Inter SF, an amateur soccer team founded less than two years ago, has qualified for the U.S. Open Cup—the nation’s oldest soccer tournament—after beating four straight opponents in qualifying.
That means they could face big-name Major League Soccer clubs like Will Ferrell’s LAFC and Matthew McConaughey’s Austin FC.
On Saturday, the team carpooled from San Francisco all the way to snowy Minden, Nevada—where they beat BattleBorn FC 5-1 on an icy field in 20 degree weather.
“We didn’t even get a locker room to change in,” recalled Inter SF president and head coach Dr. Amir Darabi. “We had to change outside and stuff our socks and gloves with heat packs.”
Similar to England’s FA Cup competition, the massive elimination tournament provides the only platform for amateur teams to compete against professional teams.
Darabi, 30, hopes to use the tournament to elevate his team’s profile, which has been a personal passion project since he came to San Francisco via Georgia in 2020.
“I’d like [Inter SF] to be the next face of soccer in this great city,” Darabi said. “The Open Cup is a great way to do that since we will be competing against the best.”
How To Watch
Qualifying for the competition will also introduce Inter to new audiences. All games will be broadcast on ESPN+ when the first round of the cup kicks off in March.
Last year, Sacramento Republic, a lower division side, went on a Cinderella run to the cup final, breathing life into its new stadium development, which had taken a hit during the pandemic.
Medical doctor Darabi thinks he has the right mix of charisma and soccer know-how to finally make it work.
“No offense, but the coaches I’ve met [in SF], didn't really impress me by how they approached the game,” said Darabi. “I think I have a unique skill of convincing and motivating people. It’s hard to find anyone as passionate as I am.”
The Iranian immigrant, who’s been mad about soccer for as long as he can remember, also played for Georgia Tech for two years. At Inter SF, he’s managed to recruit a talented squad that features six former professional players including Matt Fondy, who once won the MVP award and led the second division United Soccer League (USL) in scoring.
“I love this mix of players,” Fondy told U.S. Soccer ahead of the team’s trip to Nevada where he went on to score two goals in the match. “[Darabi] is super dedicated and ambitious.”
His teammate Pierre Rappolt agrees. The 32-year-old software engineer plays center back for Inter and also just won his first amateur MMA fight. A decade ago, he was an attacking player at UC Santa Barbara before Darabi talked him into switching positions for the betterment of the team.
“[Darabi] is just a cool and fun person to play for,” Rappoly said. “He’s very inspirational and hands-off in a good way. In college, some coaches wanted to treat us like controllable players in a video game and decide our every move.”
Inter SF gets its name from the famous Italian team FC Internazionale Milano (Inter Milan). Darabi said he grew up idolizing players and coaches in the Italian league and even models his team’s tactics after Inter Milan’s.
However, as the team has climbed up the American soccer ranks, Inter SF has slowly had to start shedding any correlations to the Italian club in fear of trademark infringement—starting with its jerseys and crest.
Inter Milan have proved to be protective of their brand. In 2014, they filed to trademark “Inter” with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. They have also gone to court with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team over a possible infringement.
Outside of the cup, Inter SF compete in San Francisco’s oldest soccer league, the SFSFL.