By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Jun 2, 2017) US Soccer Players - Christos FC, the amateur adult league team from Baltimore, is quite the story in this year’s edition of the US Open Cup. The team is little more than a weekend pastime for its players, many of whom gave up on serious careers long ago and who very rarely train together. The club’s name comes from a liquor store that fronted the initial league fee back in the mid-90s and who proudly display the club’s trophies. In order to pay for their third round trek to Chicago to face a PDL squad, the club launched a (successful) GoFundMe page. When they faced Chicago FC United on Wednesday at Loyola University in Chicago, they didn’t dress a full contingent of 18 players because they didn’t have 18 players with them to dress.
There’s so much Cinderella here it starts to feel cliche. Of course Christos had a player who couldn’t make the trip to Chicago because he was coaching soccer, his “other job” when not playing indoor soccer for the Baltimore Blast. Every soccer outlet worth its salt has done a profile of the club, elevating a ragtag bunch of part-timers to low level soccer celebrities. The US Soccer website has a video piece on the team. Thanks to the victory in Chicago, Christos FC will play DC United in the fourth round of the Open Cup. The stories about what that means to Christos, its players, and the tournament write themselves.
Christos isn’t the first amateur side to make a run to the fourth round, and they probably won’t be the last. Teams with humble backgrounds, many of whom exist solely on heart, advance to this stage every so often. Counting Christos FC, 13 amateur sides have gone as far as the fourth round. No amateur team has progressed farther than that since 1996, the year of Major League Soccer’s launch.
Here’s the interesting, and potentially depressing, truth about Christos FC and their run. As painful as it might be to hear, American soccer really isn’t ready for a club like the Sunday league Baltimore outfit to take down an MLS club. Cinderella or not, American soccer might eat itself should the upset happen on June 13 at the Maryland Soccerplex.
Why? For a host of reasons, but all of them come back to American soccer’s immaturity. That includes the complicated relationship between divisions in what is sometimes called the American soccer pyramid.
Christos FC beating DC United would be an amazing story. The net effect for the Open Cup would be positive. Still, in an environment where MLS is constantly struggling for respect among soccer fans, some of them even avowed fans of MLS itself, losing to an amateur team would set in motion an existential crisis the likes of which we’ve never seen. A team like Christos FC taking down an MLS team in 1996 is one thing. If they do it in 2017, with the influx of TAM, the existence of the Designated Player, and the sense that MLS is at least supposed to be tracking toward a rapid improvement, the cacophony of derision would drown out any fair assessment of the game or its events.
In England, where the FA Cup is still hailed as a worthwhile competition despite the disinterest of top division teams when the finally enter the tournament, a tiny club slaying a giant is an opportunity to celebrate romance, not deride the quality of the bigger club. If a minnow takes down a whale in that competition, there’s no need to use it as a referendum on anything. It’s simply a quirk of the system and perhaps comeuppance if the higher division team didn’t field a strong enough side.
Then there’s the matter of mobility. While no one would expect a tiny non-league club to use a windfall from the FA Cup to climb the pyramid all the way up to the top few divisions, there’s at least a recognition that the money from a clash with a bigger club could push them forward. In the modern context, that often means funding a club with a long history for a couple more seasons at least and saving a group of fans from having to watch their beloved local institution from folding.
In the United States, there is no long history. At 20 years old Christos FC is something of a dinosaur, especially among amateur teams. There won't be a major windfall of revenue from the match against DC United. The game is away (although not at United’s main venue), and there is no split of the gate. What Christos does get is a $15,000 award for being the last amateur side left in the competition. That should be enough to keep them going and defray their travel costs. It won’t turn an amateur side professional or push Christos into the national consciousness.
Rooting for the underdog, for the decided Cinderella story, is still a worthwhile thing. If not for the possible romance of it, there might not be a reason to hold the US Open Cup anymore at all.
Christos FC is an amazing story. The little team from Baltimore deserves interest and support if only because they represent the possibilities of the Open Cup. Is American soccer ready for a club like Christos to knock off an established MLS team? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, the opportunity is the point of an open cup.
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