It may not be the FIFA World Cup, but an amateur adult soccer team in Charlottesville is gearing up for a major competition on a national level. Aromas Café FC, a team comprised of players who hail from all over the globe, hopes to bring soccer to the forefront in Charlottesville through its participation in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
The Lamar Hunt Cup is the oldest ongoing national soccer competition in the United States, which pits professional, semi-professional and amateur soccer teams against each other, with only 14 slots for amateur teams. Aromas Café FC qualified about a month ago, the first Virginia team to do so in more than two decades, and will be playing its first cup game May 11.
Aromas manager David Deaton hopes to show through his team’s qualification the potential that Charlottesville has as a soccer town, and he cites the large international community as one of its benefits.
“What’s unique about Charlottesville is that we’re one of the few places that’s actually a university town as well as a refugee center,” Deaton says. “So, driven by the university, we have this huge international community, but then thanks to the refugee center we have even more.”
Aromas Café FC is evidence of this diversity, with players from countries such as Colombia, Kenya, Iran and the United States. Aromas’ owner Hassan Kaisoum was orphaned in Morocco at age of 11. He says soccer “saved” him as a child, and he wants to pass on the power of the sport.
“I took out all of my frustration in soccer,” Kaisoum says. “In my country, when it came to 5 o’clock, there was no difference between rich or poor. We’d have people playing from every background. The only thing I used to look at was the shoes.”
Kaisoum played soccer professionally in France and Canada, and when Deaton approached him to be the team’s sponsor, his answer was easy.
“They needed my help, so I did it,” Kaisoum says.
“We told Hassan that we needed a sponsor and he just said, ‘What do you need?’” Deaton adds. He says Kaisoum is a constant reminder of the community spirit that soccer builds.
In addition to the wide range of nationalities on the team, Aromas Café FC also is made up of players who have highly diverse soccer careers. While the majority of the team played soccer at the collegiate level, three are retired professional soccer players.
Despite a local concentration of elite soccer players, Deaton laments that the infrastructure in Charlottesville is not up to par.
“It really needs a very serious look from our community leaders,” he says. “The state average for youth participation in soccer leagues is 10 percent, and we have 20 percent in Charlottesville [according to Soccer Organization Charlottesville Area]. Yet there’s not a single lit, publicly accessible field to play soccer on. There are over eight publicly funded tennis courts here. There’s not a single soccer facility in the community that does that.”
Although the team struggles with field space (games and practices are held at Charlottesville High School), Kaisoum stresses the ability that soccer has to unify the Charlottesville community. When he’s not at Barracks Road Shopping Center running Aromas Café, which he opened 19 years ago, he’s attending the soccer team’s games and practices.
“Soccer is always a way to bring people together, and it’s amazing to have that integration and have people from every background or religion and every ethnicity playing,” Kaisoum says. “When they go to the field, they all become unified and it’s fantastic to see that.”
Deaton adds that although the team is looking forward to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, where it could play against a Major League Soccer team such as D.C. United, the team’s sights remain focused on spreading community spirit in Charlottesville.
“We’re trying to impart a passion of camaraderie—that’s what’s driving this, all of this,” Deaton says. “We’re trying to demonstrate, even to ourselves as much as anyone else, that we can do a lot as a team. But in the end it’s actually the camaraderie of the sport that pushes us toward that level of excellence.”