Today’s Spotlight club is the four-time Washington Premier League winners, four-time Helge Boes Cup holder, and the current Rowland Cup champion, Yinz United. Let’s learn about the club’s past, future, and current state. I had the pleasure to speak to Kareem Najib, a representative of the club. He shed some light on Yinz United’s origin and future. 2018 was a great year for the club, winning a double championship, both the league and then the Helge Boes Cup. Their amazing run continued and took them to be crowned Rowland Cup champions in early 2019.
Kareem is a pure product of the Marylander soccer system. He began his playing career with his time in a youth club in Maryland known as Soccer Association of Columbia. Then he would go on to play club soccer at the University of Virginia. Now he is a youth coach for Arlington Soccer Association going on 3 years. His story with Yinz has led to him to play for 5 years. He also is one of the two social media managers for the club. Here is how the rest of our conversation went:
What is the club’s origin?
The club was originally founded in 2004 by a group of guys from Pittsburgh, hence the black / yellow colors and the “Yinz” moniker, a term very specific to western PA.
What inspired the new badge?
We all felt like it was time to update our badge to go along with our new kits. The most popular idea within the team was to officially adopt our team nickname, the Pups, which stemmed from the old sponsorship we had on the front of our jerseys for years. And then the brick wall outline behind the pup is a unique design, but also represents our stout defense and goalkeeping, which has been a major part of why we’ve been a consistently great club in WPL for the last ten seasons. We also wanted to pay homage to the founders by ensuring the establishment date of the club was part of the badge going forward.
We love that badge isn’t necessarily intimidating because it’s a unique and distinct identity for our club in the DMV going forward and our game speaks for itself.
Your take away from the Spring 2019 season?
This season has been a learning experience for everyone in the club on how to manage to be consistent in the league while progressing through a long regional cup run. It’s not easy for the team to play at peak level every Sunday when you’re dealing with additional mid-week games, multiple games in a weekend, and limited time to practice. But we’ve got a deep, talented roster and every player has had to step up at different times to keep the 10-season playoff streak alive.
We were disappointed to not come away with a positive result in our final WPL regular season game to win the league, but our eyes are now set on a fifth Helge Boes Cup.
Why did you guys choose to play in the WPL? Did you guys always play in the WPL?
The Washington Premier League is the highest level of amateur soccer competition in the DC area. It’s been a no-brainer for us to remain in WPL since joining. The club originally started out in WISL, and even fielded a team there up until 2016, but we’ve shifted our focus entirely on WPL recently.
The WPL also gives us a chance to compete against top Maryland Majors teams in cup competition. This area is rich in talented soccer players and we’re grateful for these top leagues that give us a chance to compete against them year-round.
What experience do your players have playing soccer?
We have such a wide variety of experience on this team. About half of the guys have D1 college soccer experience, while the rest of the team is made up of guys that played college club soccer, D3 college soccer, and some even have NPSL experience. Our starting forward didn’t even play college ball and instead was a top track athlete at Yale.
Some highlights from our team include:
Spencer LaCivita, our starting goalkeeper, was a member of the national championship University of Virginia team in 2014
Chris Fanet, a former American University captain, went on to play in the Welsh Football League for Swansea University before returning stateside
Kjell Crooke, former Marymount standout, has experience playing professionally in Sweden for Robertsfors IK
Can you tell us about your Werner Fricker Cup run? How did you guys prepare for the tournament? How did you guys handle the lost in the finals? What did the team take away/learn from the awesome cup run?
Well it starts with the Rowland Cup which started way back in January. We put in work as a team all offseason with practices and track workouts to make sure we come into that well-prepared. We love getting a shot against all the extremely talented Maryland based clubs that we don’t get to see regularly.
But it should be no surprise that we most look forward to getting a shot against Christos FC, who have had our number in the Rowland and Stewart Cup in recent years. In 2015 we were eliminated by them in the quarterfinals of the Stewart Cup in penalties. In 2016 and 2017, they knocked us out of 3 finals and one semi-final, each match being by one goal, including two extra time thrillers. We haven’t forgotten about any of those and use it as motivation to get better every season. This season it finally paid off with our tough win over them in the Rowland final.
The Werner Fricker Cup has been great to give us a chance to compete against top teams in the region. BSC Raiders, who we had to travel up to Buffalo to face in the semi-finals, are easily one of the toughest teams we’ve faced over the last few years. Managing to get 14 players to show up for that game, most of whom drove 7 hours up to Buffalo directly prior to the match, without the resources of a pro or semi-pro team, is something we’re very proud of. And gutting out a 1-0 result with a tenacious defensive effort made that trip worth it.
The loss to Landsdowne Yonkers FC was tough to grapple with because we felt we were in control of most of that game. They deservingly scored about 30 minutes in, but after that we felt as if we had more of the possession, more of the scoring opportunities and should’ve put them away with a second goal in regular time. We went into extra time confident, but they scored in the first period and did a good job holding on to that lead. That’s a damn good team they have up there, and we hope we get a rematch in August at nationals.
Cup matches are always a challenge because we’re dealing with official substitution rules. So, the biggest takeaway every year, particularly this one, is to make sure our talent depth allows us to always have a strong lineup on the field and not falter at the end of matches due to fatigue. We also now have an idea of what resources it takes to play matches across the region. We need to make sure the team is set up financially to help with these deep cup runs, so we’re not limited in roster due to financial difficulties. Succeeding at nationals this summer is the first step to making sure we’re able to do that for the next few seasons.
What plans do you guys have for the club’s future?
Our top goal is to make a US Open Cup run. I think every amateur team in the country is envious of what Christos FC did in 2017, going on a magical run and earning the chance to play against DC United. We want to be the next team to do that. For us, that opportunity begins this summer and fall with nationals and US Open Cup qualification. With nationals being held locally in Elkridge, MD, we hope that we can gain some strong local support going in.
What can you tell us about your coach and his vision for the team?
We’re a completely self-run club without a coach. Our captains, Mike Zoellner and Dan Schoeff, along with other senior members of the team, organize all our practices, register us for tournaments, and manage the team on and off match days. This model works great for us because it’s an entirely self-motivated group of individuals who are always looking for like-minded players to be a part of this team and eventually be part of this leadership group. We hold each other accountable to always be prepared for the season and to be consistent on match day. If you’re not in good playing form and bringing down the team, we must have guys in charge who are willing to make tough decisions and adjustments.
Despite not having a coach, our vision is to always remain competitive in the WPL and Maryland State Cups to give our team a chance at Regionals and beyond every year. Players that are given a chance to join the club know the high level of expectations that are expected, and it keeps everyone motivated on maintaining their standing in the team.
Anything you’d like to add?
Support local soccer however you can! Go to your local pro or amateur matches. Get involved in coaching or refereeing. Anything you can support is all the better for it, and the game in this country can’t grow without it.