Real Winter Garden, an amateur soccer organization based out of Winter Garden, has grown from one team to three since its inception in 2014.
It’s Sunday morning in Central Florida, and although many around the region are in brick-and-mortar churches, the men who compete for Real Winter Garden are in a different kind of church — on the soccer pitch.
The organization’s top team, Real Winter Garden SC, is playing a road game at Barber Park in Orlando’s Conway area in the Central Florida Soccer League’s Mens Open Premiere division.
One step down, in the league’s Mens Open Division 1, the Real Winter Garden Kings host Atletico Rumba FC in a home game at the West Orange Soccer Complex. Joining the RWG Kings playing a home game at the West Orange Soccer Complex is the organization’s Mens Over 30 division team, the Real Winter Garden Crazy Gang, which took on Malzooks.
They play in different divisions, but all three teams play serious soccer. Real Winter Garden was started in 2014 by Cristian Guare, a Winter Garden resident since 2002. After playing for a handful of teams in the league for roughly a decade, Guare got the itch to create something of his own.
“I guess I was just in the league for so long, and I wanted to see how it feels to actually run a team myself,” Guare said.
The name Real Winter Garden was both a nod to Guare’s place of residence and his favorite soccer team: Real Madrid.
The inaugural team for Real Winter Garden competed in the Open Division 1 and had 22 players. As more players became interested in joining the team, it became apparent that one Real Winter Garden team would not be enough. A second team was added in 2015, with a third addition in 2016.
Across its three teams, Real Winter Garden currently has 75 players competing this spring, with Guare estimating that roughly one-third reside in West Orange.
He credits the growth of the club to its culture.
“It’s the culture that we have for the players — it’s a winning culture, but I also believe in having ‘organized fun,’” Guare said. “Let’s do it in an organized way with the right coaching and the right players, putting the players in the right spot to be successful.”
The league in which Real Winter Garden competes — the Central Florida Soccer League — traces its roots back to 1965. Originally the Orange Soccer Club, the organization was rebranded to its current moniker in 1969.
The CFSL currently has more than 110 teams across 12 divisions, including coed and women’s divisions. The league’s Mens Open Premiere division includes several high-level players. Real Winter Garden SC, for instance, includes five players who played in college. Players in the Premiere division often have professional or semi-pro experience, too, either domestically or internationally.
Teams from the CFSL’s Premiere division have played in tournaments outside of the league that include professional teams, including from Major League Soccer.
The games in CFSL may technically be recreational, but the players take them seriously.
Real Winter Garden teams have enjoyed some success in their relatively young existence: the Kings won a championship in 2017. In addition to games on Sundays, players often play pickup soccer during the week.
Guare said he spends several hours each week working on the organization and hopes it continues to grow. In addition to coaching the Division 1 team and playing for the Over 30 team, he coordinates with Luis Ayala, who coaches the Premiere team.