Irvine Zeta FC: A Local Global Club In Orange County, California

June 13, 2024
5 mins read
Irvine ZetaFC Orange County
A Jumbotron reads “Zeta wins!!” inside Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine, Calif., Sunday, June 9, 2024. (Photo: Oliver Tensley for the Soccer Times)

By Oliver Tensley at the Championship Soccer Stadium.

IRVINE, Calif. — Irvine Zeta FC is located in Orange County, California yet their scope of view is paradoxically both narrower and wider than “the O.C.”

When one asks staff or supporters of Zeta about what the club represents you will hear one of two answers, “Irvine” or “the world.” 

General manager, Leonardo “Leo” Furquim, said: “[Other clubs] represent Orange County more broadly and we felt that Irvine, as a city, had a lack of a club who represents the city…that was our starting point…Irvine deserves a team that carries their name.”

Coach, Tyler Silva, said: “Irvine Zeta represents something that is for everybody, from all different types of people and all ages…

“I think the club is more global. If you look at the ownership, the players, the staff, you have Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Brazilian, Colombian and we’re all just trying to bring our own flavor to it.”

Zeta FC wants to be different and few things are as representative of that as their general manager. Leo Furquim is a 26-year-old originally from Brazil who loves the city of Irvine.

For one, he is quite young working for a young team in a young city. But, he also emphasizes the community more than most in his position.

On Sunday he could be seen going down to the field to talk to staff before walking up to the stands and drumming with supporters. He then entertained children of staff running around the stadium before returning down to the field, and then back up to the drums. Staff at football clubs move around, but Furquim moves like he is with family.

Irvine Zeta FC play at Championship Soccer Stadium, of which they are not even the main tenants. USL Championship’s Orange County SC has occupied the stadium since 2017 when it was constructed, won a title in it, and can still have their imagery seen during Zeta FC matches.

Furthermore, Zeta are not even the first club in the National Independent Soccer League (NISA) to call the stadium home.

From 2019 to 2022 California United Strikers played in it before going on a thus far indefinite hiatus. Zeta’s opposition on Sunday, the LA Force, even used it in 2023.

Yet, none of this makes it feel any less like home when Zeta are in it. The flag of Irvine hung over the stadium’s North end, the dry Santa Ana Mountains visible behind it, and high-rise buildings visible behind the Southern goal make this feel like the stadium of the team that features the name, “Irvine.”

Championship Soccer Stadium
The Great Park Ballon flies over Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine, Calif., Sunday, June 9, 2024. (Photo: Oliver Tensley for the Soccer Times)

In the 5,500-seat stadium, Zeta only got around 200 spectators for their Sunday night 1-0 win over the LA Force. But, those 200 were dedicated. Every call in favor of LA was met with jeers and boos from the Irvine faithful and a light blue flare was even lit following the lone goal.

A group of 10 or so supporters without banners or even lyrics played drums for Zeta calling themselves, “Los Zorros,” with hopes of growing a supporters’ group alongside the club.

One of the men on the drums was Mario Silva, a Brazilian native who moved to nearby Anaheim, California, five years ago. Silva is actually on Zeta’s roster but is only able to play for the club’s second team due to issues with his work visa.

About the area the club represents he said: “I love O.C., you know? I have been living here for five years so that is my home, we needed a home team to support.”

Adding that other teams have been here, but not like Zeta, “The culture from Zeta FC is amazing, we feel like a family when we support the team…it feels like a world connection – a globalization feeling.”

The club’s star player and captain, Shinya Kadono, is also its local hero. He said, “I’m really, really happy…that I can represent my home city.”

Kadono understands quite well how Irvine, and, in turn, Zeta, can be a worldly connection. He moved to Irvine from Japan at age seven and only left to attend the University of California, Berkeley.

After his time in the Bay Area, he was drafted to D.C. United where he never made an appearance before bouncing around USL and NISA outfits until he found his way to Zeta FC at the start of this year.

He scored the club’s lone goal on Sunday about which he said: “It definitely [means more], I feel the support from my family, friends, and everyone from the city.”

Irvine Zeta FC
A goal is scored inside Championship Soccer Stadium in Irvine, Calif., Sunday, June 9, 2024. (Photo: Oliver Tensley for the Soccer Times)

Zeta represents Irvine simply by being itself. The city, now with over 300,000 residents, was only founded in 1971 and had plans to be relatively major from its inception.

It was a “master-planned city,” or one set to go from virtually uninhabited to holding a sizable community in just a few years.

Now, it is home to Orange County’s largest buildings, major businesses, and a thriving university — the University of California, Irvine.

One can think of Zeta as a “master-planned” club. The team first kicked a ball in the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL — the fifth tier of American soccer) in 2023 and had already planned to move to NISA (the third tier of American soccer) in the span of a year.

Fan of the club, Jason Lagmay, whose daughter plays in the youth system, said: “To have a sports team in a small, tight-knit, town like this is awesome.” Before adding: “‘Up and coming’ [defines], I think, Zeta along with Irvine.”

In the short-term Zeta’s view is clear – on-field success. Furquim said: “We want to be the best club in the league that we are playing in, it does not matter where.”

Thus far, success has come seamlessly. Zeta won all three UPSL competitions they could in 2023, got to the third round of the U.S. Open Cup in 2024, and Sunday’s 1-0 win over the LA Force saw the Irvine club move to the top of NISA’s Western Conference.

In the long term, goals are larger. Furquim said that Zeta strives for bigger leagues, but also that he was not at liberty to elaborate.

Owner, Cary Lyu, is a Chinese businessman who lives in Irvine. He named Zeta after a company of his in China called “Zeta Sports Group.”

Lyu’s experience in sports and business could prove quite helpful in the coming years, he said: “We are planning to have an affiliate club in China and maybe also Australia.”

Having an international affiliate would be unheard of for a NISA club and a historic moment for the league.

Zeta’s goals, however, are to do the unheard of.

In the meantime there is growth to do, chants almost always start via a loudspeaker either exclaiming: “Zeta! Zeta!” or “Let’s go Zeta! Let’s go!” but the Irvine club clearly has ambitions of something larger, and in that context, likely more natural.

The signs are there as well.

When the whistle blew and the club had slain its Southern Californian rivals the stadium erupted. After a minute or so players gathered, and it was said over the loudspeaker, but fans had already begun to chant, “Sha la la la la la la la, Zeta FC! Sha la la la la la la la, Zeta FC!” with players yelling right back equally as elated.

Players joked with each other, talked to fans, and smiles went around the stadium. If Zeta is indeed a family, they are a growing one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Ryan Nelsen DC United MLS Cup 2004
Previous Story

Ryan Nelsen’s ‘Special Moment’ At DC United And What Went Wrong For Freddy Adu

Coachella FC Badge
Next Story

Coachella FC: Life In The Desert

Latest from Blog

Capo FC Logo and Ball

Capo FC: Grassroots American Soccer

By Oliver Tensley. SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. — Capistrano Football Club, more commonly known as Capo FC, is a club for its community. Many clubs say that, but few capture the feeling
Coachella FC Badge

Coachella FC: Life In The Desert

By  Oliver Tensley . THERMAL, Calif. — Coachella Football Club kicked a ball for the first time just a month ago in USL League Two yet already dreams big. “I can take

Don't Miss