A Final To Remember
It was a cold dark night, with a clear white moon. Two teams were on the pitch, ready to exhaust their thirst for the gold and eternal glory. It took 90 minutes and PKs to end this story.
On February 9th, California United Strikers FC II played host to Inocentes FC for the UPSL Fall Season National Championship. For both of these clubs, the journey to make it to the final went through many challenging teams. Cal United finished in first place within its division and played through four playoff matches before facing Inocentes FC. During those four playoff matches, Cal United FC II scored 27 goals and only allowed 2. Inocentes FC finished second in its division and then went on to play in two playoff matches, before making the long trip from Fort Worth, TX, to Los Angeles, CA.
The Strikers of Cal United controlled most of the match, even after receiving a red card in the 35th minute. In the first half, Inocentes FC had trouble stopping the driving runs from the wings into the center of the field. Inocentes kept five at the back, but never really had anyone from defense trying to eliminate the play. If Cal United players couldn’t run into the interior of the midfield, they would stay wide and use their fullbacks to overlap and send in an accurate cross to the dual strikers. The Strikers scored their lone goal in the 39th minute.
In the second half Inocentes opened up. It switched to a 4-4-2 and focused on being more aggressive in the attacking third. While the formation change was a bit risky, Inocentes needed to find a way to add more players when in the attack, something it couldn’t do in the first half. Finally in the 62nd minute Inocentes equalized after it hit on the counter, made it into Cal’s box, and played a nice back heel pass to an open shooter who smashed it at the back post. After the goal the tempo of the match increased, and Cal United shifted its tall RB Chris Klute into attack as he looked to get on the end of a cross. Both teams continued to battle throughout the final minutes. Then during stoppage time, Cal intercepted an Inocentes goal kick, turned back down the field, and sent in a cross which was headed by the Cal striker. The headed ball hit an Inocentes defender and deflected into the path of another Cal attacker, who passed it back into the middle of the box where it was then put into the net. The goal was controversially called offside and the game was sent into penalties.
Cal United won 4-2 on penalties. Both goalkeepers had remarkable saves during the shootout, but Inocentes missed a shot wide and that sealed up the victory and the championship for the Strikers. California United Strikers FC II had a perfect season- never losing or drawing. While the club faced a few challenges throughout the season, it overcame every one of those obstacles. “It was a target we had to win the fall national title within the UPSL, since we came together for the season. The guys we selected took that goal and just worked their butts off every single day in training and every single game,” said General Manager Ron Gilmore. “If we were going to be beat, it would be playing our way,” added Head Coach Don Ebert.
“I told the guys that they were thinking too much instead of just playing. To just trust the training, trust the game plan. [California United FC II] were not going to give us the game, we had to go take it and in the second half we played a lot better. We had our opportunities, and so did they, but it’s soccer and there can only be one winner,” said Inocentes FC Head Coach, Luis Alcala.
While Inocentes did not win the national title, it did win the hearts of fans around the world. This club traveled over 1,400 miles and put more fans in the stadium than the hometown team. It was impressive. The crowd never stopped cheering for their club and they created an atmosphere that any club would love to call its own. “Overall, I feel like our season didn't end the way we wanted it to, but it was successful. I hope that people that are not from Texas understand how big this club is,” said Luis Alcala. With 5,800 soccer fans watching live, I think the country knows just how great both of these clubs are.
Inocentes FC will make preparations for its new UPSL season and hopefully it can make it back to the final once more. For California United Strikers II FC, it must make preparations for the NPSL season and Founders Cup. When one competition ends, the next one begins.
- Steven Ramirez