NORTH SALT LAKE — Last week, the United Premier Soccer League announced a new expansion team — Utah Saints FC.
Utah Saints FC is the third team within the Utah region, joining Logan United FC and San Juan FC. The United Premier Soccer League is an amateur adult soccer league that has more than 100 teams in 11 other states besides Utah.
The team was founded by Andres Pena, a local business owner and a former Utah state soccer champion. Before moving to the United States as a teenager, Pena was born in Ecuador and was selected to play for Ecuador’s Under-17 national team.
Pena was a goalkeeper at Woods Cross High School and later played for another local soccer club, Olympique Montreux FC. It was there that Pena won an amateur title and learned the ins and outs of owning a soccer club after becoming friends with Olympique owner Bel-Ami Montreux.
“He kinda became my mentor because he was both a coach and an owner so I kinda got to see all the work that needs to be done,” Pena said. “So I decided to create my own team, not play the local league, because it really has not a lot of future, and I want to grow.”
The UPSL has the opportunity to take on MLS teams such as Real Salt Lake in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, which is a tournament for teams in the U.S. from different competitive levels.
“To make it to the Lamar Hunt Open Cup, that is my main goal right now, this 2018 season,” Pena said.
Saints FC is not a religiously affiliated team in any way. Pena picked the name as a dedication to the pioneers who founded Utah. Pena wants the team to represent Utah and felt this was a great way to show tribute.
“We represent the state. Everything I do is about Utah,” Pena said. “I want to represent who we are … We do recognize the people who had to work so hard to get this place. Our forefathers, the people who created Utah, and that’s a way of saying, ‘Hey we thank you,’ and we’re going to represent you and do the best we can.”
The roster features some players who have spent a lot of time playing in Utah, either in a local league or at Utah schools. Among the players is Spencer Tarma, a native of Peru who is one of the older players on the team. With his experience playing in Peru for Sporting Cristal’s under-13 team and many years playing locally, Tarma is primed to help lead a young team to victory. Tarma and Pena have been close for years, spending time on the same team previously.
“I can show a lot of these younger kids even though you have the talent you have to also have the mind to be a good soccer player,” Tarma said. “You can just have the talent and waste it. You have to have the mindset, the discipline to be able to achieve the things you want because talent is not everything, but also discipline.”
Tarma, like Pena, moved to Utah in his younger years and has spent half of his adult life in Davis County.
“As far as I know, there is not a team that represents this county, so I want everybody that lives here and everybody in Utah to just get them pumped in a way that they want to come and see us play. What way can we do that? The only way we can do that is show them we can win things. Winning, winning, winning. And giving everything that we have on the field,” Tarma said. “We want to play our hardest and show the people and make them proud of us so they want to come and see us.”
Clayton Alexander played soccer for Dixie State University and was the MVP on the team his senior year. Alexander was also recognized on the Regional First Team from his time at Dixie. After graduation, Alexander went on to play for Weber State’s club team. He was on the team for two years, and in their second year the team took semifinals at nationals and he received a place on the All-Tournament team for NIRSA in 2015. He hopes to be the premier defender for Saints FC in their upcoming season.
“I think it’s an honor being on a brand new team that’s starting in the Salt Lake area,” Alexander said. “I think we’re actually going to start making a name for Utah soccer at this level.”
Alexander wants the team to set an example of outstanding play from the beginning of the season.
“I feel like putting in a good foundation is just going to lead to the club having that much of a better existence and a better time spent if we do this right the first time at the very beginning,” Alexander said.
The goalkeeper for Saints FC is Jorge Gonzalez, who played at Hunter High School and at Weber State. Gonzalez has been playing in front of Utah crowds before but he’s particularly thrilled to suit up for Saints FC.
“It’s super exciting, man,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve been dreaming this; I’m sure everybody has been dreaming about this for a very long time.”
Gonzalez plays with a big chip on his shoulder due to his height. He’s undersized compared to some goalies, but he won’t let that get in the way of this opportunity to play and win.
“I go in there proving that it’s not my height. It’s speed and agility and the knowledge that I’ve collected throughout the years,” Gonzalez said. “It’s what motivates me to go more than 100 percent each game and every practice.”
Utah Saints FC also has a youth academy to help develop young players who may not have the opportunity to play soccer where they live in the valley.
Utah Saints FC will begin its season in March 2018. It will play its home games at Woods Cross High School Wildcats Stadium.
For more information on the Utah Saints FC or its youth academy, visit their website, http://www.utahsaintsfc.com/. The team can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.