Upstart Santa Cruz FC Looks to Make Its Mark
“The team we have now…we would win NISA Pro. I know we are that good.”
Santa Cruz FC (Lowell, MA) may be a newcomer on the UPSL Premier stage, but founder and general manager Igor Monteiro is sure of one thing: his squad is good enough to play for a national championship.
Sitting outside Santa Cruz FC’s final practice before the league’s final four playoffs, Monteiro recalls his first conversation with UPSL commissioner Yan Skwara upon joining the league in 2021.
“I told him, ‘You’re going to hand me the trophy in the finals,’” he said.
By Sunday evening, Monteiro will know whether his dream has come true.
It has been a quick rise to prominence for the new club. In Fall 2022, only their second season of competition, Santa Cruz FC finished behind Ole FC (Ansonia, CT) in the UPSL New England division.
But in a head-to-head matchup to determine who would advance to the UPSL playoffs, Santa Cruz defeated their rivals on penalty kicks. and the squad hasn’t looked back since.
They defeated WHC Alliance FC (Fulton, MD) 3-2 in the Round of 32, and then NJ Alliance FC (Lyndhurst, NJ) in the Round of 16. In the quarterfinals, they outclassed Detroit United 5-2, punching their ticket to the national semifinals in southern California.
Monteiro knew he had something special from the moment he held open tryouts back in 2021. 400 people registered and 300 players ended up competing for spots over multiple days of tryouts. Monteiro—himself a former player at New England College—also spent weeks calling local college and semi-pro players to come in to join his new squad.
His approach worked.
“When I noticed the level of players we had at tryouts, I decided to take it to a whole other level,” he said. “I was like, there’s something here.”
To take advantage of all that talent, Monteiro decided to launch a second team, as well as a U19 squad.
The Santa Cruz first team draws on some of the best local talent. Midfielder Mario Prata, who has four goals during the team’s playoff run, played for Benfica USA, starred at Dracut High School, and attended Seton Hall. Midfielder Victor Viana has competed for the New England Revolution U19 squad and trained with the Dinamo Zagreb’s youth team. Santa Cruz FC also boasts North Attleboro’s Tyler and Justin Freitas, who came up through the Revolution Academy.
Monteiro believes that he was able to assemble such a strong squad because he promised them a professional experience. They practice multiple times a week during the regular season, and compete against some of the country’s top UPSL squads. The club has also just inked a deal with a uniform supplier that will provide free shirts, warmups, and gear to all players next season.
“What we tell these guys is even though they are playing UPSL, they should have a USL1 or NISA Pro mentality,” said Monteiro. “That’s where we are trying to go.”
He’s not shy about the quality of his squad, either.
“The team we have now…we would win NISA Pro. I know we are that good,” he said.
This season, though, has two more games remaining. They have a semifinal game against SCU Heat (Columbia, SC) on Friday night. And, should they win, they will finish their season against either Olympians FC (El Mirage, AZ) or Rush ACM3 (El Paso, TX) on Sunday evening.
Monteiro is not lacking for confidence. He has a prediction for the weekend ahead.
“We’re going to win,” he stated.
Hubris is a bitch.