A Magical Run

Published: Oct 2, 2017
Boyds, Md--6/13/17--Christos FC team photo. Christos FC, an amateur soccer club from Baltimore, plays DC United in the fourth round of the US Open Cup at the Maryland Soccerplex. Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun Staff. (Christos FC team photo)

The story of Christos FC and its unlikely ascent into the national U.S. Open soccer tournament in June is truly the stuff of fairy tales – especially considering the fact that the amateur team lacks a home field, and does not practice.

And yet, the team – a third of which played for UMBC as students – not only blasted into the fourth round of the tournament, but gave the professional players of D.C. United quite a scare before ultimately losing 4-1.

“The players were good on the team, but it was a men’s league team that really just got together and plays on Sundays and [has] fun still,” said UMBC assistant coach Pete Caringi III ’15, psychology. “It really was a crazy couple of weeks. We felt like we were professional players when, in reality, we were going to work and then taking off just to play soccer.”

Everything started when Christos scored a 3-0 victory over Fredericksburg FC in their first game in early May in a tournament featuring nearly 99 amateur and professional teams. They next faced the Richmond Kickers from the United Soccer League, a professional team. Former Retriever Geaton Caltabiano ’14, psychology, scored a late goal that gave Christos a 1-0 victory.

In the third round of tournament play, Christos headed to Chicago to play Chicago FC United, a team that competes in the top amateur level. Christos won that game 1-0 and earned a $15,000 prize for being the final amateur team left in the tournament.

D.C. United – the professional team from Washington – came next, along with tons of publicity. The game took place at Maryland SoccerPlex where another former UMBC player, Mamadou Kansaye ’15, psychology, scored to give UMBC an early 1-0 lead, sending many of the 5,286 fans (according to the Washington Post) into a frenzy.

“That was some of the most fun soccer I’ve ever played.” – Goalie Phil Saunders ’13

The game stayed close, but D.C. United took charge with two late goals for a 4-1 victory. Even with the loss, the Christos team enjoyed more attention than they ever would have expected. Named for the local liquor store that sponsors the team, Christos gained worldwide coverage during the tournament, including the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post, ESPN, USA TODAY, and more. The team scored an Adidas apparel deal, and its bright green uniforms caught the eye of many more.

By the time Christos took on D.C. United, even people who did not follow soccer regularly knew about the team and its 15 minutes of fame. Seemingly anyone who loved soccer, and many who didn’t, wanted to know the story of this unlikely team.

Goalie Phil Saunders, who played for UMBC until 2013 and is the new men’s soccer coach at CCBC-Catonsville, laughed when talking about the publicity, saying he received more in this run than during his professional playing days (one season with the Baltimore Blast and two years in Iceland).

More than anything, he enjoyed playing with his buddies.

“Going to those away trips and hanging out with friends; that was pretty much as ideal as it gets,” he said. “It was perfect. That was some of the most fun soccer I’ve ever played.”

“It was the amateurs versus the pros. We felt that attachment. We felt this was sort of a UMBC story, too,” said Retriever coach Pete Caringi, Jr. “This is a group of players that… liked playing with one another. It’s a great reflection on the players that went through the [Retriever] program. It made us all proud.”

— Jeff Seidel ’85

Image: Permission from The Baltimore Sun. Top Row, farthest L-R: Joseph Glos ’15, Phil Saunders ’13, Pete Caringi III ’15; Bottom, second from left, Levi Houapeu ’15; far right: Mamadou Kansaye ’15

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