For Pete's Sake

The most democratic dream in American sports

Photo: Peter Andrews

No, that isn’t the Philadelphia Union in the picture to the right. That’s Gam United FC.

You’ve never heard of Gam United FC.

That’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’d never heard of them either — at least, before this past weekend.

On assignment for, I headed out to Aurora, Colorado, on Sunday to cover the first round of qualifying for the 2019 U.S. Open Cup. These rounds are the opportunities for amateur sides to qualify for the competition proper, which begins next year.

(In typical U.S. Soccer fashion, there isn’t much clarity about exactly how many spots are actually available for these teams, and how many qualifying rounds will be necessary. “The available number of berths into the First Round of the 2019 U.S. Open Cup will be determined by the Open Cup Committee at a later date,” a media release announced yesterday. Okay.)

There were maybe 80 fans scattered in the grandstand of a high school soccer stadium as Gam United FC kicked off against Northern Colorado FC, the voices of the team captains barking orders audible over the low chatter of the observers.

Both teams allowing themselves, just for a moment, to dream of the impossible.

We get the job done

Before the match, Temi Osifodunrin, Gam’s general manager, explained to me that his team consisted of members of Aurora’s immigrant and refugee community.

Since 2014, Gam United’s mission (alongside their partner club, Bright Stars of Colorado) has been to serve Aurora’s youth in these communities through soccer. (They also have an undeniably cool crest.)

For one reason or another, Gam United’s players all ended up thousands of miles from their home land, plunked down in the middle of a new continent. And soccer was one thing that helped bind them together.

Last season, Gam United participated in Open Cup qualifying for the first time, but failed to advance.

The match was as wild and intense as you’d expect from two teams of very skilled amateurs chasing one impossible dream. Gam notched two goals before the twentieth minute on two smooth finishes, but found themselves down to ten men after a defender picked up two yellow cards in 35 minutes.

Despite surrendering a penalty goal in the early part of the second half, Gam United persevered. You could see the fatigue on every player’s face, the pain as their striker pushed through what looked to be a sprained ankle because his manager had used all three substitutions.

When the final whistle blew, there was jubilation. Friends and family streamed onto the pitch, celebrating with their triumphant team.

One step closer to the impossible.

A community wants the cup

On a spectacular and confusingly uncharacteristic run of form, the gritty Philadelphia Union ride into their third-ever U.S. Open Cup final feeling like the first trophy in club history is within their grasp.

Union fans know how cruel the cup can be. The club has come so close to raising the trophy twice before. If you need a full reminder, you should check out Dave Zeitlin and Matt De George’s oral history of the 2014 Open Cup run over at The Athletic. (The less said about the 2015 final with John McCarthy facing PKs over Andre Blake… the better.)

While the club has always taken the tournament seriously, that approach is not universal among the professional American clubs, or even among supporters.

Some of that is cultural. I mean, have you ever tried to explain the U.S. Open Cup to someone who isn’t reared on the FA Cup and the Copa del Rey? “Yeah, it’s like if professional basketball teams could play in March Madness while also doing their NBA season, but the six guys who are always shooting at the neighborhood hoop could play too.”

But that’s what makes the cup so special. There’s literally nothing else like it in American sports.

Gam United and Philadelphia Union have almost nothing in common.

All of the Union’s players will make their livelihood this year playing professional soccer, not use their real jobs to support their love of the game.

They’ll fly halfway across the country to play in a stadium built specifically for soccer, not travel across town to play on a football field.

They’ll play in front of thousands of fans, not dozens.

And they’ll have a chance to lift the trophy, not a hazy road toward simply qualifying for the tournament proper.

Yet the dream is the same for both.

Where else can a team of amateur immigrants and refugees in Colorado and a trophy-starved professional side on the banks of the Delaware share the same dream?

The U.S. Open Cup “is what we love about soccer,” Gam United captain Karim Soumah said after the match.
“The competition, the fans, and the beauty of soccer.”
It’ll all be there for the Union on Wednesday night, the most democratic dream in American sports just within their grasp.
Will they take their chance?


    • And they play each other Oct 21 at 2:30. Looks like at Uki’s. It’s the same day of the Union home finale against Red Bulls at 3 PM.
      Thanks for the link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *