UPSL Fall Championship Preview
With the UPSL Fall Championship about to be played, we decided to turn to two of our staff to tell the story of the two clubs involved. Steven Ramirez is California boy through and through, so of course he wrote Cal United II’s piece. On the other side, Dan Vaughn has lived in Texas most of his life and is the perfect person to tell the Inocentes FC story. We break down their path to the Championship, regular season and playoffs, tell you who to watch for in the final, and give our predictions.
Since they joined the UPSL in the Fall of 2018, Inocentes has been a model franchise, producing results on the field and in their community of Fort Worth, Texas. While they are less than a year old in the national spotlight, the roots of the club cross national boundaries and go back over almost a century and multiple generations. For the Alcala family, that runs the club and manages the team, this is personal. To win is to honor their father, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers. This drive to win is one of the reasons Inocentes was named our 2018 Club of the Year.
The Regular Season
After a first round knockout in the Spring season, Inocentes came back with a vengeance in the Fall. Playing in the rough and tumble Central - North, Inocentes kicked off the season with a run of nine games without a loss. That included two massive back to back wins with scores of 8-0 and 10-0 respectively. The only two losses of the season came against eventual conference champion, Dallas Elite FC. Unlike Cal United, Inocentes declined to participate in the U.S. Open Cup. How they would have done in the competition is purely speculation, but considering their run in the UPSL, several wins in qualifying would be expected.
The Playoff Run
Finishing second in the Central - North, Inocentes faced Atletico Katy in the first round of the conference playoffs. Atletico was coming of a regular season with only a single loss and a +39 goal differential. Inocentes beat them on penalties and advanced. The second round brought Houston FC and another win, this time in convincing manner, 4-1. Going into the Conference Final, Inocentes faced the only club to beat them all season, their conference foes, Dallas Elite FC. This time, they got their revenge, winning 2-0 to take the Central Conference title. In the National Semis, Inocentes faced Germantown FC, out of Montgomery County, MD. Inocentes won again, this time 3-1 to earn a ticket to the National Championship.
Players to Watch
The scoring for Inocentes is led by two powerful forwards, Anthony Powell and Oscar Romero. For Inocentes to win, they have to put the ball in the net, especially against an offensive powerhouse like Cal United. Powell, who has played in FC Dallas academy, is a former UPSL Player of the Week with international experience, having played for Swedish side Saddle FF. Oscar Romero has also played internationally in Mexico for Pumas. In the opposite net, Estevan Vasquez is Inocentes’ keeper and the key to their success defensively. All three of these players are still very young (22), but that shouldn’t shake them. In the Spring, they played in the National Playoffs and the path to the National Championship this season has battle-tested these young men.
It would be easy to look at Cal United and assume they would destroy Inocentes. The rate at which they score goals is unparalleled in the league. Consider that the club beat their semi-final opponent 9-1. But picking against Inocentes FC denies their history of overcoming adversity. This is a club that takes a punch and then punches back harder. If Inocentes FC can keep Cal United from going up by multiple goals (and yes, that is a big IF), they will have a chance. They are plucky, aggressive and battle-tested. I fully expect our 2018 Club of the Year, Inocentes FC, to start 2019 with a National Championship.
Cal United Strikers FC II
California United Strikers FC II have been one of the most dominant clubs in UPSL, since the clubs inception in 2017. The squad employs many former professionals who have plied their trade within the states as well as multiple countries abroad. The UPSL fall 2018 season has been another successful year for the club and has helped propel the club for future success in the NPSL and NPSL Founder’s Cup.
The Regular Season
Cal United rolled through the 2018 UPSL fall season with ease. They won all eight matches, scoring 53 goals and only allowing one. When you average over six goals a game, you are guaranteed to have a few big victories. The Strikers biggest victory was a 16-0 thrashing of OC Real Force SC. Few clubs managed to calm the scoring dragon within Cal United, but the Santa Ana Winds FC and Newcastle United managed to hold the Strikers to only one goal. During the season the Strikers also manage to play through three rounds of U.S. Open Cup Qualifying, where they eventually lost to UPSL and future NPSL Pro rival, Cal FC.
The Play-off Run
The dominant play didn’t stop in the postseason either. The club went on a four game run scoring 27 goals and only allowing two. The Strikers started the playoffs with a massive 11-0 win over SoCal North side, Kern County Mustangs FC. They went on to beat Orange County FC 2 6-1, Jasa Red Wood City 1-0 and demolished Colorado champions Logrones FC 9-1. The UPSL Final will be held on February 9th against Inocentes FC.
Players to Watch
Cal United is stacked from top to bottom with former professional players from multiple countries. These players have been UPSL stand-outs since joining the league. Attacking midfielder Kyle O’Brien played professionally in Malta, before coming back to the states in 2017. In fall 2017 he was name UPSL Most Valuable Player and has continued his run of form throughout 2018. Midfield partner Paolo Cardozo played in the River Plate academy and spent a few years in MLS with the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA. Cardozo was also named as the 2017 spring UPSL MVP and has gone on to be a consistent attacking threat in 2018. For the Strikers, the attack starts in the back with the likes of attacking fullback, Chris Klute. Klute spent multiple seasons in MLS and won Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 after an incredible season with the Colorado Rapids.
The Strikers haven’t faced many challenges in the fall season and coasted through the playoffs to make it to the final against Inocentes FC. The Fort Worth based club will be traveling to Orange County to play in front of the Cal United faithful. I expect Cal United to to deliver another convincing win, proving that they are the best squad in the UPSL.