Inocentes FC (IFC), a Ft. Worth based team in the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL), has already had a dream first year. Two UPSL Central Conference Championships (Spring and Fall seasons) were followed by recognition as Club of the Year by Protagonist Soccer, a media organization that covers lower tier soccer in North America. The inaugural year’s work is not done for IFC, however, because the club has a chance to cap off this dream year with another trophy this weekend.
The UPSL Fall National Champion will be crowned this Saturday evening when IFC travels to Southern California to meet Cal United FC II at Harbor College’s Seahawk Stadium in Wilmington at 9:00 p.m. Central time (7:00 local time).
Inocentes FC arrives at this championship match after first winning the Central Conference Fall title. They finished the regular season with an 8-2-2 record, second place in the North Division. IFC then won three Conference playoff games: first against Atletico Katy FC on penalties, the semifinal match against Houston FC and a big 2-0 road win over their local rivals Dallas Elite FC in the Conference Finals. This Final was a rematch of the Spring season Central Conference Final, which was also won by Inocentes FC.
The road warriors then traveled to Savannah, Georgia for a National Semifinal match against Southeastern Conference representatives Germantown City FC on January 26. An Oscar Romero penalty was the first of three goals in the first 50 minutes, leading IFC to a 3-1 win and into the National Final.
Inocentes FC has a fascinating background and is a textbook example of an ambitious local soccer club. The club was originally founded in San Jeronimo, Jalisco, Mexico in the 1960’s. When some of the players immigrated to Ft. Worth in 1979, they banded together to form a team that began play in the Ft. Worth local leagues that year. After winning numerous local championships the club decided to take the next step and join a national league, becoming one of the founding teams in the Central Conference of the UPSL last Spring. Further background on the club can be found in this link:
Head Coach Luis Alcala comes from a lineage of Inocentes FC players. He joined the club when he was 14, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. He admitted that the club has been a bit surprised by the club’s rapid 2018 success. “We saw ourselves [eventually] playing for national championships, but to actually be there in this amount of time, it actually surprised us.”
The final will be the toughest test yet for Inocentes. Cal United FC II finished the Fall season with an 8-0-0 record and a stunning plus 52 goal differential. They defeated their semifinal opponent Logrones SC from Denver, Colorado 9-1. This is the second team for Cal United, who will join the NPSL Pro league when it starts up later this year. Cal United originally planned to join the professional North American Soccer League (NASL) before it suspended operations. The club has been playing a second team in the UPSL while exploring its professional options, before selecting NPSL Pro as a landing spot recently. Multiple players from the club have already graduated to the professional ranks.
Alcala recognizes the difficulty of the opponent, but the IFC is not daunted by the task. The club has limited access to information on Cal United FC, but he admits it will be a tough task to travel west and face a club with the talent present at Cal United “Some of their players have actually had the opportunity to play at a pro level. We have players who could have, but never did [play professionally].” Alcala continued, “It’s fair that they are the favorites, but I tell my guys we are not underdogs we are just unknown.”
When Inocentes FC joined the UPSL in 2018, 80% of the players on the roster played for the club in the final local league season or had previously played. IFC did add a few players from tryouts and Alcala is a believer in the talent present in the DFW Metroplex. “We came to the UPSL so guys locally could have the opportunity to play at a higher level, who maybe didn’t have that chance.” The club currently has a U20 team that plays in the local league, and plans to establish a reserve team next year to provide additional opportunities for local players.
IFC will travel to Southern California in separate groups on Friday, because some of the players won’t be able to depart until after work. Despite the expense, the club is demonstrating its class by bringing all players who made a game day roster during the season, even if they will not be part of the roster for the Championship game. This will obviously be an expensive trip, especially given that the team already had to travel to the East Coast for the semifinal. Inocentes FC is a high-level amateur club and lacks the kind of revenue sources found in a professional club. The club has set up a GoFundMe page for donations to assist in covering the trip expenses. The UPSL is providing some financial assistance, but it will not come close to covering the cost of the trip. Any donations are greatly appreciated by the club.
The challenge will be difficult, but Inocentes FC has demonstrated the ability to travel and win in difficult road environments. Alcala finished by talking about the motivation the team will use when traveling to California tomorrow. “The guys are ready. They don’t feel like they are underdogs. They are playing for everybody in Texas who supports local soccer and supports the movement to give everybody an opportunity to be successful and do something they love.”
Match details and live streaming information is below. We will be rooting for IFC to bring back, what we hope will be, the first of many trophies for Texas soccer teams in 2019.