Cali’s Grassroots Strivers Capo FC Making Most of Cup Opportunity

California’s Capo FC reaching the 2023 Open Cup Proper – and the Second Round once there – is evidence that the club’s bit-by-bit, grassroots development from youth club on up is paying off.
By: Dennis Pope
Some clubs are more than their communities. For all-amateur Capistrano FC, who booked a place in the Second Round of their debut Open Cup last week, the community is the club.

Founded in 2006, the club from San Juan Capistrano, California has grown from a tiny youth outfit with three teams to become one of the top amateur clubs in Southern California and are now proving out on one of the United States’ largest soccer stages – the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

“[We] started Capo FC because we were all community kids from San Juan Capistrano, and I ended up taking over the club in 2008, and I jumped in and was ready to take it to the next level,” Capistrano FC director Peter Carey said of the club.

Capistrano FC (who play in NISA Nation) routed USL League Two side Ventura County Fusion 4-1 on the road in the First Round of the 2023 Cup in a game was was streamed live on the Bleacher Report app and B/R Football’s YouTube channel.

It was the first appearance in the Open Cup Proper for the club better known these days as Capo FC. And the result, surprisingly lopsided, now sets up a date with the amateur against second-tier pros Orange County SC who won the USL national championship in 2021.

It’ll be the second-straight game for Capo FC broadcast globally across the B/R platforms.

“I don’t think we had any idea that it would grow so quickly,” said Carey who watched on as his side won four Qualifying games this fall including a tense shootout win against 2019 Open Cup Cinderellas Orange County FC. “What’s cool now is we have a lot of coaches who were kids that we coached. It’s awesome to see that cycle.”


For the love of the game

Carey was an Under-5s coach when the club, previously affiliated with defunct MLS side Chivas USA, struck out on their own. A break was required at the time as outdated rules about professional connections prevented the young club’s older age groups from joining the Coast Soccer League.

“At the time you couldn’t have an affiliation with a pro team and play in the CSL, so we broke off from them and started Capo FC,” said Carey about the move that opened the door to the achievements of today.

Disappointed in the rising costs at other local youth soccer offerings, Capo FC keeps things inexpensive by relying on family connections and focusing on the core customers.

Capo joy upon reaching the 2023 Open Cup Proper

“We are more of a community club for the kids that are playing soccer, and a ton of them don’t have the money or resources to play club soccer,” Carey said. “Back then, clubs would charge $100 to try out. It’s the whole pay-to-play nonsense and there were a ton of kids that we had that were playing in Sunday Leagues, who were good enough for those clubs, but just didn’t have the funds.”

The club doubled from three teams to six to 12, and then to more than 20, in its first three years.

“It’s just a lot of parents,” Carey said. “I have four kids of my own and they all played soccer. If I can’t afford to put my four kids in a club then I’m going to go somewhere else, so it’s really been the parents and friends with kids that weren’t doing it for money. We were doing it for the love of the game.”

Surrounded all around

Exponential growth means little in Southern California and even less in Orange County, one of the nation’s hotbeds of organized youth soccer.

“We’re pretty established at this point and we’ve won a lot of tournaments,” Carey said. “We’ve had our success but I’d say we’re a little different.”

“Different,” in that they’re a small club in a big ecosystem of Southern California soccer that includes numerous MLS and USL teams and their academies.

Capo are finding their niche despite being surrounded by high-power California clubs
“You throw a rock around us and hit all the big clubs – Strikers, Pateadores, Slammers, Surf – they’re all surrounding us and they’re all big-money clubs,” Carey said. “The difference with us is we do our best to make sure our kids are successful both on and off the field.

“We do a leadership/mentorship program. We do a homework club. We’ve given our kids laptops. We provide tutors,” he said. “These are our kids.”

Carey credits a measure of the club’s success to how and where the money is spent.

“We beat the pay-to-play system by drawing in the kinds of coaches that want to coach for the right reason,” Carey said. “They’re not coaching 20 teams to make all this money. They grew up in the community [and] they played soccer in this community. They’re teaching their kids soccer. It’s not a money-motivated deal, so we’re able to cut a lot of our expenses by getting those types of coaches who are passionate about seeing their kids and kids in the community have success.”

The guy you lean towards

Carey is a long-time soccer coach – he holds his USSF National ‘C’ license – but he’s also a proud veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who carries a subtle intensity about him everywhere he goes.

“There’s a lot to say about him, honestly,” said Marcos Cervantes, 29, veteran of the 2023 Open Cup Qualifying campaign who’s been with the club since the start. “He’s done a lot for the community and for the players to get ahead in life, and not just through soccer.

“He’s always been the guy you lean towards,” the defender added.

Marcos Cervantes (No2) has been with Capo from the very beginning
Carey is a graduate of San Clemente High in Southern California, and after serving in the Marines as a light helicopter squadron pilot from 1994-1999 he earned his BA in organizational leadership at California Baptist University.

“Peter is a community guy and [is] passionate about his project and people. I’m not surprised about his success at all,” said Riverside Albion SC director and fellow CBU alum Kevin Watson.

Capistrano FC won the inaugural NISA Nation Southwest Division in 2022 and will play in USL League 2 for the upcoming 2023 season.

“Right now it’s about playing at the highest level until maybe we do get pro ownership, but we’ll never become another club,” Carey said, ahead of a Second Round test against the pros from Orange County SC in Irvine. “We’ll always be Capo FC and we have great love for it.”

Dennis Pope writes about local sports for the SoCal Newspaper Group and serves in a communications role for both NISA Nation and the Southwest Premier League. Follow him at @DennisPope on Twitter.