Greenville Football Club proved to be my gateway drug to grassroots soccer in the United States.
Thanks to its 2018 debut season in the National Premier Soccer League, I’ve spent a good deal of time learning as much as I can about organic soccer all across the country.
I watched more live streams of lower division matches than I can count.
I became reacquainted with Atlanta Silverbacks FC, and even made a small donation to their fan ownership trust.
I sided with Chattanooga FC in its fight against a USL D3 insurgence, buying tickets for CFC’s 2019 opener as a way to #StandWithChatta.
Detroit City FC became one of my favorite clubs, despite the fact that this time a year ago, I had never heard of Le Rouge.
Basically, I looked across the country and tried to find people and communities who are serious about growing soccer from the ground up.
And now I’m looking at Alexandria, Virginia.
I’ve never been there. In fact, the closest I’ve come is Norfolk – which is almost 200 miles away.
Regardless, there’s a soccer team in Alexandria that I now follow – Motorik FC Alexandria – and they represent everything that’s right about the sport in America.
“The thing about American soccer is it seems that only one demographic has been able to take advantage of the system,” Motorik FC club president Kenneth Tebo says. “But because of our approach, we’ve created a roster that reflects the cultural diversity of this region. We have maybe 15 nationalities represented on our roster right now. You hear some people freaking out these days about the ‘changing face of America,’ but that’s the America I’ve known since the day I was born.
“I’m from Potomac, and I’ve always lived in culturally diverse neighborhoods, so for me this is the way it should be.”
Motorik FC, which begins play in the Maryland Major Soccer League next month, held its first tryouts last November.
But the idea of this club grew from Tebo’s passion – and has been growing for a while.
“Soccer has been a part of my life since very early on,” he explains. “Potomac is kind of an international community and soccer is king there. My youth club would go to (Washington) Diplomats games back in the old North American Soccer League days. And then I became a supporter of (Major League Soccer) DC United in 1996 when they came long.
“But then I started discovering the local lower division clubs like Real Maryland FC up in Rockville and Northern Virginia FC Royals, and I supported them for a while. And then discovering more about the scene across the country, the Chattanoogas and Detroits and those clubs, got me more interested.”
At first, Tebo wanted to form a league populated by grassroots clubs that shared his vision. He learned, however, that none actually existed – at least not in his neck of the woods.
“I kept seeing all these exciting developments around the country,” he said. “Here in D.C. you have a very cosmopolitan demographic, and it seems like it would be a perfect incubator for lower division clubs, but nothing was ever going on. So finally I decided last year that I was going to take a stab at creating the kind of club that I’d want to support, and that was Motorik FC.”
Tebo admits that initially he had “delusions of grandeur” about Motorik, seeing it as a transformative club that started off with a bang. Once he got down to the business of making it a reality, though, he knew he had to “adapt to the circumstances at hand.”
“I’m not really like a soccer insider – I’m not part of the ‘soccernati’ of D.C. – so I’m coming in as a total outsider because I’ve never done anything like this before,” Tebo said. “It started out as building the identity of the club, and then the presentation and aesthetic of the club, and then around November, it started to get real.”
Motorik managed to put together a 15-match summer exhibition schedule as a fledgling independent, a slate that included matchups with NPSL and Premier Develop League teams.
After a slow start the club became quite competitive, and even managed to play Atlantic City FC – an NPSL side – to a draw back in July.
“A lot of those early matches were tough, but we’ve increased the talent on our roster significantly,” Tebo said. “The highlight of our exhibition season was our trip to Atlantic City. It was a good bonding experience for our guys and we were playing a club that had a roster that had ex-MLS and ex-USL guys and a lot of college prospects, and we were throwing our ragtag squad at them and we came away with a 1-1 draw.
“That was a pretty proud moment.”
While all of those clashes mattered none of them “counted,” so Tebo knew his club had to hitch its wagon to an actual organization going forward.
The Washington Premier League seemed like a logical landing spot due to geography, but in the end, the MMSL proved to be the best fit.
“Obviously, their biggest selling point is they have (Baltimore-based) Christos FC, who were like (U.S. Open Cup) Cinderellas last year and had their big match against DC United,” Tebo said. “My intention was always to join the WPL. That seemed more inevitable because basically all of (WPL) matches take place in northern Virginia. But over time I was able to assess both leagues.
“Originally, I thought traveling would be too much in the Maryland Majors because our guys are working class guys, and they have jobs they depend on and that need them to be accountable to as well.”
However, conversations with league commissioner Bill George helped ease Tebo’s mind about the logistics.
“I started having a lot of discussions with Bill, who gave me a lot of tips and insights on how to secure players and how to make things work,” Tebo said. “It endeared me more to the Maryland Majors, and then it became apparent they were making efforts to expand more southward toward the Beltway, and that gave me an in to convince my players to get on board and join the league.”
The MMSL features promotion/relegation, and Motorik will begin their affiliation as members of the Second Division South, which has six clubs.
The Second Division North is made up of seven clubs, and six play in the First Division.
And while Motorik now has a league, it will still have its unique identity.
“What separates us, and what I’ve been most proud of in building our roster, is that we’re not really tapping into the NCAA player pool,” Tebo said. “Our focus is more on finding the guys who either through circumstances of social economics or immigration, they’ve sort of been outside of the academy system. We’re taking these guys and seeing what they can do if they get real focused training and if they actually see that their hard work will get them to an advanced level of competition, and so far it’s been successful.
“We’ve found a lot of rough diamonds. Once we put them in a team environment and put certain expectations on them, they’ve risen to the occasion.”
Obviously there’s more to the story of Motorik FC Alexandria, and a new chapter will be written this fall.
They’ll enter a new league as underdogs, but that’s fine with Tebo.
Like amateur soccer clubs in communities all across the nation, all they want is a chance.
And they’re determined to make the most of it.
“I don’t think we’re necessarily doing anything noble,” Tebo said. “We just put up a flare and attracted the players that were in the area and inevitably that’s going to reflect the demographic and culture of the area.
“When we had our first tryouts and when I first saw these guys come out and want to represent the badge, that’s when I felt like this is something cool.”
For more information about the club and league, go to motorikfc.com and marylandmajorsoccer.com.
Follow Motorik on Twitter @MotorikFC