Republican or Democrat, the strategy was the same for Southern California lawmakers Wednesday night: Stop Attorney General Rob Bonta.
“Take out Bonta and we win,” said Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, told his teammates.
With fewer than three weeks to go before the end of the legislative session, about two-dozen lawmakers took to the pitch to let off some stress, raise money for charity and gain bragging rights by capturing the coveted (sort of) Capitol Cup.
Teams were divided up by region, not party, pitting Southern California politicians against their counterparts from the north.
While the pre-game activities were filled with jokes and banter, players locked onto the ball after the opening whistle, sprinting and diving over two 25-minute halves at Cristo Rey High School.
Bonta, who turns 51 next month, called himself “old and slow” before the game. He turned out to be neither. As he looked for open lanes and teammates, he drew as many as four southern defenders at once.
Twice, the former captain of the Yale University soccer team lofted balls from the middle of the shortened field, sending them past the outstretched arms of the Southern California goalie. His ball handling skills led to oohs and ahhs from the crowd and praise from Sacramento Republic FC players on the sideline. The club helped host the event.
Republic FC midfielder Nick Ross and Jack Gurr, a defender, said they appreciated the quality that Bonta and others brought to the match. At halftime, the two professionals sounded like television analysts breaking down the action.
“Bonta is the man,” Ross said.
At one point in the second half, he deftly shielded a defender, before quickly turning and kicking the ball past the Southern California keeper. It was his third goal on the night.
“That’s my AG,” said an onlooker in the stands, filled with legislative staff, lobbyists, friends and family. “Magic man strikes again,” said Ross, when asked about the goal.
The legislators wore jerseys donated by some of the state’s professional soccer teams. And the event raised $50,000 for Stanford Sierra Youth & Families, a Sacramento-based nonprofit.
“Any opportunity we can have to come together and have a good time is always welcome,” said Assemblyman Robert Rivas, D-Salinas, while taking a break during the match. And it was a reminder to find more time to exercise in his busy schedule, which includes his push to become the next Assembly Speaker.
“It’s an exhausting game,” Rivas said.
Even though talk of bipartisanship, camaraderie and charity dominated, no such occasion is politics-free.
On Thursday, the fate of hundreds of bills were set to be decided by appropriations committees in both the senate and assembly. Lawmakers acknowledged the deadline was on their minds.
As if they needed another reminder, Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, chair of the appropriations committee, was head referee.
“He’s the most important man in my world this week for a lot of reasons,” said Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, D-Woodland Hills, captain of the southern team.
Portantino couldn’t help but chuckle.
“It’s a good position to be in,” he said.
Still, when the match was over, Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R-San Luis Obispo, said he wasn’t thinking about politics or bills.
Instead, his thoughts were on the plays his northern teammates made during their 5-2 victory.
One was a looping cross by Bonta, a Democrat, placed perfectly in the penalty area in front of the southern goal. There, Cunningham met the ball with this head, sending it into the back of the net.