Bonding & Growing Under the Banner of Sharktopus FC

Michael Battista takes us down deep for a closer look at Seattle amateurs Sharktopus FC, who’ve caught the imagination in a big way in the 2024 edition of the U.S. Open Cup Qualifying Rounds
By: Michael Battista

Meet Sharktopus Football Club.

Playing out of a men’s recreational league in Seattle, they compete in bright pink jerseys and honor each match’s best player by stuffing him in a shark costume. The team also boasts a former MLS Supporters' Shield winner, two reality show contestants and a small but spirited group of fans who’ve been known to sip rosé on the sidelines.

The colorful Seattle amateurs have another chance this weekend to add to their growing folklore.

Mythology and Mystery

The Pacific Northwest, and the port city of Seattle in particular, loves a mythical creature. The dense forests and cold, dark winters – and constant rain – offer a perfect breeding ground for the imagination.

It’s branched into the sport side of things. The Seattle Kraken have taken the NHL by storm while local side Everett BigFoot stalked the lower divisions of pro soccer in the mid-1990s (including an appearance in the 1995 Open Cup).

The Sharktopus, like those cryptids of legend and lore, is shrouded in mystery.

“We don't know where the name came from,” said team manager Leo Ohannesian, who came to Seattle from the East Coast and took over coaching duties four years ago. “It was handed down from generation to generation of manager.”

Goalkeeper Jimmy Forde is one of the longest-serving players on Sharktopus FC, having been in the small side for over half a decade. Both he and Ohannesian met while working high-level tech jobs at Amazon. He’s seen multiple theories cited through the years.

Chilly league nights in Seattle with Sharktopus FC (Ohannesian in White) X: @SharktopusFC | Insta: sharktopus_fc

“Nobody knows; it just happened,” Forde explained of the team, whose main sponsor is The Octopus Bar, a favorite spot in the city’s Wallingford neighborhood. “It got eyeballs. The teams we’re playing always bring it up like, ‘Yeah, we always remember you guys. How can we forget?’”

But the name isn’t the only reason opposing teams have a hard time forgetting Sharktopus. They’ve won multiple league titles in the city’s amateur scene since 2021.

“When we got serious about competing in national tournaments some team members, who will not be named, asked about changing the name – but we held firm,” the manager said. “It embodies who we are as a team: Chaotic, messy, scary, inclusive and fun.”

Love (And Soccer) Is Blind

If you had a nickel for every cast member from the reality dating show ‘Love is Blind’ that’s also on Sharktopus FC, you’d have two nickels. It’s not much, but it’s rare

Forde and forward Kwame Appiah both participated in the fourth season of the Netflix series, based around single people looking for love and getting engaged to be married – all before meeting in person. While Forde’s story arc didn’t make the final cut, Kwame and his eventual engagement did.

And in a bonus twist, the two players carved their own soccer connection from the show.

Forde used a cover story about a month-long mountaineering expedition in Ecuador in order to film ‘Love Is Blind’ in Seattle without his friends knowing. While he was away the goalkeeper began to talk to the other contestants, including Appiah. Originally from Ghana, Appiah had a professional career ranging from the Philadelphia Fury to various leagues in Europe.

Forde and Appiah bonded over their love of soccer, which the ‘keeper remembered as the shoot began to wind down. And it was the goalkeeper who decided to make the first move. “I kind of was like, ‘Hey, call me, you play soccer. I'm on the soccer team. Come on and play with us,” Forde recounted.

Appiah not only remembers the conversation but how quickly his mindset shifted.

“You always get people who say, ‘Hey, I play for a soccer team, you want to come play with us?’” said Appiah. “And in my head I was like, ‘Oh yeah, ha ha, you play for a soccer team, I’ll come play.’ And then while we were filming I played for them for one game and was like, ‘Whoa, I really love this team. They're really good.’”

Appiah remained in Seattle after filming ended. Before he was officially on the team, mostly providing his availability to Ohannesian through weekly texts, he helped Sharktopus win a league championship.

“I think five or six weeks into playing with them, having won that championship, I texted Leo. I said, ‘add me to the roster. I'm moving to Seattle permanently,’” Appiah said about making the leap. “That's how I got lucky to join Sharktopus.”

Appiah’s love of the club comes down to one thing. Connections.

The people around him have become a second family. Kwame credits that to Ohannesian and his passion for keeping the team a connective unit. Out on the field, the striker has found more connections. Dangerous on fast breaks, his teammates adjusted to his style quickly. That’s led to him averaging two to three goals per game in league play.

Ex-Pros in the Water

Sharktopus’ opening goal in the last round of Open Cup Qualifying against UPSL side Holac FC came from Ethan Kutler. Appiah picked him out, alone and unmarked in the middle of the box. A quick flick and hard shot gave the home side the early lead at Interbay Stadium.

For Kutler, who joined the team a year ago, it was his second time playing in an Open Cup match. In the first, he went the full 90 minutes in a 2018 Fourth Round Hudson River Derby against one of the world’s best players.

“It’s kinda funny. The level is obviously very different,” smiled Kutler, the 28-year-old former MLS pro. “Especially with the competition. I think Jesse Marsch gave me my first assignment and I was to mark [World Cup winner] David Villa on set pieces.”

The NY State-born midfielder was drafted by the New York Red Bulls in 2017. After a year in the reserves, and with the first team missing players during the 2018 World Cup, Kutler signed a Major League Soccer contract on May 1, 2018. A month later, he started his first match in the Open Cup against the Red Bulls’ main rival (NYC FC).

He helped his side win that game 4-0 and the Red Bulls eventually went on to win that year’s MLS Supporter’s Shield.

Kutler left professional soccer in 2019 before migrating west.

Another pro in the Sharktopus tank is Brandon Eaton, whose CV includes stops with the Richmond Kickers and Forward Madison FC. Back-up goalkeeper Prabhjot ‘Sherry’ Singh played in India. Others have college backgrounds like former Clemson Tiger Stirling Russell and Kutler’s former Colgate University teammate Karl Brown.

Oh, and midfielder Alen Cisija, who also helps run team social media, is a vice president and team lawyer for the Seattle Seahawks of the NFL.

In a final twist in this club full of connections, Kutler only played four regular season matches with the Red Bulls. In his only MLS start on June 13, 2018 he assisted on both Red Bulls’ goals to help the team win 2-1. That game was against Seattle Sounders FC.

All-Pink Everything

Two colors dominate the spectrum when it comes to major sports teams in Seattle. Green and Blue. While Sharktopus has adopted the latter, wearing light blue jerseys in the last Qualifying Round, their hot pink option is a departure from the norm.

The team’s latest pink kit by Olive & York recently made an ESPN list as one of the wildest of the 2023-24 season and captured the attention on social media.

Appiah couldn’t get the smile off his face when talking about the color.

“[It’s] a beautiful thing,” he said. “If you've seen [Love Is Blind], my wife's a big fan of pink… It's such a bold color. You have to be good to wear pink. You’ve got to be a badass team to really pull that off.”

There’s a lot of pink on the other side of the lines too. Among the team’s unofficial supporters group – mostly significant others and spouses. What started as a handful, sitting on frigid bleachers or folding chairs decked in pink, has grown to dozens.

It’s a Sharktopus Movement making connections beyond the field.

“The attention helps so much,” said Ohannesian, who isn’t shy about discussing how tight amateur club financing can be. “It means so much to the guys because we have a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds and we only try to kind of get guys to contribute to the team if they can. If they can’t, they can’t and that's what it is.

“We're not going to let that stop them from playing soccer,” added Ohannesian, raised in Uruguay before he and his family moved to the United States when he was a child.

Ohannesian’s goal is to keep the team going long into the future. To win, sure, but “more so to allow people to keep forming bonds.”

Another Seattle Option

Due to Interbay Stadium policies, there will be no rosé when Inter San Francisco SC come to town for the Third Qualifying Round this weekend. Though considering the Saturday 10:00 a.m. kick-off on October 21, that might be a blessing.

Sharktopus will be the underdog against International SF. The visitors – with former Chicago Fire forward Matt Fondy in the squad – are defending Finalists from the San Francisco Soccer Football League (SFSFL) Premier Division, one of the most competitive amateur leagues in the country.

But the members of Sharktopus know what they are and what they’re playing for. The city of Seattle is home to one of the greatest soccer teams in the history of the United States – Seattle Sounders FC. Not even thinking about playing the four-time Open Cup champions, Sharktopus staff say they’d be honored just to be another side from the Emerald City in the historic competition.

They’re two wins away from doing just that.

Appiah in the Traditional MvP Shark Suit / X: @SharktopusFC | Insta: sharktopus_fc

“It would be incredible, really fun,” Kutler said. “It'd be really great for everyone in the Sharktopus community, whether you're directly tied to one of the players or one of the coaches or friends of friends.”

Every player on Sharktopus came to the club for different reasons. Each one wants something particular from the Open Cup. Some want to test themselves, some want to get on the bigger stage for the first time, some still want to prove they’ve still got it. But mostly they want to have fun.

That’s the goal and what Ohannesian hopes the Seattle soccer scene will witness.

Sharktopus Here to Stay

“You're going to see fireworks at Interbay that morning and you have a chance to get in as one of the earliest fans of this club,” said Ohannesian, who can’t help but dream about a date with the Sounders down the road somewhere – a possibility in the peculiar world of the Open Cup.

Regardless of results, now or in some imagined future, the coach wants to be clear about one thing: Sharktopus isn’t going away.

“The attention we're getting right now means so much to keeping our dream alive, and our post Open Cup dream alive,” he said. “We are not going away after the Open Cup. We'll win the whole thing. I'll tell you that right now. You heard it here first. But afterwards we're going to keep playing.”

Michael Battista is an award-winning journalist and regular contributor to, Hudson River Blue, & New York Sports Nation. Follow him at @MichaelBattista on Twitter/X