Christos FC's Cinderella U.S. Open Cup run ends vs. D.C. United but lands Adidas backing

Wednesday June 14th, 2017

Thinking back to the moment his club shocked U.S. soccer, Shawn Smith can only think of one word to describe it. 

“Mayhem,” he said, describing the reaction to Mamadou Kansaye’s 23rd-minute goal for Christos FC against D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup’s fourth round on Tuesday night at the Maryland SoccerPlex. “The whole place went crazy.” 

That much is evident from video of the goal showing the moment that Christos, a Baltimore-area amateur team sponsored by a liquor store, took the lead against one of the most decorated clubs in Major League Soccer. The club’s supporters, the most vocal of which gathered on the grass hill behind one of the goals, stampeded down toward the corner flag to celebrate. Smith, who founded the club with some of his soccer-playing friends 20 years ago, was right there next to them. 

“I was the yellow shirt behind the goal, telling (D.C. United goalkeeper Travis) Worra to go drink a beer.” Smith says. “To go up 1–0, that’s heaven right there.” 

This particular heaven didn’t last all that long. Julian Buescher equalized for United about 12 minutes later, and eventually the pro squad’s superior fitness won out over a Christos FC side that rarely trains together, since most work day jobs. Lloyd Sam scored the winner in the 81st minute, and United added two more in stoppage time to bring the final score to 4–1. 

For Smith, though, Christos’ off-field victories were numerous. First, and most obvious, was the confirmation of what Smith and others at the club had suspected. When playing at its best, Christos matched up well with an MLS side made up mostly of reserves. 

“That’s pretty much right at the level we’re at,” He said. “If we stayed fit, we’d be right there with those guys.”

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The second victory was much more tangible. After turning heads and progressing to the fourth round wearing unbranded highlighter-green shirts, Christos entered the field on Tuesday night with a full Adidas strip—the product of a brand-new sponsorship deal with the sportswear manufacturer.

The senior team is just one relatively minor part of that deal, though: The sponsorship money from Adidas will allow Christos to start a recreational league for kids aged 4-6. A moment in the spotlight turned into results at a grassroots level: After negotiating with Adidas and others (including Under Armour and Nike) for months beforehand, Smith said the team’s third-round win over Chicago FC United helped push things to get finalized. 

“We don’t have the numbers yet for the rec league, which means we couldn’t say ‘O.K., we have 500 kids that you’ll be outfitting.’ We were looking for someone to believe in us now, so that it’ll pay off for them down the road. Adidas really stepped up for us.” 

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There was also the matter of the support the club enjoyed for the biggest (or at least the most publicized) match in its history. Last year on almost exactly the same date, D.C. United played an Open Cup game at the Maryland SoccerPlex against the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers. The announced attendance was 1,800. On Tuesday, it was 5,286. 

“I would say 80% of the stadium was supporting Christos,” Smith said. “On a typical Sunday, to go watch these guys play, it’s me and my son, (club co-founder) Jody Haslip, and some other players here and there will come out and watch. In all, maybe five people there to watch a typical game. To get so many to this one was just unbelievable.” 

Christos FC likely won’t benefit financially, though. U.S. Soccer policy allows home teams to keep 100% of the gate for U.S. Open Cup games, and Smith says that any talk of United donating a portion of the proceeds to Christos is “wishful thinking” in light of that. 

However, the most important victory for the club on the night it bowed out of the Open Cup goes beyond money, and it could impact the competition for many cycles to come.

“At the amateur level, it gives other clubs hope. They see what we did and they know that they can do the same,” Smith said. “Based on the results we got leading up to the D.C. United game, the team deserved to play that game. To have it be 1–1 through 80 minutes against D.C. United; they deserved that too.”

He pauses, then adds with a laugh: “And then to give up three goals in the last 10 minutes, well, I guess they deserved that too! 

“There’s nothing you can do, Those D.C. guys train for hours a day!”

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