Force. Pre-Game team talk. Xavier Fuerte and Duncan Capriotti post LA Force game in the ER with injuries.

With that result, Group B is now wide open and it’s all to play for in the final group match. Cal United has a game on Monday against Chattanooga FC where a win will see them advance to the Semi-Finals. “Monday is a must win game. We are doing everything we can to prepare ourselves for that and as long as we come out the way we played the second half on Friday we will get the job done” says Omar about the game on Monday.

You can watch the game on BeIn Xtra Monday afternoon at 2:00pm PST.