On soccer pitch, California lawmakers set aside political differences. At least for a night

·3 min read

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.

Neither happened.

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.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, prepares for the coin toss in his role as head referee as state legislators from Southern California, left, and Northern California, right, prepare to play against each other in the annual Capitol Cup charity soccer game Wednesday at Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento. A check was presented to Stanford Sierra Youth and Families during halftime at the bipartisan match, which featured lawmakers wearing jerseys from clubs in their home areas and which Sacramento Republic Football Club played a large role.
State Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, prepares for the coin toss in his role as head referee as state legislators from Southern California, left, and Northern California, right, prepare to play against each other in the annual Capitol Cup charity soccer game Wednesday at Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento. A check was presented to Stanford Sierra Youth and Families during halftime at the bipartisan match, which featured lawmakers wearing jerseys from clubs in their home areas and which Sacramento Republic Football Club played a large role.
Southern California Assemblyman Steve Bennett, left, D-Ventura, ties on his shoes and chats with Northern California Assemblyman Robert Rivas, D-Salinas, before NorCal and SoCal state legislators face off in the annual Capitol Cup charity soccer game Wednesday at Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento. A check was presented to Stanford Sierra Youth and Families during halftime at the bipartisan match, which Sacramento Republic Football Club also helped make happen.
Southern California Assemblyman Steve Bennett, left, D-Ventura, ties on his shoes and chats with Northern California Assemblyman Robert Rivas, D-Salinas, before NorCal and SoCal state legislators face off in the annual Capitol Cup charity soccer game Wednesday at Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento. A check was presented to Stanford Sierra Youth and Families during halftime at the bipartisan match, which Sacramento Republic Football Club also helped make happen.

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.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta, right, is congratulated on his goal by Northern California teammate Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R-San Luis Obispo, as they play state legislators from Southern California in the fifth annual Capitol Cup charity soccer game Wednesday at Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento. Northern California beat Southern California 5-2.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta, right, is congratulated on his goal by Northern California teammate Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R-San Luis Obispo, as they play state legislators from Southern California in the fifth annual Capitol Cup charity soccer game Wednesday at Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento. Northern California beat Southern California 5-2.
State Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, right, celebrates a Southern California goal with fellow Sen. Henry Stern, D-Los Angeles, with a chest bump and hug as they play against Northern California in the annual Capitol Cup charity soccer game Wednesday at Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento.
State Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, right, celebrates a Southern California goal with fellow Sen. Henry Stern, D-Los Angeles, with a chest bump and hug as they play against Northern California in the annual Capitol Cup charity soccer game Wednesday at Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento.

“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.

Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Beach, jokes with Southern California teammate state Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine, on the sidelines during the second half of the annual Capitol Cup charity soccer game Wednesday at Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento.
Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Beach, jokes with Southern California teammate state Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine, on the sidelines during the second half of the annual Capitol Cup charity soccer game Wednesday at Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento.
Northern California player Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, right, R-San Luis Obispo, gets a shot past Southern California goalkeeper Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Los Angeles, but misses the net during the Capitol Cup charity soccer game Wednesday at Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento. Northern California beat Southern California 5-2.
Northern California player Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, right, R-San Luis Obispo, gets a shot past Southern California goalkeeper Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Los Angeles, but misses the net during the Capitol Cup charity soccer game Wednesday at Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento. Northern California beat Southern California 5-2.

“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.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge and chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, walks back on the pitch for the second half of the annual Capitol Cup charity soccer game Wednesday between Northern and Southern California legislators at Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento.
State Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge and chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, walks back on the pitch for the second half of the annual Capitol Cup charity soccer game Wednesday between Northern and Southern California legislators at Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento.

“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.

Three Northern California players who had key performances in their 5-2 win over Southern California California Attorney General Rob Bonta, center, goalkeeper and Assemblyman Marc German, right, D-Palto Alto, and Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, far right, R-San Luis Obispo, mingle after this years annual Capitol Cup charity soccer game Wednesday at Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento. A check was presented to Stanford Sierra Youth and Families during halftime at the bipartisan match, with help from Sacramento Republic Football Club.
Three Northern California players who had key performances in their 5-2 win over Southern California California Attorney General Rob Bonta, center, goalkeeper and Assemblyman Marc German, right, D-Palto Alto, and Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, far right, R-San Luis Obispo, mingle after this years annual Capitol Cup charity soccer game Wednesday at Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento. A check was presented to Stanford Sierra Youth and Families during halftime at the bipartisan match, with help from Sacramento Republic Football Club.