When Baltimore-based Christos FC squares off with MLS foe D.C. United June 13 at Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, Md., their counterparts will have a decided advantage.
That advantage? Having actually practiced at least once (but probably more.)
"In all honesty, in the two years I've been there we've trained the one time, and that's because U.S. Soccer came up and kind of wanted to make a video, so we did a training," Christos FC forward Pete Caringi III said in a
Glenn Clark Radio interview June 2
. "And that was with 10 people. With work schedules and everything it doesn't really work out.”
Christos FC is an amateur squad who has found success thanks in large part to a number of UMBC soccer alums, such as Caringi, who have continued playing together in various tournaments. (The team also features alums from other college programs in the area.) Their date with D.C. United is in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the oldest ongoing national soccer competition in the country. To get to this point, Christos FC already has had to knock off one pro team -- the USL Richmond Kickers.
And it's not as if the team just forgets about soccer when they aren't on a pitch together.
"Guys train on their own and guys do different things," Caringi said. "I know with UMBC, with me, during the spring and stuff, I'll train with them because I'm coaching there. So if they need an extra player I'll jump in. But for an actual training session, no, we haven't done one at all."
Of course, with a step up in competition this time around, perhaps a change in strategy is necessary.
"We might have to practice now with D.C. United being the opponent," Caringi said.
So on the cusp of the historic contest, did the team actually follow through?
"No, not of yet," Christos FC goalkeeper and UMBC alum Phil Saunders said in a
Glenn Clark Radio interview June 9
. "Same old, same old. We actually might get together [before the game] just to have a little kick about, get warmed up. But even still I don't think any of the coaches are going to be there or anything. It's just some guys meeting up so we can kick the ball around a bit. But nothing formal."
And at this point, is it perhaps more of a superstition to stay away from training?
"We kind of bring that up -- we don't want to change anything," Saunders said. "It's worked for us for … I don't know how many years. So why change it now?"
Essentially a Sunday league team, Christos FC's story has made it the recent darlings of the American soccer landscape. The team is named after a liquor store (Christos Discount Liquors in Glen Burnie, Md.) that has sponsored it. Christos FC used GoFundMe to help it travel during the tournament (although it since has made $15,000 for being the last amateur team standing in the U.S. Open Cup and received new gear from Adidas). In the past, two players would have to share a bed in order for the team to go on the road. And of course, they don't practice.
It seems like quite the Cinderella story, but there are a number of accomplished college players on the squad and some who have played professionally. Caringi was even a draft pick of the MLS squad Montreal Impact (although he never played in the league). Some players such as winger Levi Houapeu (another UMBC alum) have played professionally indoors for the Baltimore Blast.
"We have about 7-8 guys that have played in the USL recently or other pro leagues, like Phil [Saunders] was in Iceland," Caringi said. "There's been other leagues that we've played in recently. If you're not in high leagues, sometimes the money isn't that great or the situation of living isn't that great of a scenario so people come back."
Christos FC enjoys another advantage. Its chemistry isn't forced. These players genuinely want to play together.
"A lot of these guys, we're friends on and off the field," Saunders said. "We're hanging out every weekend. It's not like we just get together on Sundays and we don't see each other until the next Sunday. We've been playing with each other, some of us, for 10, 12, 15 years. It's just a lot of guys coming back, Baltimore guys having fun and playing soccer together again. It's some of the most fun soccer I've ever played in my career, that's for sure."
While D.C., United has struggled this season, Christos FC knows the task will be tough.
"I think they're going to want to put this little Cinderella story to bed," Saunders said.
Caringi added: "Obviously they're a MLS team with guys that are at the highest level in the country and we respect them a lot, especially being from the local area. I think we're just going to have to figure it out, play our game. I mean, there's no pressure on us. Just getting to this part right now has been unbelievable."