This year’s U.S. Open Cup Cinderella Story comes straight out of Charm City. Christos FC play in the MMSL (Maryland Major Soccer League), an amateur Sunday league. Their players have jobs. They don’t practice. And they’re sponsored by a family-owned discount liquor store.
Having already claimed one big scalp in this year’s U.S. Open Cup (the second-tier USL Richmond Kickers), Christos marched on fourth-tier PDL side Chicago FC United Wednesday and defeated them 1 - 0 thanks to a first minute goal from Levi Houapeu, 27, a former University of Maryland Baltimore County player who was drafted by the Philadelphia Union in 2011 and now works as an accountant.
That victory left Christos as the lone amateur side left in the competition, a title that comes along with $15,000 in prize money. It also sets up a fourth-round DMV Derby with none other than DC United, scheduled for June 13 at the Maryland SoccerPlex (where DCU plays its Open Cup games).
In this issue of the Raven, we speak with Shawn Smith, who, along with about a dozen other players, founded Christos FC in 1997. Smith, 46, is the owner of a small medical equipment company. As a player, he has graduated to the club’s over-30 and over-40 ranks, but still serves as what might be described as Christos director of football operations, if the club had a front office, or any kind of office. We caught up with him via Skype to discuss the team's makeup, how he’s experienced this magic Open Cup run, and what it will feel like to see his Sunday league side do battle with DC United.
MiB: Talk to us about what kind of players make up the Christos roster?
Shawn: There’s a handful of guys who were drafted into the MLS right out of college, but generally speaking, they are former division one to division three college soccer players. Most of them are around 25 years old, which is actually young for an amateur team. They all have day jobs. We have a plumber, a mortgage loan officer, youth coaches and a start up CEO.
We do tend to like guys that are hard-nosed and hard working. If you watch our back line play, they are bangers. They haven’t given up a goal during this Open Cup run. Our goalie Phil Saunders is phenomenal. He just got a job as a head coach at a local community college, but I don’t know why he’s not playing professionally somewhere.
MiB: Talk about your training schedule.
Shawn: There’s no day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month training. If we do get together, it’s a kick around. Life schedules make training difficult. We are a Sunday pub team and there’s no getting around it. It just so happens that this group is exceptional.
MiB: As a founder of the club, how special is this experience for you?
Shawn: We all care deeply. I went to Richmond for the second-round game. During the game, the 10 of us who went down looked at each other and thought, “We’re right in this. We’re not out of our league here.” And the goal we scored was legit. WATCH HERE. When the final whistle blew, we were ecstatic. It was hugs all around. Our phones blew up with people who knew how much it means to us calling.
I also flew to Chicago for the third-round game, and it was the same thing. That Chicago team was pretty good, but our boys did not break. From a pride standpoint, it’s hard to put into words. Our slogan is “CTID,” Christos Till I Die,” and that could not be more on display than right now.
MiB: You started this team 20 years ago. When you think about Christos FC taking on DC United, what do you dream is possible?
Shawn: There’s a rivalry between Baltimore and DC. DC has had an MLS team and Baltimore can’t get a sniff. The magnitude of this match has really escalated because it’s DC United.
When I watch our boys walk onto that field, goosebumps will set in. And to see the support these young guys will get from their families. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters who will get to watch them play against DC United. That will show the pride we have in our club, regardless of its stature.
As for the game itself, we’re playing with house money. If you’re 28 years old, you played division three soccer, and you’ve been playing in the Maryland Major Soccer League, you have nothing to lose. These guys are ready to go.