The 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup begins this Sunday at 8 am Los Angeles time, but while those in the USA’s most populous state will be keen to watch the USA play on Monday (11 am) and their former country Mexico play on Tuesday (8 am), Californians could be calling another nation home too.
And no, I am not talking about another of their former countries, Spain, who plays on Wednesday (8 am), but I am talking about a California National Team!
At first thought, many would look at this and think that California would not be able to produce a respectable squad because the USA itself often fails to produce a Top 10 team.
However, when compiling a list of 26 players, it quickly becomes apparent that a California National Team could do real damage in North American competition, paving the way for a chance at qualifications for the FIFA World Cup itself.
Here would be a list of potential California players from the Top 2 leagues in the US and the top leagues from around the world, plus the corresponding nation they currently represent. In bold would be my 26:
In addition to these players, there are many more players that are in the youth levels of various club teams like the San Diego born 12 year old Cristiano Ronaldo Jr. In addition to youth players, there are plenty of senior level players that would qualify for a California Men’s National Soccer Team but are not listed here because they were not born in California. For example, LA Galaxy goalkeeper Johnathan Klinsmann was born in Germany, but grew up in Newport Beach. There are plenty more eligible players and some like Johnathan Klinsmann are sons of former greats.
Now, where would this team rank?
Just looking at my starting 11 in a 4-3-3 formation from current FIFA 23 ratings, this is how the California National Team would rank on the video game:
GK: Josh Cohen (NA; ~70)
LB: Julián Aruajo (70)
CB: Ryan Hollingshead (71)
CB: Aaron Long (73)
RB: Alex Roldán (66)
LCM: Sebastian Lletget (70)
CDM: Luca de la Torre (71)
RCM: Cristian Roldán (75)
LW: Michael Hoyos (69)
Striker: Haji Wright (69)
RW: Paul Arriola (73)
GK: 70; Defense: 70; Midfield: 72; Attack: 70; Overall: 70; ☆☆☆
Purely off of current FIFA 23 ratings, my starting 11 would be a 70 overall rated side, with a 3 star rating. This would probably be Top 10 in North America, and definitely Top 16 which would qualify California for the Gold Cup.
In the context of World Rankings, this California side would probably rank some place between #50 and #100 just off of talent alone. With good results, this team could rank even higher.
While Cristian Roldán will be the highest rated player, my 26 will be notable because it will include some big name European based players including UEFA Champions League and Israeli Liga Leumit goal keeper Josh Cohen of Maccabi Haifa, Turkish Süper Lig star striker Haji Wright of Antalyaspor, and Spanish LaLiga midfielder Luca de la Torre of Celta Vigo.
In addition to the European based players, Michael Hoyos will be included who is a journeyman across many leagues in South America playing in the top domestic leagues and the Copa Libertadores.
Brandon Vazquez and Milan Iloski will lead the team in club level goal scoring with Brandon Vazquez scoring 18 goals and assisting on 8 in MLS competition in the 2022 season and Milan Iloski scoring 22 goals and assisting on 6 in USL Championship competition in the 2022 season. Haji Wright is on track with these two so far in the 2022-2023 Süper Lig season scoring 9 goals and assisting on 1 across just 12 matches for Antalyaspor.
The biggest weakness appears to be defense, but I picked my players off of the eyeball test and in match statistics and when looking at the starting back 4, all of them play at a high level. Their FIFA ratings really do not do them justice. For example, Alex Roldán is rated in the 60s, but was an MLS All-Star in the 2021 season and starts for El Salvador as their best player. He consistently causes trouble for teams like the USA and Mexico. This level of play should warrant a rating in the 70s like his brother Cristian Roldán. And then, for Julián Araujo, he is a 2x MLS All-Star (2021 and 2022) and has played for both the USA and Mexico National Teams at the age of only 21. Maybe his 70 rating is accurate, but as he gets older, he is expected to reach an 80 rating, suggesting he probably plays somewhere between these two ratings.
And then Josh Cohen is not in FIFA 23 and so I just assumed a 70 rating, however it could be higher or lower. But, his experience this UEFA Champions League Group Stage suggests he is better than a 70 rating.
Now, another method to judge the players would be off of in match ratings. We can see the starting 11 below:
GK: Josh Cohen (6.4)
LB: Julián Aruajo (6.87)
CB: Ryan Hollingshead (6.74)
CB: Aaron Long (6.83)
RB: Alex Roldán (7.03)
LCM: Sebastian Lletget (6.86)
CDM: Luca de la Torre (6.50)
RCM: Cristian Roldán (7.09)
LW: Michael Hoyos (NA ~ 7.0)
Striker: Haji Wright (7.08)
RW: Paul Arriola (7.09)
*Haji Wright’s rating comes from the Turkish Süper Lig, Michael Hoyos does not have a rating to be found, Luca de la Torre’s rating comes from Spanish LaLiga, and Josh Cohen’s rating is from the UEFA Champions League in a group which featured PSG of France, SL Benfica of Portugal, and Juventus of Italy. All other players’ ratings came from MLS play.
Now, for the coaching staff, I have selected some key people born in California to run the program. Again, there are key people who moved to California and have lived in the state that probably would coach for them like Cobi Jones, but to make things less complicated, I just chose those born in California.
For Head Coach/Manager, Landon Donovan would be the man. He currently manages San Diego Loyal in the USL Championship, the second division. For General Manager and Assistant Manager, I would have Tony Beltran, the current Assistant General Manager for Real Salt Lake of the MLS. Nick Rimando would be the Goalkeeping Coach as he was a long time MLS All-Star and US National Team player. And Carlos Bocanegra would be the Technical Director (and Scout), a position along with Vice President that he fulfills with Atlanta United in the MLS.
There would be many more faces on the staff, such as multiple assistant coaches and set piece coaches, but these will be the main faces.
And surely former German and US National Team Head Coach, Jürgen Klinsmann, would be involved given that he has lived in Newport Beach and Huntington Beach for a very long time. If Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger can become California’s Governor and thus Head of State and Head of Government, surely a German born soccer genius can become California’s Head Coach or an assistant.
Now, is all of this just made up for nothing?
Actually, it is not. There is a California National Team part of the California Football Federation, a member of the World Unity Football Alliance (WUFA), a FIFA for non-FIFA members. There are others like the WUFA such as CONIFA. Each of these generally holds a World Cup for their member nations. CONIFA is notable for featuring sovereign-states and claimed but not recognized sovereign-states such as Kiribati and Northern Cyprus.
In the WUFA, most members are former countries, often brought together by those who wish to re-create their nation.
California is an example of this and the California Football Federation is largely connected to the broader Calexit Movement, a movement which wishes to make California an independent and sovereign-state like it was for a few weeks after the Bear Flag Revolt.
Hawaii also has a national team widely supported by those that want to bring back the independent Kingdom of Hawaii that existed until the 1890s. They play in CONIFA.
Surely, Honolulu-born and US international Bobby Wood would be a key player for them, and Hawaii would probably do well in their Qualifiers because they would probably play in Oceania meaning that Hawaii with their actual full lineup could legit be the #2 team in their continent.
But, back to California, where over 38 million people call home, as well as the soon to be World’s 4th largest economy with a huge soccer culture.
In this great state, we see major clubs like the LA Galaxy, LAFC, and the San Jose Earthquakes, as well as giants in the second division like Orange County SC and Sacramento Republic, and then when you throw in college, high school, and other youth levels, you start to see the soccer ecosystem that could transform California into a World Cup nation, especially with the expanded format to 48 teams.
In fact, California would be poised to have their own professional league system and their own collegiate system, in addition to their already existing junior collegiate and high school systems, plus high level club youth soccer.
And when looking at infrastructure, California itself could host their own World Cup with stadiums exceeding 40,000 in Los Angeles (2), Pasadena, Inglewood, Fresno, Oakland, Santa Clara, Berkeley, Stanford, San Francisco, Anaheim, San Diego, and another San Diego venue likely to be expandable to 40,000 with another in Carson. There are more 40,000+ seat stadiums when looking at racing sports, but that would be very unlikely and five baseball stadiums were already included.
But most importantly, California already has the players and staff to support a national team at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, as well as awesome jerseys you can buy on the California Football Federation’s website.
Simply put, a California World Cup team would be a legitimate team.
But for now, most Californians are glad to be in the USA and rooting on the Red, White, and Blue. And those who are not will most likely be cheering on another nation, probably Mexico.