As understatements go, calling 2018 a challenging year for Motorik FC Alexandria ranks right up there with the classics.
The grassroots soccer team made a huge leap forward when it joined the 2nd Division of the Maryland Major Soccer League, and managed a 3-1-6 record while competing in the South Division of the promotion/relegation circuit.
But wins, losses and draws don’t come close to telling the season’s tale.
There were player defections that kept the roster in flux and, sometimes, made the squad shorthanded on match day; coaching changes that came in-season; occasional practice challenges (such as players not showing up); and the club even had difficulty securing a pitch for its home matches.
Growing pains are to be expected; the hair-pulling pains are much worse.
Still, club founder Kenneth Tebo knew going in there would be many obstacles to overcome and hurdles to clear.
Part of grassroots soccer is planting the grass and then giving it time to grow.
The good news is that Motorik survived the volatile campaign thanks to a core of fully committed players.
“Last season was very tough,” said midfielder Roger Castro, who joined the club during its Summer shakeup. “A lot of guys left, and left us to die in a hole. But we managed to bounce back and get two more wins under our belt, and just narrowly missed the playoffs.”
The hackneyed saying – “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” – has some merit in this case.
“Last season we had a lot of ups and downs,” forward and team Golden Boot winner Ibrahim Kabba said. “But we have a tryout January 13th so I hope new, better and more dedicated players come and see what great opportunities Motorik FC has in store for them. Clubs at this level don’t give what Motorik and the president offer, to be honest. You only find these things at pro academies, and it always comes with a hefty price.
“But here at Motorik you spend maybe about $200 for the season, and you’re set.”
Kabba was an object lesson in perseverance last season, overcoming a major ankle injury – and some self-doubt – to win the Golden Boot and emerge as one of the club’s leaders.
“The worst part of the season was a game against Rockville where I sprained my ankle and was out for basically half the fall season,” he said. “I missed four games, and at that time I had only one goal for the season, so mentally I was dealing with thoughts of maybe quitting or maybe I just wasn’t good enough for my position.
“But knowing my mentality and how hard I work, I just blocked those thoughts and continued to recover, and ended up coming back stronger and setting records.”
Kabba finished the season with five goals and one assist in league play and nine goals and two assists overall, and he and his mates won’t have to wait long to get back to work.
After the January 13 tryouts at Loisdale Park in Springfield, Virginia, the squad plays El Salvador de Manassas FC in a friendly on January 26.
Then, Motorik begins Stewart Cup play on February 3 when it faces 1st Division club Academy FC in Columbia, Maryland. That competition dates back to 1932 and determines the amateur champion of Maryland. The winner advances to the United States Adult Soccer Association Region I qualifiers for the US Amateur Cup.
Between friendlies, cup competitions and Spring and Fall seasons, Motorik is in almost constant motion.
And the players who saw things through to the end in 2018 are proud they helped hold things together.
“I think Motorik is the best fit for me right now because of how well-connected everyone is and how everyone pushes each other to strive for greatness, and that can only help you in positive way,” Castro explained. “We’re building something truly special to become a championship team, and with our dedication, there is nothing that can stop us.”
Both Kabba and Castro says the naming of Walter Cobb as the club’s new skipper has been arguably the biggest offseason boost.
“The coach is phenomenal,” Kabba said. “I personally train with him and he has helped me improve a lot on my finishing and turning towards the goal. These are the kind of coaches you want when you want your team to go forward.”
“Walter Cobb is an amazing coach,” Castro said. “His play style is one that all players love – a possession base style where we don’t force any balls and are comfortable with the ball and scanning our shoulders constantly and limiting our touches to help us play the game faster.
“And if we are two seconds faster than the other team, we will surely make the jump to first division in the Maryland majors.”
Motorik FC has already expanded its footprint by entering into a working relationship with Nigerian club FC Leyenda, with the goal of acquiring a couple of its players on loan.
Closer to home the club has a tentative agreement to play a pair of high profile friendlies against Chattanooga FC – one of the founding members of the fledgling professional wing of the National Premier Soccer League and a shining example of grassroots soccer.
Supporters can also become patrons; for a minimum contribution of $250, members of the Motorik FC Player Sponsor Program can have their name and/or logo placed on the back bottom of a player’s jersey with the investment split evenly between the club and player.
And while there are sure to be more challenges ahead – even unexpected ones – there is no lack of enthusiasm on the part of the players.
“I’m really looking forward to lifting a trophy with Motorik this season,” Kabba said. “This will be our second season playing together so we’re still working on the chemistry. We already have individual talent. This season for me our main strength will be defense and midfield.
“If we can get those two parts better with the help of our new coach, we’ll be looking at our first league trophy.”