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A New Bay Area Clásico? SF's El Farolito and Oakland Roots Set to Battle in Hayward

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Three men wearing soccer equipment and kits play on a field with a goalie in the background.
Despite playing in different leagues, San Francisco's El Farolito soccer team (in yellow and blue kits) will face off against the Oakland Roots on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, thanks to U.S. Open Cup rules. The Roots beat El Farolito at last year's Open Cup second-round match on April 4, 2023, pictured above, and El Farolito head coach Santiago López says his players are looking forward to a rematch. (Courtesy of Oakland Roots SC)

Two Bay Area teams — one hailing from San Francisco and the other representing Oakland — face off on Tuesday.

Both teams boast storied histories and steadfast fans. But this isn’t the Giants and A’s we’re talking about, but rather San Francisco’s El Farolito soccer team vs. Oakland Roots Soccer Club.

This crucial match, kicking off at Cal State East Bay’s Pioneer Stadium in Hayward at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, marks the third round of the U.S. Open Cup — the oldest soccer competition in the country that brings teams together that usually play in different leagues.

Stream the game live here.

Keep reading for everything you need to know about this uniquely Bay Area face-off.

The taquería that started a soccer team

If the San Francisco team name sounds familiar to you, that’s because, yes, it’s named after the longstanding local taquería chain El Farolito, with 12 locations all over the Bay Area.

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The taquería chain’s founder Salvador López, who passed away in 2021, started the team in 1985, and whose players sport a bright yellow and blue soccer kit in the same color palette you’ll see in any of the El Farolito taquerías. Since its inception in 1985, the team — which has now risen to play in the semi-professional National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) — has charted a very successful path for itself, winning multiple regional and national championships.

El Farolito players balance all the responsibilities of being on the team with other full-time jobs. Some, like goalkeeper Julian Escobar, grew up in the Bay Area and came up playing for other local teams. But many in the team were recruited from professional teams across Latin America — striker Dembor Benson, for example, was a professional player in Honduras before joining El Farolito, where he has stood out in this year’s Open Cup, scoring the winning goal in the last two matches.

And there’s a special energy this year among the team, says head coach and general manager Santiago López, who is Salvador’s son.

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The team started training in early January, much earlier than in previous years – something that combined with extra preseason games “really helped us out to get the team together and get into the competition mentality and the weekly routine,” López says. “If it wasn’t for the early start, we wouldn’t be in this type of rhythm.”

‘Win it all or lose it all in one game’

The El Farolito team has started the season without missing a single beat. The team is currently leading the standings for their conference in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) with three wins and one draw. All of this is happening as they also play in the Open Cup, where teams from all over the country compete in a knockout format.

It was El Farolito’s first win in this year’s competition — against Timbers 2, the reserve squad for the Portland Timbers of the Major League Soccer — that brought renewed attention to the team and its unique standing in San Francisco’s Mission District.

“We’ve done a lot more interviews and seen more photographers coming out,” López says of the heightened attention on his team. But his players nonetheless “still have a lot of ground to cover,” he says. “The group is very motivated for this opportunity.”

Motivation will be critical in Tuesday’s game against the Oakland Roots — the same team that knocked out El Farolito 3-1 in last year’s Open Cup.

The Roots, along with 15 other USL Championship clubs, are joining the Open Cup in the third round due to competition rules. The East Bay team is coming in hot after a 3-2 win against El Paso Locomotive in the USL Championship season, putting them back in the clear for playoffs. With two goals in that match, forward Johnny Rodriguez became the team’s all-time league scorer.

The knockout format of the Open Cup will make Tuesday’s game especially exciting, says Tommy Hodul, vice president of public relations for the Roots.

“You can win it all or lose it all in one game,” Hodul says, adding that “you have to prepare just as well as you do for a USL Championship game — no matter who the opponent is.”

Despite playing in different leagues, the Roots and El Farolito usually play each other during the preseason, and Hodul says his team is “well aware of what [El Farolito] brings, and the talent that they have on the roster.”

Playing against El Farolito, he says, is “a really good test for our guys getting ready for the USL Championship season.”

Soccer is here to stay in the Bay

For longtime soccer fans all over the Bay Area, Tuesday’s game is another example of how much soccer has grown in strength locally. In a time when other sports are seeing teams leave the Bay, soccer’s role in the region’s identity has only grown.

Last month, the Bay FC kicked off their season — a first for the team and for Northern California, its first National Women’s Soccer League team. A year before that, Oakland Soul — part of the Roots organization — joined the USL W League. And even the most casual of soccer fans had to admire the latest kit released by USL League Two’s San Francisco City FC, which features bright orange California poppies, Sutro Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge and the parrots that flock on Telegraph Hill.

If El Farolito goes on to win the Open Cup, it would be a replay almost three decades in the making. The team already tasted championship glory in this competition back in 1993, when it went by the name of CD Mexico.

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“We’re very focused on what we need to do,” coach López says.

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