Turlock’s professional soccer team Academica SC made a huge leap recently after they made their way into the National Premier Soccer League — what team President Simon Bettencourt says is similar to the Advanced Single-A of baseball, but for pro soccer.
Established in 1972, the team has been working towards the progression of local soccer players — in an area filled with rich tradition and talent. They were playing in the LIGA NorCal before the recent ascent to the NPSL.
“Looking at it with costs, especially the performance from last season, result-wise we took the plunge in August and said we are going to go for it for this upcoming season,” said Bettencourt. “So, we applied and ultimately the league accepted us. I remember when I got the letter (on Oct. 27) there was a lot of weight off my shoulders.”
With the assistance of the community and volunteers, the organization made huge strides that allowed them to kickoff in the new league starting this Saturday.
“It was the financing part that was tough,” said Bettencourt. “We are a non-profit and run with volunteer work, everything you see here was paid for by volunteers…we saved every penny we could to take the plunge.”
It took an immense amount of work, but the team impressed the NPSL with their previous season where in 18 games, they only lost one and tied one.
“Obviously, we want to make an atmosphere where they want to come play and watch great soccer,” said Bettencourt. “We were league champions in the fall, we finished atop of our 10-team league and we took the championship so good way to leave and start this new season.”
Academica will be competing in the West Region’s Golden Gate Conference and Bettencourt says it is as competitive as they come.
“We are probably in one of the toughest conferences in the nation, and that is us and teams from Napa, Sonoma and two teams from the Bay,” said Bettencourt. “Every year our conference has sent someone to the semifinal for quite a while, so historically one of the better conferences in league, so we are optimistic and we have played some of these teams outside of league and we have performed well.”
The squad will rely on a heavily local squad from players ranging as far south as Merced and as far north as Manteca.
“Outside looking in, I know what is here, I have seen it,” said Academica head coach Sergio Sousa. “I see good players who don’t know where we are going. We get guys fresh out of college, and plenty of others, but I think we are capable of making noise so that is my mindset.”
Sousa says that this year’s new team is essentially comprised of four squads; the old Academica, Turlock Express, UC Merced and Stanislaus players.
The squad is also made up of former Turlock High star Marcus Decouto, Alex Bettencourt (Hilmar) and Denair’s Paul Oei.
“With Academica, I’ve been out here since… I was 11 years old, it’s like another family affair, they all started here, and just following their footsteps,” said Alex Bettencourt. “We want to continue the excellence and help make it a well-known team.”
“I started when I was 14 years old, then went to college and played there and came out here about a year ago and played over the spring and summer tournaments,” said Oei. “Then there was an idea to go bigger, and with the great camaraderie it has become more than just a team. This last year going from a local team to now NPSL, great experience to see this grow.”
Academica will kick off their inaugural year on the road at Napa at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.