Since 2000, the Inland Empire portion of southern California has not had a team representative in the US Open Cup. That year, Riverside County Elite was placed in the 2nd round of the tournament for being a D-3 pro team but lost to San Diego Flash by a score of 2-1. In the same year, the club folded after two years of operations. It wouldn’t be till 17 years later that a small team from Moreno Valley matched that journey of success in the tournament but unfortunately matched RCE’s brief existence as a club.
Moreno Valley FC or MoVal as locals like to call it, started back in 2015 by Will Vicente. “I decided to start a competitive team that would represent the city of Moreno Valley, I hope that my dream would someday come true to have a professional soccer club in this part of the country” will said in an interview with the cup.us. The team played their home matches at Moreno Valley community park and started their journey playing in the UPSL in 2016.
The team entered the 2016 spring season and they hit the ground running by winning their debut game 9-1. That season, they showed their dominance by becoming undefeated and having a record of 9 wins and 3 draws and were named the South East conference champs. This meant they qualified for playoffs and in the first-round, they blanked MF 10 from Las Vegas 1-0 but were then knocked out on the quarter-finals by Strikers FC. A good impression for a very brand-new team. As UPSL South East champs, they were invited to represent the league in the USASA Region IV amateur cup. They continued their dominance by winning the cup by scoring 9 goals and only allowing 3 goals in their first 3 games.
After the celebrations, they then moved on to the next stage which was a trip to Wisconsin to play in the National amateur cup, representing the western half of the United States. They fell short to eventual winners Christos FC 2-0 and ended 4th overall. They would come back and continue the fall/winter UPSL 2016 season, in control of not losing a single game, and ended up in a playoff spot, which would start the following year. By becoming champions of the USASA region IV, they are now on the track of local qualifiers for the U.S. Open Cup. They crushed HD Rush 5-1 on the road in the first round of qualification and knocked out Ozzy Laguna 6-0 on the second round at home in the community park. Before the year was over, they competed in two local city adult amateur league tournaments in Rancho Cucamonga and Lake Elsinore. They won both tournaments within the month of December. Before the year was over, MoVal FC was a rolling stone, lifting trophies and making a name for themselves and their city.
The team started the year with the 2016 fall/winter playoffs with a match vs familiar foes Avalanche USA FC (who folded later on in the year). The start of the year ended badly when Moreno valley lost to Avalanche 4-2 and was eliminated from the playoffs for a second time. In the following month, during the preseason, they were recognized by the city of Moreno Valley and were presented a certificate of recognition by Mayor Gutierrez for wining the USASA Region IV title in the previous year.
The highs and lows would continue for the team as they start the 2017 UPSL season. On their second league match, they were shoutout by Strikers FC 2-0 to mark their first-ever lost in UPSL seasonal play. Despite the hiccup, they continued on with their non-losing streak in the UPSL. MoVal would also add more to their plate for the season; the 2017 Cal South adult cup and the 1st round of the US Open Cup. Undeterred by the extra fixtures in their schedule, they take on the challenge like any professional club in Europe with balancing domestic cups and league matches and still manage not to lose many games. This victorious habit has not gone unnoticed as they were placed as the #1 ranked non-professional team in the Los Angeles area by Golden City FC. With momentum and growing reputation, they would have to face a higher-ranked opposition in Ventura County Fusion on the road for the first round of the US Open Cup. As underdogs, the PDL team was the favorite to win at home, however, it was MoVal FC that took the win by two first-half goals and a late second-half penalty save that got the maroon and yellow a 2-1 victory to continue on with the tournament. Their next challenge was an away trip to USL-C side OKC Energy the following week. For MoVal FC, many of the players and staff would take on many firsts in their life; first competitive match vs a professional team, first time entering the state of Oklahoma and first time spending a great deal of money on travel expenses. Nonetheless, the match has started and on the 8th minute, Edgar Gonzalez’s goal gets a dream start for the underdogs and the little club from the IE were on top of the world. Similar to their previous match, they would get the lead and then shift to maintaining the lead by laying off the attack and play defense. The strategy worked well enough to keep OKC to a tie when the first half ended. Fast forward to the 64th minute, a heated confrontation saw MoVal FC get a red card and ejection to the assistant coach for foul language. The moment play resumed, OKC pounced on the hot-headed SoCal team and took the lead. The game went south for the underdogs as they finish their Open Cup run with a loss of 5-1 to OKC with 9 players left on the field. A massive blow to the amateur side. As the year continues, the story on the field would end for MoVal FC with a 4-3 loss to LA Wolves in the semi-finals of the Cal South adult cup and a 4-3 win vs San Nicolas to finish 3rd in that tournament with a prize of a $2,500 check. The team would fold shortly afterward.
With a mix of local players from the IE, former Ventura County Fusion players, and a former Mexican pro player, the team played a Latino-possessive style of play. Although there isn’t much footage for a talented team like MoVal FC to know how they won so much, with the limited videos and streams of the team, one can have a general idea of how they won and lost their games. The style of play that MoVal has, contains some trends in their matches. First, the team builds from the back, the defenders move up with the ball at a slow pace to or close to the halfway mark. This pushes the team up, crowds the opposing team back, and when a MoVal attack starts, the defensive wings push to the corners of the box for a cross. While keeping the ball at the defender’s feet, if an attack comes to MoVal, the midfield will tactically win possession with a tackle at the opposition’s attack of play. Once MoVal turns over the ball, they pass back to their defenders to slow the game pace down to MoVal’s level and repeat their attacking plan. This complements the playing style of left-back winger Isaac Ruiz who played for MoVal during the National Amateur cup vs Christos FC. He’s not afraid to shoulder bump during sprints to win a free ball, goes for risky slide tackles, and hustles back to defend when his attack backfires. While this style of play has proven successful, the flaws can be just as unsuccessful. Like the culture in many Latino American countries, being overly passionate ruins the flow of the game and results in red cards, which was evident in the losses of the semifinals of the National Cup and the 2nd round of the Open Cup. This is the crack of the iron for a possession style of play because if you’re in control and not under pressure, you can take the win but if you’re losing first or are playing a man down, now players react negatively and the morale can get down to the dumps and fighting spirit ends. MoVal FC was a good team during league play but when it comes to win or go home matches, they fell short.
Unfortunately, for a lower division team in America, your performance on the field alone can take you to lift trophies and make deep tournament runs but financial management doesn’t care for any of that. Although, when asked to share about his time owning such a great team in the making, former owner Will Vicente declined to share his story and simply stated “there is no plans to revive the club anymore”. One can presume the travel expenses and hotel accommodations for players really added up during the trip to OKC but one could only speculate. MoVal FC lasted for almost 2 years, which is a little less than the average lifespan of most lower league teams in the US. However, their legacy of dominating on the field, winning trophies and climbing national brackets showed everyone that with the right coaching and players, the Inland Empire could be a force to reckon in the future of the game.