FC Folsom Father-Son Duo Out to Make Debut Open Cup Noise

Amateurs FC Folsom braved the grueling Open Division Qualifying Rounds in the fall and now host former USMNT star Jermaine Jones’ pro side Central Valley Fuego in First Round of the 2024 Open Cup
By: William Hodges

Deeply immersed in the Sacramento soccer scene for the past 28 years, Folsom FC owner Dominic Pando comes to life when talk turns to how the area is an incredible hotbed for soccer talent. As the father of two boys who played club soccer growing up, he knows first-hand the sacrifice it takes for parents and athletes to reach a high-level. But what happens to those kids after they’ve aged out of their club?

What options are available to them to keep playing? The answer is – not many. It was then that FC Folsom was born – from an idea into reality – in just two short months.

“I didn’t want guys to stop playing,” said Pando when discussing how he formed FC Folsom. “They really wanted to keep going and there was not really a good program in the area for United Premier League Soccer (UPSL) that’s doing it for the right reasons. [Some clubs] are more club-driven as opposed to giving players an opportunity to play at the next level, so I know how hard that pathway is [and wanted] to open doors and give the right opportunity.”

FC Folsom would quickly find out just how massive the demand was. During the club’s first tryout in 2023, 90 players came out. Now, in the club’s second full year, FC Folsom have added a full-time head coach in Paul Ramirez, partnered with a performance training center, added sponsors and are pushing to create the most professional UPSL club possible.

They now have players reaching out to them expressing interest in joining up.

Early Open Cup Aspirations

As a newly formed club, you might think FC Folsom would want to spend a season or two focusing on UPSL and all that comes with ramping up as a new team. But they saw a window of opportunity to enter the Open Cup fray and just went for it.

The only concern from the Folsom perspective was whether they had a strong enough team to compete.

After winning the UPSL NorCal North Division in their inaugural season, including knocking off a team that had won the division four consecutive years, they had their answer. It was not a huge surprise when they became the first team in NorCal North Division history to qualify for the Open Cup tournament via the four-game Qualifying Rounds held each fall.

“When the [opportunity presented itself] we thought if we can get through the first four games of qualifying and advance to the next round, that would be a huge accomplishment for us since nobody had done that before in this area,” said Pando. “Players absolutely bought in, started to show up to extra training, and we put together a squad that went out there and competed and did a phenomenal job.”

Folsom were impressive in last fall’s Open Division Qualifiers

In speaking with FC Folsom team captain Dalton Pando, who previously played for pro club South Georgia Tormenta FC in USL League One, FC Tucson in League Two and the U.S. Men’s National U-17 Team (and son of owner Dominic Pando), it’s clear that the moment and opportunity are special.

“I am just extremely excited to get out there and compete against a very good team and enjoy the moment,” said team captain Pando, ahead of a game against a full pros Central Valley Fuego – coached by former U.S. Men’s National Team hardman Jermaine Jones. “You don’t always get to be a part of an Open Cup and it’s a chance to go out there and make a splash. It’s a very exciting time for me and my teammates.

“I know we’re heavily the underdog,” Pando (the Younger) admitted. “It’s our first year as an organization and a lot of these guys haven’t ever played in this tournament or played at the pro level or against the pro level, but it gives everyone the opportunity to see and feel what that is.”

Eager to Make Their Mark

Make no mistake, these FC Folsom players won’t be content with just making up the numbers. They’ve been training at an extremely high intensity, and while some of that is to get ready for their upcoming UPSL season, the primary reason is to give the Open Cup everything they’ve got and showcase players that maybe haven’t had a chance – or have been overlooked.

“This is a chance to show that you don’t already have to be a pro to become a pro,” continued FC Folsom Owner Pando. “These guys that have been overlooked, we want to push them so they can have the game of their lives so something comes out of it for them. Obviously, we’d love to be one of those Cinderella stories…one of those teams that gets further than anyone has ever done [in the area], but we want to go as far as we can.

“One game at a time, and hopefully each time we play, one or two players will get seen,” the owner added. “That’s a big deal to us.”

They will certainly have their work cut out for them against a new-look USL League One Central Valley Fuego on Wednesday night at Folsom Lake College. Fuego have a famous coach, who demands much of his players, and are no strangers to the Open Cup having qualified for the tournament three years straight after making their debut in the tournament in 2022 when they impressively knocked off USL Championship side El Paso Locomotive 4-1.

“Being the underdog, we have to be the team that works the hardest,” continued team captain Pando. “You can’t be the underdog and get outworked, so that’s been our motivation and what we’ve tried to instill in the team these last few weeks. The cards will fall how they fall, but at least we will know everyone did as much as they could and worked as hard as they could.”

Will FC Folsom’s run in the Open Cup advance past the First Round? Only time will tell. But one thing is certain: they’ll give it their all to make the most of the opportunity only the Open Cup can offer.

Hodges is a contributor at theCup.US / @usopencup. He was formerly the editor of Indomitable City Soccer and you can follow him on Twitter @william_hodges