San Nicolas FC: 2015 UPSL champions
San Nicolas FC of the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) is a young club, and it’s already building a strong reputation.
The Pomona (Calif.)-based club has qualified for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup for the first time this year and has gained standing as a hard-working group with big aspirations. They have been on a roll as of late, winning their final five league matches to finish fourth in the Southeast division standings and qualify for the playoffs. They kept that streak rolling and won the UPSL championship, defeating fellow 2016 Open Cup qualifier LA Wolves FC in the title game.
“We literally had to win every single game to clinch the last spot to get in (to the playoffs),” said San Nicolas general manager Daniel Collazo.
Their difficult road to the championship started with a win over old rival and fell 2016 US Open Cup qualifier La Maquina FC. After San Nicolas rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win their quarterfinal meeting, 3-2, a brawl broke out. According to Collazo, La Maquina’s goalkeeper was sent off but after the match was over, he confronted the San Nicolas player involved with the incident that got him sent off. The situation escalated quickly.
When the dust settled, San Nicolas advanced to the semifinals, later winning the championship game, but the incident was reviewed by the UPSL. After San Nicolas lifted the trophy, the review was completed and the league ruled that San Nicolas would be suspended for the first six games of next season, while La Maquina would be suspended for the entire campaign.
“It was very hard, to receive the six-game suspension,” said Collazo, who has an Open Cup resume that includes being the general manager of PSA Elite.
However, the suspension could be viewed as a blessing in disguise with a busy schedule ahead of them. The UPSL actually did two things: They suspended them six games and because the venue where the brawl took place — a common field for many teams in the division — banned both teams, the league moved San Nicolas to a new division, requiring additional travel. Starting off with six losses, and all the extra travel made it a lost season for the club, so they decided to field a B-team in the league and focus their efforts on the Open Cup, the Silver Mug International Tournament in Las Vegas (of which they have won three times) and friendlies.
The club has played friendlies against United Soccer League clubs LA Galaxy II and OC Blues this year, and recently defeated the UPSL Arizona’s Phoenix Monsoon, 3-0. They have another friendly scheduled with NPSL club Deportivo Coras USA next on Friday, May 6.
The team travels to Arizona to take on the Premier Development League’s (PDL) FC Tucson at Kino North Stadium in a Lamar Hunt US Open Cup first round game on Wednesday, May 11.
“All the players come from different backgrounds and they have a lot of different things to do, but they’ve kept a piece of their mind on this task,” said Collazo.
New head coach Jose Botello, who spent time in the 1990s with the Los Angeles Galaxy and is an accomplished youth coach in Southern California, has a talented roster to work with. The most notable name on the roster is former Cuban international and Major League Soccer veteran Maykel Galindo, but the Lions have a range of talented players.
Amilcar ‘Mike’ Lopez and Eduardo ‘Lito’ Barba were San Nicolas’ top scorers during qualification, and Collazo expects stalwart goalkeeper Cesar Castillo, a former standout at Sacramento State, to be in between the pipes.
“Our priority this season, what we wanted is to bring the reinforcements,” Collazo said. “There’s a lot of leagues in [Los Angeles], and the core of the players are constantly playing together.”
The club only had to win one game to qualify for the Open Cup. Their opening match was forfeited when their opponent, Corinthians USA, failed to register enough players. However, the forfeit proved to be costly as the two teams decided to play the game anyway, even though Corinthians had forfeited. Unfortunately, Galindo, San Nicolas’ 34-year-old star veteran, suffered an injury and missed their second round game.
However, they would not need the former Chivas USA forward as they cruised to a 3-0 win over So Cal Premier League side Real Sociedad. With the final round of the qualifying tournament canceled, the win proved to be their ticket to the Open Cup.
For a club making its first appearance in the tournament proper, the opportunity is lost on Collazo.
“Every single player, myself, all the sacrifice for four to five years has been developed into this,” he said.