“Oh the Legends of soccer have a great team this year. They have just polished off Manchester United and are looking to take the cup again…”
That’s the way Legends FC manager Kanish Ali says he and his teammates would joke around with English accents in the early days of the club. The team was founded in 1992 with friends who played together at the high school, college and club levels. “There was no MLS and you had not much to look forward to after college ball for any professional leagues. So this was our avenue of fun and friendship.” Ali says, having played and coached the team since it’s inception. He estimates he has spent $30,000 on the team during that time.
Ali is a native of Afghanistan who came to the United States in 1978 at the age of nine. Unable to go back to his native land due to the war with the Soviet Union, Ali’s family became citizens. Ali’s explains the team’s logo serves as a tribute to his birthplace. “The logo was inspired by the Panjshir province in Afghanistan. The Panjshir literally means, in Farsi, five lions.” Ali says. “The province was named after the feared five lions who roamed and hunted there. This beautiful area is known for its picturesque valleys, rivers, valuable gems and stones.” Ali says fondly of his former home.
You hear the phrase “Power Conference” every year leading up to the NCAA Basketball tournament, referring to leagues that routinely see a good number of their teams advance to the tournament. If there was such a thing in the USASA, the North Texas Premier Soccer Association (NTPSA) would fit the bill. Remarkably, eight of the last 14 US Open Cup spots allotted to USASA Region III teams have been claimed by clubs from the NTPSA.
The NTPSA is the home of Dallas Roma, who made history in 2006 by becoming the first USASA team to defeat professional club (Miami FC) and then an MLS team (Chivas USA) in Open Cup play. Azzurri FC have won the 2006 USASA Amateur Cup, as well as the 2003 and 2005 USASA Over 30 cup. With this year’s qualification, Legends is now even with league rivals Azzurri FC for three Cup appearances, and they surpass Dallas Roma’s two Cup runs.
|North Texas teams in
The US Open Cup
|2004 – Legends FC, Azzurri SC
2005 – Azzurri, Dallas Roma FC
2006 – Legends FC, Dallas Roma FC
2007 – Azzurri SC
2010 – Legends FC
Legends nearly made it 10 out of 14 cup appearances for NTPSA teams, but just missed qualifying for the cup in 2008 and 2009. In 2008, the team finished one point behind eventual qualifier ASC New Stars. Last year the team fell just short once again, dropping a 1-0 decision to eventual qualifiers Atlanta FC, finishing second once again. The 2009 qualifying team was put together on short notice, and team leader Ali could not travel with them due to the birth of his son. “They learned a lot from that trip” Ali says of the 2009 squad, most of whom comprised the roster of the Legends FC team that won the USASA U-23 Cup later that summer. “It was a very young team and they did very well but experience does count”. Twelve players from the U-23 cup winners are on this year’s team.
Ali also cited leadership as the big difference in this team from those of the past few years. He says twin brothers Esteban and Manuel Mariel are a couple of veterans who are setting an example for the rest of the squad. “Without their leadership and help, this team would not be together.” Ali explained. “They have put together the team and they also run and organize the training sessions. I usually go to these and participate to get fit and make sure we are progressing. In the past, I ran everything. I run my own company (Legends Roofing) and without their commitment and help it wouldn’t be impossible.”
A majority of the team is under 22 years old, and most of them have played together over the past few years at Southern Methodist University. Many of the players were involved in SMU’s teams that reached the NCAA College Cup tournament in 2006 and 2007. Many of them live and work in the Dallas area, and view Legends FC as a way to stay in view of MLS clubs looking for new talent. Some recent Legends FC players who have made that leap to MLS include 2009 Rookie of the Year Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Jason Thompson (DC United), and Ugo Ihemelu (FC Dallas).
Speaking of their opponents, FC Tampa Bay, Ali has nothing but praise for them. “We know they are a good team and have a lot of respect for them. We hope to give them a good game as they are the professional team coming in town. We have heart and dedication to do well. This is probably why we want to enter the Open Cup, The opportunity to play good teams.”