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High Expectations: Santa Cruz FC

calendario 01.02.2023
by: Salvador Torres
  • Playoff
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High Expectations: Santa Cruz FC

The story of how Santa Cruz FC came about starts with two individuals: Co-investor Alex Lee and general manager Igor Monterio. Both came from similar backgrounds in American soccer. 

Alex, from Indiana, played in the now-defunct ODP and made the Indiana state team along with notable US Soccer legend Demarcus Beasley. He would then play at the collegiate level and coach high school. Apart from Santa Cruz duties, Alex is also a board member of Cal South youth soccer. He also has a training facility in Indiana called sogility

Igor, born in Brazil and then American raised by age 12, had experience in Futsal and in the Super Y league outside of Boston. Then played PDL and was offered a contract to play with Western Mass Pioneers (now USL 2) at age 19. However, he suffered an injury that would cause him to end his playing career and went to coaching ECNL, NPL, and high school before starting his own club. 

The club's origins start in 2021, with one of Alex's business partners training in MMA and asking Alex about his love for soccer. Alex's Brazilian partner was curious if he wanted to meet his brother-in-law. Alex, appropriately curious, asked who the brother-in-law was? His brother-in-law was none other than Brazilian legend Rivaldo. 

The connection between Alex and Rivaldo started business opportunities that ultimately had him come on board with Santa Cruz FC, with Igor joining shortly afterward. The team does have a partnership with the Brazilian club under the same name (presumably because of the Rivaldo connection). 

With that context, Nonprosoccer got to interview Alex and Igor about Santa Cruz's journey to the UPSL final four. 

Can you give a testament to the talent there in New England? Can you explain the weather, environment, and demographics that affect the team's look? 

Igor: Boston has the better pool players. The weather plays a good role because we have to play in a tight space. We are almost forced to play Futsal or indoor soccer here from November to February-March.

We're not just constantly training real soccer outside on a bigger field when it comes to winter. We have to go and train and do a lot of Futsal. The Futsal is massive here in Massachusetts. The number of Division one programs within the Boston area also brings a lot of talent throughout the country.

We have been very fortunate to pick players who either played on academy teams or couldn't sign a professional contract. We take these players on or players playing for UNH, the country's top-five program for the last five years. We also get players from Boston College, Boston University, Holy Cross, and Northeastern. Players who have yet to be drafted or offered a professional contract to play either MLS or USL Championship.

 We lost our number 9 cause he just signed a USL C contract this year. He played with us for three games and then hurt himself. He scored four goals in three games and was out for the rest of the season. He got better, and Louden (USL 1) offered him a contract. So we have a lot of players on that level on our team. 

What do you guys do before these upcoming games in February? How do you guys prepare?

Igor: We train in indoor facilities that can size an entire 11v11 field. We gave those guys a few weeks off because our season started training in December 2021. During the spring season, we qualified for the Northeastern finals.

We only had two weeks off then the fall season started early because of the weather. We had to play until mid-November, so the guys needed a break. They had like one week and a half off in July, So we gave them three weeks off. They were supposed to start training this week (January 20), but we had a snowstorm.

So we are going to start next week doing training. We just had our last game of the season not too long ago. So typically, we train indoors in the winter and try to go outdoors as early as possible. Early February, but getting ready for the national finals, it's indoors 7v7, then 11v11.

What was the biggest hurdle to getting to this point in the UPSL playoffs? 

Igor: Competition-wise, it was really in our conference. There was one team that actually won the national championship; it was Atlanta Ginga. That same CEO just moved to Connecticut. We faced them in the [conference] finals. So that was the toughest game.

Logistics for games is not that complicated because I like how the UPSL is designed by regions. So travel-wise, the biggest one now it's going to be going to California. 

What were your expectations for this season? Did you guys expect to reach this stage of the UPSL? 

Igor: It's been part of the plan since day one. When I start something, even with my company for Santa Cruz, 

my goal since day one was to win National. 

The first conversation I had with the president and owner of UPSL was when he tried to convince me to go to UPSL versus NPSL or NISA Nation. He was trying to sell me on the competition and the playing level.

I told him on our first conversation, and he was like, "Hey, Santa Cruz is going to be the team that's going to win national championship that first year, and then the year after that and the year after that." That's our goal and our mentality. We train that way; we practice that way. We are formed to win. We're not here to take second place in anything we do.

So what made you guys commit to UPSL and not do other leagues? Do you also have a second or a B team in other leagues?

Igor: Right off the bat, we discontinued [conversations] the NPSL because they are more of a summer [league]. It's mostly designed for college kids who need a break from school. Same for USL two. So those two were not an option for us because we wanted something year-round.

We have future goals for Santa Cruz, but at the moment, we are here at UPSL, and we want to make sure that our players are training/playing in a division like a second-tier or a first-tier team, meaning they need to train and act like they are professionals. In the end, we decided to go with UPSL, and we made the right choice. 

How do you see the club in five years? Is it to get the team to become a professional team one day?

Alex: I'm also on the same page with Igor. UPSL is one of the best-run leagues in the country. Yes, it's semi-pro, but they handle everything just as any other professional league would in terms of streaming and basic things, and the website is always updated. Those little things make a difference. 

I've fallen in love with UPSL and was drawn toward Igor and his project. Touching on the future, there's no doubt that it's player development; as we grow, we'll have to figure out the best platform for that player development.

Is it USL one? Is it NISA? Is it the USL championship? Those are good problems to have; they are things we're thinking about now. The first step is to win nationals; we've got to build up. We've done a good job building up our reputation already. If you go on to Santa Cruz FC's Instagram, it's 18,000 followers, which is unheard of for a UPSL team. Igor did that in a year and a half.

UPSL does an amazing job because it finds that balance between financials and regional travel and stuff that was mentioned. Now this money is being invested into the team. It's not being invested into some hotel, air flights, or the expansion fee cost or that stuff. It's being invested in the team and the players, which is very important. 

Santa Cruz will take on SCU Heat in the UPSL national semi-finals on Friday, February 3, at 5:30 pm at the great park in Irvine, Ca. 


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