Showing up without matching warmups; DKSC spread across the plainest of jerseys in chunky block letters – this is its own kind of swagger. And the players who make up the D’Feeters Kicks Soccer Club of North Texas know you don’t win games with flashy gear, on social media or with a handful of fans popping smoke bombs.
You win on the field. Or you lose. It’s simple and it’s plain.
“I didn’t even have a jacket,” laughed 30-year-old striker Miles Byass, the former San Diego State star, after a tense 3-2 First Round win against last year’s National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) champions the Denton Diablos. “I just had this, like, normal gray sweater.”
The neon yellow t-shirts the Dallas area-based club wore in their pre-game warm-ups (think: traffic worker safety vests) hearkened back to kits worn by Baltimore amateurs Christos FC who went on a run for the ages in 2017, eventually losing out to DC United of Major League Soccer (MLS). They also resembled the shirts worn by NTX Rayados – Dallas area neighbors and friends of these D’Feeters who squared up to eventual champions Houston Dynamo in the 2018 Fourth Round.
“There’s not much difference between our game shirts and our practice jerseys,” chuckled 21-year-old Sebastian Mendez, who scored in the tense 3-2 victory. “And sometimes we wear those in games.”
Upset on Paper Only
The opening-day result against the Diablos was described by some as the first upset of this year’s Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. But the D’feeters, an amateur team who play in the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) and fancy their chances against anyone, don’t think so.
“We don’t have all the fancy gear – the jackets and stuff. We just show up to play,” added Miguel Ojeda, the team’s 25-year-old captain and midfielder – a 9to5 stock broker at a local brokerage house. “We don’t pay attention to the aesthetics of it. We just go out and do what we love to do. We show up and play and let that play do the talking.”
And like Christos and the Rayados before them, DKSC’s play has quite a bit to say.
The D’Feeters went up by three goals in the first half before the Diablos pulled two back ahead of the halftime whistle. And while the opening period was a joyful explosion of attack, the second was a darker affair with three red cards. The D’Feeters, playing down a man for 15 minutes, proving they know lots of ways to win.
“We knew we were gonna’ have to hold hard,” said Mendez, discovered by manager Edgar Hernandez in local pick-up games and the highly competitive men’s leagues in and around Dallas. “We knew we had to go into defense mode and hang on in the second half.”
All For One and One for All
“One thing about us is we play our hearts out,” added Mendez, who’s also a veteran of local so-called cash tournaments – a kind of underground all-star circuit with the area’s best players swapping teams in search of the best combinations (and the best results). “We go all the way with you if you play us.”
Byass, a youth coach by day, is a legend of the lower leagues, with stints in Finland and with both the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders’ U-23 teams. He scored an outrageous 57 goals in 58 games with UPSL side Foro SC and, against the Diablos, he never felt the pressure.
“I was never worried,” dismissed Byass, who admits to using some of the Diablos’ pre-game trash talk on social media as motivation. “Even when we went down a man. I knew we’d figure it out.”
It’s a feeling shared by his captain Ojeda. He describes this D’Feeters team – formed in 2018 when two local area youth clubs joined with a men’s league team from the nearby town of Harrington – as a “brotherhood,”
“We went down a man and were absorbing pressure, but I just looked at my center-back and we just kind of said at the same time: ‘we’re gonna’ grind this out,’” Ojeda said.
“We knew they weren’t going to break us down,” added Ojeda, who came up through the FC Dallas Academy system. “Everyone was doing the dirty work – the wingers were fighting back to help.”
Up next for the D’Feeters, this group of talented amateurs, is a date with professional opposition in the form of USL Championship side San Antonio FC. And with many of the D’Feeters players once groomed at local academies, and some still with ambitions of signing a professional contract, there’s a two-fold opportunity: to make the pros blush and show what a bunch of old friends, loaded with talent, can do on the day.
It’s that swagger again. And it comes naturally to the D’Feeters.
“For someone like me, working my way up, it’s an opportunity,” said Mendez, who once scored against San Antonio FC – playing out of position in a pre-season friendly while on trials with North Texas SC of the MLS Next Pro league. “Who knows what can happen out on the field?”
Anything Can Happen in the Cup
You get the sense that Ojeda – the straight-talking No10 who’s not one to brag – wouldn’t be shocked if the D’Feeters make a few waves against the pros from San Antonio in the Second Round.
“It’s eleven guys against eleven guys,” said the creator who admits he “can’t stay away from the game” even with his long hours on the phone trading stocks and working his way up the corporate ladder five days a week. “And I know there’s a lot of players on our team who could play at that [pro] level, but didn’t get the opportunity.
“It’s a way to show who we are,” added Ojeda. “We still want to prove it to ourselves.”
There is no more potent giant-killing combination in the US Open Cup: Talent, togetherness, a point to prove – and a chip on the shoulder. San Antonio, who’ve had mixed results in recent Open Cups (twice reaching the Fourth Round – in 2016 and 2018), will do well to watch their backs – and not pre-judge these mismatched amateurs with DKSC spread across their chests.
“I think we can make a little run,” added Byass, some mischief in his voice. “A lot will depend on how San Antonio approaches the game. But this is the Beautiful Game and you never know what can happen.
“The soccer gods might be smiling on us that day,” he added, turning up the heat on a San Antonio side who’ve won their first three games of the USL Championship season. “Everyone’s on your side when you’re the underdog. And that’s just how it is.”
Fontela is editor-in-chief of usopencup.com. Follow him at @jonahfontela on Twitter.