Welcome to our continuing series of Meet the USASA features where we annually profile the clubs representing the United States Adult Soccer Association in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Advancing from the four regional tournaments, these often unknown clubs have great stories to tell and each year, our goal is to allow fans to get to know them as they attempt to become this year’s Cinderella story.
The Dulles Sportsplex Aegean Hawks are back in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup for the third time in the last six years. If you think the team name is a mouthful, you’re right, but as the club’s manager Jon Knight is quick to point out, the Hawks wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for their main sponsor that supports his pay-to-play club from the Washington DC area.
After qualifying for the Open Cup for the first time in 2007, the Hawks nearly folded, but were brought back from the brink by the folks at Dulles Sportsplex (Sports Management Group). While the bulk of the team’s finances are provided through financial support of their sponsors, the players all pay season dues as a central philosophy of the team to shoulder the burden of the team’s obligations.
“Recently we have adopted the motto of Scotland’s Queen’s Park FC, ‘Ludere Causa Ludendi’ (to play for the sake of playing), because it perfectly encapsulates the essence of our team,” said Knight. “The fact that we are hosting a Lamar Hunt US Open Cup match shows how far we have come from our first appearance in 2007.”
The Hawks are hosting the PDL’s Carolina Dynamo at the Maryland Soccerplex in Boyds, MD (7:30 p.m. kickoff), aiming for their first Open Cup win. Their previous two appearances they found themselves playing road games against third division professional teams. In 2007, they lost 4-0 to the Harrisburg City Islanders (USL-2) and two years later, they lost a lightning-shortened 1-0 decision to the Real Maryland Monarchs.
The Hawks have been the dominate team out of the Metro DC/Virginia Soccer Association for the last seven years, including their three Open Cup appearances in 2007, 2009 and this year. They have represented DC/VA in the USASA Region I tournament every year they have entered the state tournament since 2006 (In 2011, they entered the Maryland qualifying tournament). In addition to their impressive Open Cup resume, they have a laundry list of trophies, highlighted by their 2009 USASA Amateur Cup national title.
The team was founded in 1996 by a group of Greek and Cypriot University students in the D.C. area, and is named after a Greek Army helicopter. As the years passed, most of the players who founded the team either stopped playing or went back to their homelands, and the name was kept out of respect for the founders.
“Often people have asked why I have never changed the name of the team since all the original Greek and Cypriot founders and players are no longer with the club,” explained Knight. “My response to them is that they still are, very much, with the club both in spirit and with support. This was their team I inherited in 2002 and it already had a good local tradition, which I knew as a player for the Hawks since 1998.”
The Hawks began their journey to the tournament by defeating their rivals Club Atletico Virginia 3-1 to capture their sixth DC/VA Open Cup title in the last eight years. Guilherme Fonseca assisted on all three goals, two of them by Ernesto Marquez and the other by Sam Scales.
The opening game of the Region I tournament against Eastern Pennsylvania champion West Chester United went the same way as the last one. The Hawks scored the first three goals, and held on to win the game 3-1. Fonseca assisted on two more goals and the third was an own goal.
They would punch their ticket with a 2-0 win over the Maryland Bays in the Region I semifinals with a first half goal by Watson Vaughan Prather and a late unassisted clincher by Fonseca.
Fonseca, as evidenced by his performances in qualifying is the team’s No. 10 in midfield. The Brazilian spent time in the Santos Academy where he played with AC Milan star Robinho
In midfield, Fonseca is flanked by two players with major conference experience in their college days. Former Ohio State Buckeye Sam Scales and local product, and former Maryland Terrapin, Erwin Diaz. His fellow central midfielder Watson Prather played for Wisconsin.
The backline is full of experience for the Hawks, featuring a couple of former USL players on the outside with Mateus Dos Anjos and Devlin Barnes. The middle of the defense is anchored in the middle by Pat Selwood, who played his college ball at Bucknell University.
Up top, one of their top forwards is Ernesto Marquez who led George Mason in scoring during his senior season in 2010. Marquez was coached at GMU by Greg Andrulis, who led the Columbus Crew to the 2002 US Open Cup title.
The team will be without a key player on Tuesday as captain, and George Washington alum, Michael Goldman will miss the game due to a red card he received back in 2009 when the Hawks lost to Real Maryland in the First Round.
“This year’s team is different,” said Knight, who returns just two starters from their first Open Cup run in 2007. “The defining characteristic of this team remains the willingness to compete for each other. We still pride ourselves on being a ‘Band of Brothers’ and it’s a close knit group. There are no superstars on this team, and there is a very good balance.
“We’re a little banged up right now, particularly in our front and back lines, but this equals opportunity for some of the other players in our pool to step up to the challenge,” said Knight. “With so many Cup games recently, we’ve made sure that our entire roster pool has gotten a crack at contributing and getting playing time in our Washington Premier League matches.”
On Tuesday they will open the tournament against the Carolina Dynamo of the Premier Development League who have been competing in the Open Cup since 1996, both as a pro and an amateur franchise. They are making their second straight appearance and have been very successful since joining the PDL in 2004. They have qualified four times as a PDL team and have a 5-2-0 record, including their historic run to the Fourth Round in 2006 where they upset the Richmond Kickers (3rd Division) and the Seattle Sounders (2nd Division) before falling to the Houston Dynamo of MLS, 4-2.
“We have the talent and the capacity to get the result on May 15, but know that it will be a tremendous challenge,” said Knight. “The Carolina Dynamo are a strong PDL side and we know we’ll be up against a talented team chock full of top ACC stars. But playing at home will be a huge boost to us and allow several players that would otherwise not be able to attend, to figure in the match.”
Knight clearly values the tournament, something that hasn’t been lost on his players.
I think the Open Cup is great for the American game as a whole and is certainly a testament to the vision of Mr. Lamar Hunt,” said Sam Scales, who helped Ohio State reach the College Cup Final in 2007. “It honors what the sport has grown to become in the US and I am honored to be partaking in the Cup with the Hawks.”
“This tournament represents the most exciting opportunity for a men’s amateur team,” added Knight. “We want to push ourselves to play at the highest level we can, because we love the game and it still gives back to us.Nobody on this team is playing pro anymore, for some it’s in their future, for others it’s in the past. Most of us never had a chance. But this tournament allows a team like ours to dream big, set a goal and go after it, together.”