The Rise and Fall of Fortitude FC
The story of Fortitude FC started like most other soccer clubs in this country. It was a team I put together with a bunch of guys who just wanted to get back into playing. We chose to play in the Howard County Soccer League, as a lot of us had played in the league when we were younger. We spent a year in that league. Our first season as Fortitude FC was rough, like really rough - we lost every game. We improved dramatically in our second season, qualifying for and eventually losing in the playoffs. After signing some new talented players, a move to a bigger and more competitive league was decided as the best step for the club.
At first, Fortitude FC started off as just a soccer team, but as time went on it became so much more. Dreaming of having a team that could help open doors for soccer players who are trying to get to the next step of their career - maybe they were overlooked or hadn’t had a real opportunity to showcase their talent. It wasn’t just about playing soccer with my buddies. It was for the “up and coming” and the vets of the soccer who had more to give. It was about building a team our community could stand by and enjoy their ride. And hopefully, eventually, fall in love with the badge, until they bleed Fortitude. At least that was my dream.
In October of 2018, I applied for the Maryland Majors Soccer League, never I thinking we would get accepted. A few weeks later, after we lost our playoff match in the Howard County Soccer League, I received the notice of acceptance to the league. Knowing I had to start planning, the first step was getting help to run Fortitude, it was too much for a single person. After reaching out to all my buddies, only one was excited about the idea. He quickly jumped onboard. We formed a partnership and began to plan our first season in the Maryland Majors.
In the beginning of 2019, we were set to start. We had held our tryouts and selected the players to put together the team. All signs were good, and we felt ready for our first game. It was a Morton Cup group stage match and we knew the first game was going to be rough. By the end of the Cup run we knew we needed some personnel changes. A few players were added, and some left the club.
We started our season in the Maryland Majors with 18 rostered players. We thought this was a very solid squad and it was. Our first few games were great, the future looked promising, but, as the old cliché goes, “all good things must come to an end.” Fortitude was no different. Three weeks into the season, my partner reached out to me to let me know he would be leaving the club. Now, there are no hard feelings felt or any malintent, I understand why he left. He wasn’t going to be able to put in the time a project like this requires and life handed him a great opportunity. It happens, but nonetheless it was going to have profound effects on the club.
The weeks following my partner’s exits, our team captain followed, and then, little by little, my players left. Not going into the reasons why, we had a hard time finding new players. Eventually we would end up with 13 players, though we eventually added back three more. However, with these challenging circumstances anyone with any talent level was accepted and that would come with a price. We struggled on the field and those struggles led to more player disengagement.
Week after week it seemed harder to field a full team at the start of kick off. For many games, we started or played the first half with just 7 players. While this was a valuable lesson for me, it was a hard realization too. A very good friend said to me, “some players just don’t realize the opportunity you are giving them, to play in a league like this one, for no charge, man what I would have done with this if someone gave us this opportunity back in our day.” Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to describe how I felt. There was no way to wrap my head around the fact that players were choosing not to show up. It was such an opportunity for them - not only were they getting highlights made for them, they were playing in the Maryland Majors. I just couldn’t understand it.
But then it arrived - doomsday. We had our first forfeit, due to only having six players there at kick off. The next two weeks weren’t different. What proceeded was probably the hardest thing I had to do, feeling like I failed. Throughout our first season in MMSL, the team saw a partner walk away, lost its team captain, lost its media team, and suffered from uncommitted players. Maintaining Fortitude was becoming a financial strain on me and there was only one direction to go. The sad reality was knocking on the door - that it was time to pull Fortitude out of the Maryland Majors and fold. It was the right thing to do, out of respect of the clubs, the players, the league, and, most importantly, for myself.
After a week of silence, it was time to let the world know. I reached out to my fellow Majors’ clubs to see if they wanted to pick up some of my players that deserved to join a new team. Then the club announcement was sent via Twitter. It was a tough decision, but the outcome shocked me. Many clubs and soccer fans had nothing but support for me. Some even sent messages of hope, asking for us to rebrand and return. However, I knew I wanted to do something else for Soccer in the United States. I wanted to keep fighting in a different way.
Shining light on issues and finding ways of helping clubs will be my next adventure. Everything we do is for the love of the game. Soccer has a way of grabbing someone’s heart and never letting go. We do everything we can to stay in this world we love, from being a supporter, playing to till you can’t, being a soccer activist, or even starting a club. However, at the end of the day taking care of lower league soccer is crucial - this is the foundation for soccer to survive here in the states. So, you can look for me on or off the field, in a shirt or reading my reports, you know I am here to do my part for the love of the game.
- Hector Monterroso