Newtown Soccer Club Brings Connecticut First National Title Since '67
It had been more than 50 years since a Connecticut soccer team won the United States Adult Soccer Association National Amateur Championship. Newtown Pride FC put the state back on the national map this past weekend, and the team is looking forward to more big things after defeating Houston-based Horizon FC 4-0 in the pinnacle game in River Grove, Ill., on August 3.
“It was a long journey — a little luck and a lot of talent to get there,” said Head Coach Mike Svanda, a longtime Newtown resident who co-founded the team along with his son, Matt, who is also a player and manager on the team.
After a 2-0 upset win over the Chicago-based and 16-time Croatian National Soccer Federation champs RWB Adria in the August 2 semifinal, Pride FC became the first Connecticut team to reach the decisive game since 1970, Mike Svanda said. The last time a Connecticut team won it all was in 1967, when the Hartford Italian American Stars AC came out on top.
Leading 1-0 but with RWB Adria pressuring, Pride FC got a momentum-changing goal on a tremendous solo effort by Quenton Swift in the 87th minute.
“It took a lot of pressure off us because they were bombarding us,” said Matt Svanda, whose team opened the scoring on another clutch goal, off the foot of Tavoy Morgan, in the 54th minute.
In the decisive game, Sandy Hook resident Mauro Dos Santos scored on a header off an assist from Chris Salifou in the eighth minute for a 1-0 lead to set the tone in the championship match. Matt Svanda said the goal relaxed the team and let it settle into the game.
“To see the team collectively pick my 74-year-old father up and dance around and cheer Newtown Pride and sing and dance with him on their shoulders made it all worthwhile for me,” Matt Svanda said.
US Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro congratulated the team in a tweet that included a photo of Pride FC celebrating its triumph.
Pride FC had earned the state title for the fifth year in a row, then bested the New Jersey state champions 6-1, defeated the New York state champs 3-1, and beat the Pittsburgh Steel FC 2-0 to win the Region 1 championship and the right to compete in the national tourney.
The team is holding a championship celebration at Lions Bleecker Street Pizza, 123 South Main Street, this Saturday, August 10, at 2 pm. Attendees will receive a free slice of pizza along with an opportunity to meet the players and coaches.
Pride FC is part of the Connecticut Soccer League, which is governed by the US Soccer Federation, and was founded by the Svandas in 1998. Pride FC has included players who have moved on to play on top-tier professional teams in the United States as well as overseas.
With the national triumph, Pride FC has kicked open some big-time soccer doors. The distinction as national champs qualifies the lineup for the Lamar Hunt US Open, which features the top teams in the country, including high-level professional squads such as the New York City Red Bulls, NYC FC, and New England Revolution. It is possible Pride FC can earn a home match against one of these teams next spring, Matt Svanda said.
Additionally, by virtue of the national title, Pride FC will gain some international competition experience, as the team will host Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Regions’ Cup winners from Poland next summer.
“There’s a lot of big soccer coming,” said Matt Svanda, adding that this is the first time the US and Europe are holding the event, with the European winner set to host the game the following summer.
The Pride FC roster includes players who have competed at a high level elsewhere, including Lucas Sousa, one of the championship game goal scorers, who has played for Grêmio Foot-Ball Porto Alegrense, one of the top teams in Brazil, Matt Svanda noted.
The team’s regular play begins the Sunday after Labor Day and resumes in the spring; the full schedule is yet to be announced. Home games take place at Newtown High School’s Blue & Gold Stadium as well as on the back field natural surface.
In 2012, Pride FC dedicated its play to give back to the community of Sandy Hook for the long-term betterment of the community, and Pride FC aims to raise awareness and spread love in communities across the country through the game of soccer in honor of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims, according to the team website, newtownpridefc.com.
The team has raised about $50,000 for local charities, including Newtown Youth and Family Services, Newtown Parent Connection, and the Newtown Community Center, during the past five years.
“On this journey, I am sure we had the spirit of 26 precious souls helping us,” said Mike Svanda, who has five children, four of whom live in Newtown, and 11 grandchildren, ten of whom are still in town.
Pride FC players are Albert Aidoo Afful, Shaquille Saunchez, Quenton Swift, Ibrahima Keita, Israel Arichabala, Lucas Gabriel Sousa, Filipe Dutra, Giovani Reillo, Chris Salifou, Matheus Truma Ruiz, Lamin Janneh, Mauro Dos Santos, Sikele Sylvester, Oscar Acosta, Tavoy Morgan, Salah Oumorou, Michael Semedo, Clayton Ulmer, and Matt Svanda.
Highlights from the games may be viewed at mycujoo.tv; search Newtown Pride FC to select complete game footage and highlights, including the awards ceremony and celebration toward the end of the final game file.