Aromas Cafe FC, best known for its success in the 2016 Lamar Hunt Open Cup, wants fans to see its deeper purpose this year.
“For us, it’s all about being part of the community, being a reflection of the community and this is the community. This is why we play,” player manager David Deaton says.
The amateur soccer team is an adult recreational team run through SOCA. Last May, Aromas defeated the Richmond Strikers of the National Premier Soccer League and advanced to the second round of the Open Cup. There, they faced the Richmond Kickers of the United Soccer League, where they bowed out after a 4-0 defeat.
Now, with the recent publicity, the team hopes to show fans the power of soccer.
“The power of the game is how it brings people together. I’ve been lucky, through my business travel, to be able to play games in India, to play games in Greece. I’ve played games in Brazil [and] Argentina,” Deaton says. “How do we translate this and showcase that Charlottesville has an incredibly diverse community?”
Deaton and the team’s owner, Hassan Kaisoum, hope to bring immigrants and Charlottesville residents together through the sport and shed light on what they perceive as Charlottesville’s lacking soccer infrastructure.
Midfielder Mark Gaya came to Charlottesville from Kenya “with literally just a suitcase.” Shortly after his arrival, Gaya stumbled across a pickup soccer game at UVA’s Madison Bowl recreation fields but did not have cleats to play. One of the players, who came from Iran, offered him an extra pair of cleats. Since then, Gaya has been active in the soccer community.
“In my everyday [life], because of my line of work, I wouldn’t be able to sit down or meet with these people. But [soccer] allows me to do that, and learn about a different culture,” Gaya says.
Aromas Cafe FC doesn’t have a recruiting process like some competitive teams; members simply play pickup games around Charlottesville and are chosen from there.
“There really is no formal recruiting process,” defender Kyle Rose says. “There is a strong local local community of soccer players in the area so you know the players in the area. But a lot of these guys want to stay involved in the soccer scene.”
Aromas Cafe FC is made up of players from around the world, including Iran, Croatia, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Kenya and Ghana. The team started about a decade ago, according to former player Godfrey Branche, with just a few players, and now has a list of 80 or 90 names.
“This group started with my co-rec team,” Branche says. “In the offseason we would get people together and meet up at Carr’s Hill sometimes. Once we left [Carr’s Hill] and went to Division II in soccer, we started to add more people from different parts of the league.”
Now, as the soccer community grows, Deaton stresses the problems with the soccer infrastructure in Charlottesville, claiming there are no public soccer fields with lighting, making it difficult for the team to practice in the fall and winter. This affects more than just the team, according to Deaton, but soccer-loving youth as well.
“In the winter, during inclement weather, people will play in the basements of parking garages,” Deaton said.
Now Aromas Cafe FC is focusing on qualification for the 2017 Lamar Hunt Open Cup. While representing Charlottesville, Aromas Cafe FC will take a bye through the first round of qualifying and match up with Tartan Devils Oak Avalon in Pittsburgh on October 16. Fans can follow the team through qualifying on Instagram and Twitter at @aromascafefc.
In addition, the team has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help with the cost of registration fees, jerseys, etc., which before were an out-of-pocket expense for players.