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Academica AC eyeing US Open Cup run
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Juan Flores of Academica AC dribbles the ball past a Fresno FC defender during their match from February (Photo contributed by Brittney Virgo).

Turlock based pro soccer team Academica AC is on the verge of its most successful US Open Cup qualifying tournament ever.

They are off to a 3-0 start and are now one victory away from advancing into the eight round US Open Cup Tournament which is slated to run from May till August.

“If we win this game we are in the actual tournament,” said Academica President Simon Bettencourt. “So far this has been the most successful run in the US Open Cup that we have had after losing in the second round last year.”

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Academica’s Marco Torralva looks to get past a defender during their exhibition match with Fresno FC back on Feb. 12. (Photo contributed by Brittney Virgo).

“Our success in this competition comes down to the quality of the players that we have in our club,” said Academica head coach Sergio Sousa. “Simply put, we are a better team. Player for player, we have made big steps forward. Collectively as a team, the growth is even more apparent. Our training sessions are intense and extremely competitive. Every day we are improving in our system of play.”

The system of play currently has them with a record of 2-2 in the National Premier Soccer League. Their most recent game came against the East Bay Stompers where they won, 4-3, in the weekend matchup.

“The chemistry between one another improves and that allows us to go compete at a higher level,” said Sousa. “In tournaments like the US Open Cup, you can come across teams that you may not know much about, from places that aren't exactly down the road. You may have never seen the team play before and your first look at them will be at kickoff. The nature of it is that we have to go out be the best versions of ourselves when it comes to these games.”

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Manuel Villegas of Academica AC sprints his way into the attacking third in their friendly game against Fresno FC back on Feb. 12 (Photo contributed by Brittney Virgo).

So far, this has led to them winning three straight games.

“Credit to the Valley,” said Sousa. “We have players in our squad from Sacramento down to Bakersfield and they all come together to train and compete throughout the week. This weekend, we look again to be the best version of ourselves. With the support of the Valley fans behind us, I'm confident that we can make it four straight wins and qualify for the tournament.”

Academica played their first round of qualifying back on Sept. 22, against Davis Legacy where they won 4-1 from home. In that game, Ramiro Cejas notched a pair of goals while Adrian Plascencia and David Esparza each added a score.

Following their first-round win, Academica returned on Oct. 20 to defeat Contra Costa FC at home in a 3-2 final after being up 3-0. Manuel Villegas notched two goals and Gerardo Cazares added the other.

Up 2-0 in the qualifiers, Academica then returned to action for their third qualifying game against Oakland Stompers on Jan. 5. In that game, Ceja notched the only goal as they went on to win it, 1-0.

“I am happy with our current playing form. I cannot remember a recent game where I thought to myself, ‘We are not playing well.’ The guys work hard for each other and are very unified in their play. It's been fun,” said Sousa. “Overall, I am proud of what we have been able to get going here with AC. We've created a team that is competitive with teams from a higher level. People are wanting to come to Turlock to play or watch the soccer that we are playing, and that means a lot to me.”

Academica will kick off play in the fourth round of the US Open Cup qualifiers from home as they host International Portland Select FC for the first time ever at 7 p.m. Saturday.