An ‘Innocent’ name powers a rich soccer tradition in Fort Worth

Fort Worth soccer club with deep roots, tradition moving on to next level

"You're welcome here. Just win your spot." Watch as Inocentes Futbol Club of Fort Worth, which originated in Jalisco, Mexico, prepares for its move to the United Premier Soccer League.
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"You're welcome here. Just win your spot." Watch as Inocentes Futbol Club of Fort Worth, which originated in Jalisco, Mexico, prepares for its move to the United Premier Soccer League.

Mario Alcalá’s bloodline runs through the soccer team Inocentes Futbol Club of Fort Worth.

His grandfather and father played on the team. His uncles and cousins also played. And one day he hopes his children will continue this decades-long family tradition.

As Alcalá grew older and went from player to coach and now president of the soccer club, he wanted to understand the club’s history, its origins and its place not only in his family but also in the community.

And as Inocentes Futbol Club, after decades of playing recreational leagues in the area, prepares to play this weekend for the first time in the semiprofessional United Premier Soccer League, Alcalá believes it was important to understand the team’s history and tradition.

A tradition born in México

The squad originated in the small town of San Jerónimo, Jalisco. That much everyone knew.

But when Alcalá, 27, wanted to shed light on the history of the team’s name and when it was founded – the dates ranged from the 1960s to the early 1940s and even 1930s, Alcalá felt it was important to know all the details.

“It was something interesting. We knew the team has existed for a long time and the name Inocentes (Innocents) was very particular,” Alcalá said.

But as people started to ask about the history of the team, it bothered him not to know. So he started digging for more information.

“We started investigating, asking uncles, people who played in the past and we started figuring out where the team came from and why it has lasted so long,” Alcalá said.

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The Alcalá brothers - from left, Edgar, Luis and Mario -, have been part of Inocentes FC for decades. Edgar, 30, is an assistant coach; Luis, 33, is the coach and Mario, 27, is the president of the soccer club. Juan Antonio Ramos jaramos@star-telegram.com

Young men in San Jerónimo formed a team to play teams from other towns, Alcalá said. But the players from San Jerónimo were shorter and generally smaller than players from other towns, and as other teams took a quick look at them, they started to make fun.

"They would say, ‘You guys look like a bunch of innocent children,’" Alcalá said.

And the name stuck.

“Part of why we’re so passionate about the team is my grandfather played for the team, my father played for the team, my older brothers played for the team, I played for the team and hopefully one day my nieces and nephews will play for the team or be part of the club”, Alcalá said.

Moving north

As players started migrating to Fort Worth in search of work, they started a team here in 1979. It became a destination for those moving from that Jalisco town, a refuge for family, friends and relatives who continued the soccer tradition.

One of those who arrived in Fort Worth was Mario’s uncle, 71-year-old Efraín Acosta.

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Efraín Acosta, 71, started playing for Inocentes Futbol Club when he was a teenager. After he moved to Fort Worth, he continued playing for the team until he retired at 60. Juan Antonio Ramos jaramos@star-telegram.com

He started playing for Inocentes when he was 19 years old.

“It was a good team, we won several championships, playing against bigger towns. Our town was small, and from that team we had good players,” Acosta said.

He arrived in Fort Worth and immediately started playing for the squad here.

“I retired when I was 60 years old. I played with the veterans,” Acosta said.

“I’m very proud that my sons have played for Inocentes, where I started and where I finished,” Acosta said.

Expanding its reach

Throughout the decades, Inocentes FC continued to welcome people from San Jerónimo, becoming a close-knit soccer club. It still was made up mostly of residents from that town.

But as the years went by and the team grew, they realized the club’s community reach also started to expand.

“We saw that we can become an inclusive club and diverse club for anybody in Fort Worth. As long as you’re willing to work hard, earn your spot and as long as you’re passionate about soccer like we are, we can make something big happen here,” Alcalá said.

Now the team has more than 30 players and includes some from Fort Worth and other parts of North Texas, as well as countries such as Panama, Kenya, El Salvador and other states such as California.

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And it was this growth that prompted Mario Alcalá to invest his own money to pay for expenses in an effort to take Inocentes FC to a new competitive level. The team now will play in the United Premier Soccer League, an adult amateur soccer league that includes more than 160 teams throughout the United States.

It was what the club needed to move forward, Alcalá said.

“I’ve always said that if you keep playing at the same level and you win all the time, you lose your pride because you don’t demand more of yourself and the team,” he said.

The team opens its season against Oklahoma City 1889 FC, with the first match away at 7 p.m. Saturday. Inocentes FC will play its first home match the next day against Dallas Elite FC at 7 p.m. at Polytechnic High School, where they will play home matches.

One destination

For Luis Alcalá, Inocentes FC coach and Mario’s brother, there was only one soccer destination.

A member of the team since he was 14, the 33-year-old said he is proud of how far the team has come.

“I can just imagine that anybody who has ever been part of a team at one point, they would have never thought that we would be where we are right now," he said. "I mean, it just started with a group of friends from the same place, same small town in México, and now we have players from Kenya, Panama, players from everywhere."

And for Mario, his dream for Inocentes FC is simple and within reach.

“If we can have kids playing from 4 years old, all the way to 18 and send them all to college, and hopefully some pro, that’ll be a dream come true,” he said.

Juan Antonio Ramos, 817-390-7570; @porjaramos