Why not us? Worthington is moving forward on goal of going semi-pro in soccer
The Worthington Community Football Club hopes to have a semi-pro soccer team ready by 2023
WORTHINGTON -- Half a year ago, a small group of Worthington soccer supporters planted a seed they hoped might grow to become the culmination of a dream. Their plan was to start an elite youth program that they hoped would, in one year, morph into a real semi-pro team.
How’s it going?
Very well, say Jason Johnson, Patrick Mahoney and Eswin Hernandez -- the three owners of the Worthington Community Football Club -- who oversee the prospects of U17 and U19 teams preparing to step out beyond high school, community college and adult league experiences that have already made the southwest Minnesota community a hotbed of boys and men’s soccer excellence.
Johnson, Mahoney and Hernandez all say the goal to suit up a semi-pro team for 2023 is right on track. There are at least five players now who are ready, said Hernandez, and more will come.
Mahoney said the Worthington group has reached out to the UPSL (United Premier Soccer League), a nationwide outfit that could be ready to embrace southwest Minnesota’s new franchise. Discussions are underway to determine whether Worthington can meet the requirements of field, finances and competitiveness.
It looks good so far. A couple of weekends ago, Worthington competed at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minn., where its best 18 players took on teams from Illinois, South Dakota and North Dakota and advanced beyond the group stage. Mahoney said it was a “huge” tournament overall, with teams from 17 different countries.
“Our guys went in there not really knowing what we should expect. We just went in there hoping we could compete,” Mahoney explained.
More than a year in the planning, the local Football Club advanced rapidly from the simple proposition that the Worthington area had already been an outstanding soccer incubator for years. The local high school team has competed in two state tournaments in recent years, most recently in 2021. There is a fledgling men’s program making strides at Minnesota West Community College. Colorful and talented adult leagues have thrived here for years. So building toward the semi-pro level made perfect sense.
Mahoney and his friend, Johnson, are “big dreamers,” he said. When their wives caught wind of what they were contemplating, they were all for it.
“It met with too much passion, between our love for soccer, our love for Worthington, and our love for the kids. It seemed like a no-brainer,” said Mahoney.
Most of the players today are teen-agers, but all ages are eligible to turn semi-pro. And the program isn’t limited to the Worthington area. Hernandez said more recruits from the surrounding region are expected to try out. And adult league players are also a good source for potential players.
“That’s why we’re going to combine some from the adult league and some from this league,” said Hernandez. “We know the talent we have in this town. We were a little bit surprised by the support we’ve received in town. The players, we know the skills these guys have.”
“We started a year ago, and we are already looking into next year and what improvements we can make,” said Johnson, who like his two partners couldn’t be more pleased at the community support.
“The spirit in the community for this sport is unmatched,” he said. “Participation is amazing. We go to tournaments and see the families that come and bring their kids. That means a lot to us.”
Mahoney likes to talk about Worthington’s “great” base of youth soccer talent. He, Johnson, Hernandez and club coaches are busily identifying top players. They’re looking into settling on travel jerseys. They know they can play their games at Trojan Field.
But much more needs to be done. There are travel expenses to solve, merchandising opportunities to cash in on (they will sell hoodies, for instance), and sponsorships to complete.
Players won’t need to worry about their own expenses. That’ll be paid through the owners’ own pockets, with sponsor support.
As far as Mahoney is concerned, having a semi-pro soccer team based in Worthington is exciting for many reasons. Besides grooming top-of-the-line players, it can encourage more fans to become referees and coaches.
There are many outstanding youth and adult-league performers in Worthington now, Mahoney said. Many of them will end their careers in high school or at the community college level. “But it would be great if, for a few, we were a stepping stone.”