ROCKVILLE – It took only one season for World Class Premier Elite to get a taste of success.
In fact, it was their first season in a new league that saw them reach the regional championships of the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL), known as a “pro development league.”
In their first season, World Class Premier Elite won nine games, lost one and tied one in their Northeast Conference-Beltway-Division 1. They then won the Mid-Atlantic Championship and got a berth in the National Quarterfinals, but lost against the eventual UPSL National Champions Florida Tropics SC.
“Even though it was our first season in the UPSL we went into the season setting a pretty high goal for ourselves,” said Evan Raimist, marketing director/communications director and goalkeeper for the team.
Raimist was not exaggerating when he said the expectations for the team’s inaugural UPSL season were high: they wanted to win the national championship. It was going to be a rough road ahead, as they were making the leap from a local team that plays in Montgomery Blair High School to a national team on a larger stage.
“It’s been a collective team effort. It’s a unit, yes there’s a few players that step up here and there but it’s a team effort,” said Head Coach Kokou Assigbe.
Assigbe said the team models itself after much-larger clubs of fine reputation, from their play style to their team ethos.
“We want to keep the ball; we want to keep possession as much as possible. It’s something…anyone that watches Barcelona, Arsenal play, its beautiful for the eye,” said Assigbe.
The goals for the team are not just to win championships. As a team that plays at a semi-professional level, they aim to serve the community as well, with a youth team.The team itself is a 501(c)(3) organization.
As for the future, World Class Premier Elite sees itself continuing its mission of providing an opportunity for youth in the county to take their soccer game to the next level. They do not want to be a one-season team or a one-year team and make big, risky moves. Instead, they see a slower pace, one that will allow the club to create groundwork for players who want to play at a higher level.
Player development is centered on moving up within the system, and the team says that all players have a path from their youth squad to a contract with their first team.
“In reality, our belief is that all children should have an equal opportunity to choose whatever path they want to pursue beyond soccer, and we hope to be a stepping stone in that,” said Raimist.
As a stepping stone, the team serves its players as a way to continue playing soccer at a level above recreational leagues but below professional settings such as Major League Soccer (MLS). The team itself is filled with players from all walks of life and soccer backgrounds. Former MLS players, players with experience abroad, in college and even high school come together on the team.
For example, defender Marquez Hernandez used to play for the UMBC Retrievers and the Maryland Terrapins, including playing six games for their 2012 ACC Championship squad, along with several semi-pro teams. Midfielder Bryce Orsini is 19 and has experience playing at the high school level, electing to forego college-level soccer to play for World Class Premier Elite. Defender Oumar Ballo is another UMBC product who also played for the Swope Park Rangers, a United Soccer League team affiliated with MLS side Sporting Kansas City.
“It’s two-fold; it’s the guys that got their shot and got their chance but still want to play at a competitive level with structure. On the flip side, it’s kind of a launching pad for some players,” said Raimist.
The opportunities for advancement exist, but it is a constant uphill battle. The club played in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup – a tournament that allows semi-pro teams and professional teams to compete against each other – but were knocked out with a 7-6 loss against Virginia United.
Raimist realizes, however, that for players like him, it is accepted that this level is the peak, but that will not stop them from striving for glory.
“We’re not doing it for us; we’re not making a living doing this. We’re doing it because we love soccer and every one of our guys grew up doing this,” said Raimist.