When the Academica Soccer Club of Turlock announced in December that their women’s team would be joining the United Soccer League W league in 2023 in just their second season of existence, the excitement was paired with uncertainty.
How would they stack up against other more established clubs?
The questions continued when head coach Damon Solomon stepped down and James Burns had to take the reins with only a month to prepare. And through the first five matched under Burns, the team went 0-5.
Fast forward to July 1, the club wrapped up their season with a 4-2 victory over The Olympic Club of San Francisco. The win pushed the Turlock team’s record to 2-9-1 for seventh place in the eight-team NorCal division.
“This was an indication of the progress that we've been making all season,” Burns said. “The girls have been playing really well and have finally settled into the system and the style of play that we wanted. It wasn't indicative by our overall record. I just think that we were playing well, and had we had more time left in the season, we would have seen more results just like that.”
Against the Olympic Club, it was the dynamic duo of Jenna Villanueva and Trinidad Quiroz that stole the show. Villanueva kicked off the scoring in just the second minute of play. Quiroz extended the lead to 2-0 with a goal of her own in minute 24. In the 37th minute, Villanueva found the back of the net again to give Academica a 3-0 lead at halftime.
The Olympic Club came out of the break with back-to back goals from Jessica Ko and Jodi Ziemba. Academica received some timely insurance from Quiroz, whose second goal of the match came in 81st minute to make it 4-2.
“We controlled the tempo of the game. We got out to an early lead and I think from there, the girls passion and fight just took center stage,” Burns said.
“It's an interesting pairing with Jenna and Trini up top. They seem to go together like hand in glove… The combination of having players like Jenna and Trini together is exciting and really gives opposing defenses trouble.”
Quiroz finished her season with nine goals, which was top 15 in the entire USL W in 2023. She was the third highest scorer in the NorCal division.
“Because I was hired so late in the process, I think there was an adjustment period to my coaching style and my demands as a coach,” Burns explained. “Once the games got underway, the girls really got a taste of what that level of play looks like In the USL W. We as an organization learned a lot about who we are in this league, and that information, that knowledge is only going to help us help us in year two. I think there is a lot of momentum going forward.
“We're a much different organization. We’re a much different team. We were very much in the matches, that we lost down the stretch, and that was encouraging. We had to learn to walk before we could run, and I feel like we're in a position now where we can run,” Burns added.
Moving forward, Burns and his coaching staff will look to build on the continued development of players like Mia Howard, Savannah Leifried and Jenna Dean.
“We had a lot of discussions throughout the season about what it would look like in year two and year three, and we made a conscious decision to seed the pod with some of those young players with the hope that the investment would come to fruition,” Burns said. “So I’m just excited to see where it goes and super grateful to Tevin Jones (technical director), Michael Rocha (general manager) and Simon Bettencourt (president) and the whole Academica board. This is an amazing opportunity, and we’ll keep growing.”