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Academica SC advances to conference finals
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Academica SC advanced to the Golden Gate Conference Tournament Final following their defeat of Napa Valley 1839 FC on Saturday (Photo contributed).

The dream of a Golden Gate Conference title is still alive for Academica SC, whose 2-0 victory over Napa Valley 1839 FC on Saturday earned Turlock’s semi-professional soccer team a spot in the finals this weekend.

Academica shutout Napa Valley in a thrilling semifinal win, which featured a first half goal from Diego Hernandez and another by Jorge Carmona in the game’s final minutes. Over 200 fans made their way out to the team’s home field in Turlock for the match — a sign of local support head coach Sergio Sousa was thrilled to see and hear. 

“Honestly, I couldn't hear anything, and my players couldn't hear me. All I was hearing were drums and cowbells, and it was just smoke everywhere and streamers,” Sousa said, speaking of the team’s “Black and Gold Brigade” of fans who celebrate goals with plenty of fanfare.

“You can’t help but smile because everyone is just like, ‘Ah, soccer’s back. It’s really back now.’”

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Academica SC is seeking their first Golden Gate Conference title and will face El Farolito at 5 p.m. this Saturday at home.

Academica is hoping to earn their first GGC title this Saturday after a successful season which saw the team finish the National Premier Soccer League’s Return to Play Series with a 4-2-1 record, finishing second behind FC Davis. FC Davis lost in the opening round of playoffs, and Academica will host El Farolito — a team they’ve never beat — in the GGC Tournament Final. 

The team’s successful playoff run has been made all the more impressive by a wide range of players performing well, Sousa said, from seasoned veterans to players the coach defined as “the next generation” for Academica. The mixture of ages comes as many college Academica players return to play for their school teams.

“Coming off the COVID year, most guys weren’t training regularly and that's why we got so many college guys on our team. That was the tradeoff of, yeah, we get to play great soccer from the start and hit the ground running, but at the end of the season those guys are gone and it's time for the next group to step up and carry us the rest of the way,” Sousa said. “Honestly, that's exactly what's going on right now and we’re just one more game away from achieving what we set out to do.”

Sousa said Academica’s defensive show on Saturday displayed character during a tense — and loud — semifinal game.

“When you leave a game without conceding a goal at home and you've scored multiple goals, then it's a job well done,” Sousa said. “...It was a full 18-man contribution and performance. It felt like a 19th and 20th man with the fans. It was fun to play in front of that again.”

While typically there would be a chance to advance further in playoffs, the NPSL Return to Play Series features California teams who were hit harder by COVID and forced to start playing later than others. So, this weekend’s game will be Academica's last, win or lose.

Academica will host the GGC Tournament Final at 5 p.m. this Saturday at Academic Field, 1343 W. Greenway Ave. in Turlock. Gates to the game open at 4 p.m.