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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 Community Football Club owners (from left) Jason Johnson, Patrick Mahoney and Eswin Hernandez are working toward upping the quality of soccer in the southwest Minnesota city.
Worthington Community Football Club owners (from left) Jason Johnson, Patrick Mahoney and Eswin Hernandez are working toward upping the quality of soccer in the southwest Minnesota city.
Tim Middagh / The Globe
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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.

The Minnesota West men's soccer program suddenly got much more competitive on Thursday as seven Worthington High School players signed to play for the college next fall

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.

Worthington Community Football Club U17 team playing a U16 team in an exhibition soccer game at Buss Field Monday evening.
The U17 Worthington Community Football Club team plays a U16 team in an exhibition soccer game at Buss Field on Monday evening.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

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.

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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.

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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.

Hugo Garcia Arreguin (in white) playing with the Worthington Community Football Club U17 team has his pass intercepted by Tony Valle playing  for a U16 team during an exhibition soccer game at Buss Field Monday evening. Tim Middagh / The Globe
Hugo Garcia Arreguin (in white), playing with the Worthington Community Football Club U17 team, has his pass intercepted by Tony Valle of a local U16 team Monday. Tim Middagh / The Globe
Tim Middagh / The Globe

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.”

Christian Martinez (in white) playing with the Worthington Community Football Club U17 team with eye on the ball leaps over Christian Thepmontry playing  for a U16 team during an exhibition soccer game at Buss Field Monday evening.
Christian Martinez (in white) playing with the Worthington Community Football Club U17, leaps over Christian Thepmontry of the local U16 in an exhibition soccer game.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

“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.

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“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.

SOCCER
WORTHINGTON – The Worthington Community Football Club is hosting tryouts for its U19 team and UPSL semi-pro team on Jan 28 and Feb 4. Check-in for both dates is from 4:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the JBS Field House, and the evaluation will last from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. The tryouts for the U19 team is for any soccer player born in 2004 or later.
Pele transcended soccer and became one of the first global icons of the 20th century. With his winning smile and an aw-shucks humility, he was better known than many movie stars, popes or presidents.
WORTHINGTON — The JBS Field House is the place to be when it comes to soccer in Worthington this winter. The men’s league is in its inaugural winter season, and is organized by Worthington Community Football Club co-owner Eswin Hernandez.

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.”

Related Topics: SOCCER
Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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