For Escondido FC, the biggest match in team history couldn’t start in a more familiar setting. The first-time US Open Cup entrant will host another United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) side, San Fernando Valley FC, on Wednesday night in Encino, Calif. Just to get to this point, the team had to knock off two other UPSL sides in qualifying.
The team, based out of Escondido, Calif., was founded in 2020 by Alejandro (Alex) Garcia, a small business owner in the northern San Diego County city. Garcia founded the team with the goal of greater access in the community, with players able to play at little or no cost.
“A lot of talented players get stuck in Sunday leagues without developing their full potential,” said Garcia. “We created an environment where young players can develop their skills and possibly take the next step into a pro career.”
Garcia says this is his motivation to continue doing what he has been doing since 2020.
Since the club’s founding two years ago, Escondido have continued establishing themselves as a perennial force to be reckoned with.
The Fall 2021 UPSL season saw them finish on top of the SoCal South-Premier Division for the second year in a row; dropping only five points during the campaign. The team’s playoff run only came to an end in the SoCal Division Championship against second place Rebels SC, 2-1.
Escondido had previously beaten Rebels 3-2 in the Second Round of the Open Division Local Qualifying tournament for the 2022 US Open Cup. In November, they edged Chula Vista FC 3-2 in extra time to reach a “Win & You’re In” round of the qualifying tourney. Then, two days after falling in the UPSL conference final, with a roster of only 13 players, the team punched it’s ticket to the tournament proper with a 3-1 win over Sporting ID11 (UPSL).
Garcia says the team’s goal for the Spring 2022 season is to finish top of the division again and return to the national playoff stage. That includes a strong performance in the Open Cup to start the year, with a regrouped roster and new players.
“We hope to keep the momentum we had through the qualifying rounds and do the best we can.”
Unlike other open division outfits, there are currently no ex-pro players on the Escondido roster. In fact, while many amateur teams worried about missing players due to the tournament’s March start, that is something Escondido does not need to worry about.
“We do have some ex-college players that have played in community college in the past. But for the most part our team does not rely on college players”, Garcia explained.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t absences.
The team will be without two key players due to injury; forward Arturo Soltero and winger Angel De León. Soltero tore his ACL and MCL in week 3 of the fall season. He was the team’s top goalscorer in the spring campaign and there is currently no time table for his return. De León played at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo for four seasons before joining the side, one of the few ex-collegiate player. He unfortunately picked up a hairline fracture on his right knee and a sprained ACL in Escondido’s final fall regular season game. He is expected to be out through at least the First Round of the Open Cup.
Team captain Gerardo Medina (“Gera”) and Omar Rodriguez are, however, ready to lead on the pitch.
“Gera is one of the veteran players, along with Juan Velazquez and Armando Morales. They all show great leadership and push the younger players to their limits,” adds Garcia.
While the UPSL does run a long schedule, Garcia is confident in the team’s readiness
“We manage to keep everyone healthy for the most part in the qualifying rounds. Fortunately for us our season starts after the first round of the Cup.”
Escondido FC hosts San Fernando Valley FC on Wednesday, March 23 at 5:45 p.m. (PT) at Sepulveda Basin Sports Complex in Encino, CA. The winner will play on the road in the Second Round against the California United Strikers FC (NISA) on April 7.