Dulles Sportsplex Aegean Hawks manager Jonathan Knight brings his club, new sponsor and all, into the 2009 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup with a better view of their situation than in 2007. “You can’t measure the power of that experience.” Knight says of their 2007 trip to Harrisburg, which ended in a 4-0 loss for Hawks.
“I think in 2007 there was an unstated belief, a naiveté that we would get to this level every year.” The Hawks missed out on the 2008 Cup with a 3-2 loss to New York Pancyprian Freedoms in the USASA Region I semifinals, but now that they are back and more prepared for their 2009 trip to nearby Rockville, Maryland to face Real Maryland FC Knight says the Hawks’ road to this point has prepared them better for what lies ahead. “Now we’ve been to this point before and had more games against quality opponents. Our preparation leading up to the regional qualification process has been much more thorough.” Knight says.
The club’s quest for a berth in this year’s Cup nearly ended right where it began. On January 18, a combination of injuries and miscommunication left the team able to field only 10 men for their opening round match in the D.C./Virginia qualifiers versus World Bank. In the 35th minute an injured player stepped on the field to bring the lineup to 11, but the Hawks eventually found themselves down 1-0 with just two minutes remaining. The tying goal began off the foot of Knight, who was pressed into emergency service. Knight, playing outside back, passed to midfielder Watson Vaughan-Prather, who then found Mike Minai in the penalty area to draw the match level. An own goal off a corner kick in extra time put the Hawks up 2-1, and Minai netted the clincher from another assist by Vaughan-Prather.
”I don’t think that there was ever any doubt in the players’ minds that we would find a way, but as the game approached the end of regulation, you couldn’t help but think that the Cup run could have been over,” Knight says. Head Coach Doug Homer perhaps sums up the Hawks drive best. “No one player has overlooked the cold training sessions in January and February or the scrimmages on the road at Delaware and James Madison to visualize success against a professional side in the US Open Cup.” Homer continues “If dedication and commitment could be tattooed on all of our players, I’d bet you’d see 24 guys with this on the arms come June 9th.”
The one thing that hasn’t changed much from 2007 is the core roster of the club. Leading the squad are two players with professional experience, Carlos Garcia (William & Mary, Virginia Beach Mariners, Montreal Impact, Baltimore Blast) and Anders Kelto (Brown/Michigan State, New England Revolution) as well as team center midfield co-captains Mike Goldman (George Washington) and Watson Prather (Univ. of Wisconsin). Mike Minai (St. John’s/Temple), Ricky Schramm (Georgetown, Richmond Kickers, New York Red Bulls), Erwin Diaz (Univ. of Maryland), Corey Curnutte (Bucknell), Andrew Loia (Bucknell), Clayton Voss (William & Mary), Nidhal Charfi (American), Luis Martinez (American), Nick Carlin-Voigt (Kalamazoo), Alex Fatovic (LIU), and Nate Adams (West Virginia-bound) have all been welcome additions to the squad since 2007. Other players who played in the 2007 cup run are Alan Golden (William & Mary), Ricardo Valverde (VCU), Eddie Thurston (Brown), Nick McMorris, John Stephens (James Madison), Alex and Andreas Nydal (JMU, William & Mary), Trevor Martin (George Washington), Justin Bodiya (Duke), Andy Zayas (Philadelphia U), Bryan Vitagliano (Univ. of Maryland), William Fierro (St. Leo), and Geoff Thompson (Old Dominion).
One factor Knight hopes to improve upon from 2007 is the team’s fitness and stamina. The Harrisburg match in ’07 was still 0-0 after sixty minutes, but the City Islanders scored four times in the final half hour once the Hawks players began to tire. “They were a special team that went on to win the 2007 USL-2 championship, so we had nothing to be ashamed of,” Knight says of their 2007 opponents. As for their 2009 opponents, the Hawks are quite familiar with Real Maryland, having played them in two friendlies in February and March. Knight notes that much has changed since then. “That was an entirely different team that bears little resemblance to the Monarchs of today. We really respect what Coach Hudson is doing with that organization. I think the progress they’ve made in the last six months is immeasurable.”
An aspect of the team that is markedly different from 2007 is the name of the team. Now known as the Dulles Sportsplex Aegean Hawks, the partnership was born in January 2008. At the time Doug Homer, coach of the US Maccabi in 2007 & 2008, worked with the Hawks to develop his training sessions for the Maccabi squad. Barry Gudelsky, one of the partners of Sportsplex Management Group, which owns Dulles Sportsplex and two other multi-sport facilities in the region, had been a long time Maccabi participant and supporter. Gudelsky had already sponsored a couple of the players on the Hawks for the Maccabi games, so he was familiar with the team. Doug and Barry both liked what they saw in the Hawks, in particular the commitment of the players to play for the love of the game and the high level of the team. Homer coaches with the Hawks as much as his schedule allows, and Gudelsky and his partners at Sportsplex Management Group have supported the team financially since January 2008. The team still asks for membership dues from the players, but without the financial support of Sportsplex Management, the Hawks would not likely be able to consistently pursue their team goals of a USASA amateur championship and Open Cup participation.
Above all else, Knight and his team will not take their Open Cup participation for granted. “Most of all, we know how hard it is to get these moments back.” Knight says.