Christos FC: Underdogs, at least to everyone else.
By now, you’ve probably heard about the Cinderella story of Christos FC, and their outstanding run in the 2017 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup which came to an end last night after an outstanding effort by the team in a 4-1 defeat to DC United.
If you haven’t heard about Christos or last night’s match by now, here are a couple of the typical headlines:
And so on.
The stories that we’ve read all talk about the amateur trophies, the liquor store sponsorship, and the GoFundMe page that Christos had to setup in order to raise funds for travel arrangements. And while someone over at Adidas, who recently provided Christos with brand new lime green kits, and others who closely follow soccer in the DMV area understand that Christos is more than just a “pub team” or “a group of guys who will be back at their full time jobs on Wednesday”, there’s no doubt that the story lines write themselves.
What has seemed to fall through the cracks during the past couple of months of Christosmania is the actual quality of the players on this Christos team, who held their own against DC United for the first 70 minutes on Tuesday night in Germantown, before falling victim to the brutal heat and MLS-quality subs that DC United were able to bring off of the bench in Lloyd Sam and Ian Harkes.
Pete Craingi III, Christos’ captain and main danger man throughout the season, has a profile on the MLS website. Why? Because he was invited to the 2014 MLS Combine after a successful career at UMBC. These days Pete is usually spotted at the major youth soccer tourneys and matches, recruiting for UMBC. They have a pretty solid freshman class coming in next season made up of a few guys who can play a little.
If you see what we did there, “a few guys who can play a little”, hopefully you’re picking up on a theme.
This team has thrived on everyone else’s perception, some of it self-inflicted, as the humble underdogs, or in the words of Washington Post’s well-respected local sports journalist Dan Steinberg….”the beer league guys”.
Uhhhh the beer league guys just scored. Mayhem pic.twitter.com/lweUW2egqP
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) June 14, 2017
The stories absolutely write themselves, there’s no doubt about that. And just as a note, Steinberg embraced the story and wrote a really cool piece on Washington Post about how “sometimes sports are good”.
Christos “the beer league team” was even featured on two different versions of ESPN Sportscenter last night, once by soccer buff and regular Sportscenter host Max Bretos (who else remembers the days of Max Bretos on Fox Soccer Channel?):
And once again by DMV’er and University of Maryland alumni member Scott Van Pelt:
The story was even on the front page of ESPN at one point!
— Christos FC (@ChristosFC) June 14, 2017
Others who have gotten in on the story/clicks/views of the little pub team that could include:
Sports Illustrated: Watch: Amateur team named after a liquor store scores on D.C. United
and so on, you get the point.
Local Pub Team Does Good. We Get It. But Why Does Christos Embrace It?
We mentioned earlier that some, if not a lot, of the “beer league guys” persona is self-inflicted, liquor store sponsorship excluded. When your team is warming up against an MLS team in US Open Cup wearing #alldaysoff shirts:
— DMV Soccer (@DMVsoccer96) June 13, 2017
It’s both hilarious, and genius. Find me someone who doesn’t love free publicity, and I’ll raise with someone who hates the sound of Morgan Freeman’s voice. Christos loves adding fuel to the media fire, but we don’t get the impression that the primary main objective is creating publicity.
While it may be true that the Christos don’t train together on a regular basis, and have full-time jobs that they had to be back at this morning at 7:30 am:
Christos’ Cody Albrecht says he’ll be back at work at Northrop Grumman at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow. The Open Cup! #DCvCFC
— Thomas Floyd (@thomasfloyd10) June 14, 2017
Everyone in that Christos camp, and everyone in the DMV area who is aware of their quality, knows that these guys are more than just your average “pub team”. This is a group of guys who, I believe, add fuel to the media fire for one main reason: the internal “let’s go show them” mentality which every great team possesses.
Write your stories. Do your interviews. Tweet your thoughts. We’ll happily answer your questions, ride the wave, and we’ll do something good with it…. like help donate 300 tee shirts to the crowd at Maryland Soccerplex last night, or look into starting youth soccer programs next season for kids who can’t afford higher-level club programs….and then we’ll go show you we can play.
And yes, this a group of guys who know how to play the game, both on and off the field.
Cody Albrecht, University of Maryland and DeMatha, does some private and group training on the side.
Phil Saunders, former UMBC GK, coaches in the area and very involved in the game.
Mamadou Kansaye, former UMBC captain, coaches at Ellicott City Soccer Club and scored a great free kick against DC United last night.
We know Christos is more than an average pub league team, we’ve seen the trophies and some of us have had to play against their teams in Over-30 ball. But what gets you more fired up and motivated on the field than when EVERYONE, opponents included, is under-estimating you before the game even starts?
Beer league bros to you, underrated to us. Speaking of underrated, aka the title of this piece…
The position of CDM, aka the 6. Most of the time, the guy who makes everything look simple and does the dirty work which almost always goes unnoticed. Many will say that defensive midfielders, as a position, are no longer underrated with the emergence of guys like N’Golo Kante, Ander Herrera, or Naby Keita at Red Bulls Leipzig.
When you have a good 6 who can protect the back line, who can read the game quickly enough to be in position to cut off passing lanes, and who doesn’t give away possession, whatever you get offensively can sometimes be the cherry on the top.
Chrstos went 4-2-3-1 last night:
With 2 guys, Kaoru Forbess and Mamadou Kansaye, in front of the back line.
20 minutes in, watching via DC United live feed, it seemed like Forbess had a license to get forward more offensively, with Kansaye dropping deeper whenever DCU were in possession. There were 3 or 4 times when Kansaye was able to read the build-up and break up DC United attacks, yet the announcer didn’t really mention his name much.
Pete Carringi, Cody Albrecht, Phil Saunders, seemingly every other Christos player is mentioned by now at least once. And to the DC United announcer, if you’re reading this, no shade thrown your way, great job last night. We’re just trying to set some context here.
Then comes a foul at the top of the box, free kick Christos. Announcer mentions DCU goalkeeper’s name, and then, after previously referring to him as “Christos FC”, Mamadou Kansaye, who actually called his shot (see interview below) scores a free kick goal, somehow managing to get the ball up and over the wall from such a short distance.
It’s what everyone wanted to see, after reading all of the stories. The beer guys scored.
The neon green shirts flocking to the corner flag to celebrate.
People running from the bench area in full sprint to join them.
Want to see the “Beer league guys THAT!” face?
You’ve probably seen at least 3 different live videos from the goal by now, and that’s because almost everyone in attendance last night was holding up their phones, hoping to capture that one brilliant moment of passion that every soccer player, coach, and fan lives for.
Did they lose 4-1? Sure. But that one moment, the moment when the “beer league guys” scored against DC United, that’s what was on full National display last night in Germantown at Maryland Soccerplex, during a time when many in our country are looking for a feel-good story.
You Said Something About the 6 Guy?
He Can “Play a Little”
Once again, just setting some more context here. I’m in the process of completing my ‘D’ Coaching License, and met Mamadou (below, in Chelsea jacket) for the first time during the course.
Some really quality guys who love the game and are fun to be around, including a great instructor in Rob Ryerson, and an up-and-coming DC United Academy youth coach in Jason Boxx.
I’d never seen Mamadou play at UMBC. Heard he was a good player, but when we started playing during field demos that weekend and he told me he was a 6, I didn’t actually believe him at first. Shorter guy, skinnier frame, quick…he looks like a winger at first.
Then he steals the ball from you, smiles, and goes about his business and you’re like…”oh, okay, he’s a 6″.
Since becoming friends with Mamadou, a few things that I’ve learned about him: A very good coach with a great understanding of the game. Very generous with his time when it comes to teaching others, with a sincere desire to see others succeed.
But I’ve only known the guy for a few months. What do some others have to say about him?
Long-time UMBC assistant Anthony Adams, who coached Mamadou at UMBC, gave us a detailed description of what it was like working with Mamadou that left me with the impression that not many have asked him about such an integral part of the “beer league guys'” success:
“Mamadou is one of the smartest soccer players I have ever had the privilege of coaching. He is also a general on the field that holds every player accountable. Along with his high character and integrity as a person, I can’t say enough positive things about him.”
Adams, who has coached at UMBC for 21 years and is as respected of a soccer coach as you will find, goes on about a player that he obviously holds in such high regard:
“After Levi created the free kick and Mamadou scored, it was a huge rush of emotions for me in all aspects. As a former coach of Mamadou, at the club and college level, and in my 18-year history with Christos FC…to be up against D.C. United in that setting, on that stage, it was just incredible. I couldn’t be happier for those players and the Christos FC organization.” –Anthony Adams
Someone else who knows a little bit about Mamadou’s quality: former Borrusia Dortmund player and DMV’er abroad Joe Gyau. Through his time playing overseas, and at Youth National Team camps, Joe is a guy who has been around hundreds of players, but was more than happy to talk about his close friend and former teammate:
(laughs) Yeah me and Mamadou go way back! We played together and won State Cup and Regionals together during our youth days with Potomac. Great player, very intelligent on the field. One of the smoothest natural lefties I know. –Joe Gyau
The Day After, How Does it Feel to Score Against DC United and Get on SportScenter?
Hear it from the man himself.
I spoke to Mamadou earlier today, asked him a few questions and it’s obvious from his responses that the moment itself hasn’t really phased him.
Me: “Hey man, congrats on the performance last night. Your goal was on SportsCenter, your phone has probably been blowing up all day, and you can probably barely walk. What’s the craziest thing to happen to you since last night’s goal?”
Mamadou: (laughs) You’re right, I can barely walk. My legs are killing me! It was a great game, and I thought we played really well as a team up until late in the second half. DC United, bringing on subs like Sam and Harkes….who was great by the way, I really like his passing range and a very smart player….but they were just too much for us there at the end.
I was really happy to score the goal, but we were all hoping for a better result so I haven’t really been paying too much attention to Twitter or Facebook.
The craziest thing that happened was, after the game I said hello to a lot of the Christos fans, looked around but couldn’t find my mom anywhere! I called her, and said ‘mom where are you’?
She told me she left early to beat traffic! She was like ‘well you guys weren’t going to win, so why would I stick around?!’ (starts laughing)”
Me: “Haha she sounds like a tough mom to impress! What do you remember about the goal, and the celebration afterward? Christos players supposedly don’t practice, did you used to practice free kicks a ton?”
Mamadou: “I’ve been working on free kicks from that position for the past few weeks, actually. I’ve taken a ton of them. I told the guys before the game, ‘if we get a free kick from the left side of 18-yard box, nobody touch the ball. It’s all mine’, and (laughs) this might sound a little arrogant or whatever, but I told the guys before the game I would score from there!
Levi did great to win the free kick, and before I set it up he actually said to me “don’t forget, you said you’d score from here” so he added some extra pressure. I remember the ball going into the back of the net, and from that moment on I basically blacked out. It’s all still a blur!”
Me: “Great stuff man, and a great story! So in terms of memorable moments in your soccer career, this has to be up there, right? I mean, dude, you were on SportsCenter!”
Mamadou: “I’ve been really fortunate to have some great soccer memories. This is up there, but isn’t number one”.
Me: “I gotta ask, what’s number one then?!”
Mamadou: (laughs) Meeting Zizou! I met Zinadene Zidane in 2009 at an Adidias Youth event in Denver, that guy was the best player ever! I’ll never forget meeting him”.
Me: “Okay, that’s really cool. But in terms of playing moments, what would trump scoring vs DC United in front of all of those people?!”
Mamadou: “My senior year at UMBC, we beat Maryland at Maryland. That’s number one for me. Yes, I’m happy about the goal, and being on SportsCenter is cool. But like my mom said, we lost, which is all I care about. Beating Maryland, at Maryland? That was special.”
It’s obvious after speaking with my buddy Mamadou that Momma Kansaye did a pretty good job, and that he is a great example of what made this Christos story so memorable, both on and off the field.
The mainstream media coverage and feel-good story about the “beer league team” that scored against DC United is one that everyone enjoys. But at the end of the day, this wasn’t a bunch of average guys who got lucky, “drank regularly”, never trained and rolled out of bed one morning to beat professional teams. This was a group of guys who have played all of their lives, believed in themselves, stayed together as a team, did what they had to do, and made the DMV proud.
Maybe to you.