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New Hyattsville soccer team opens doors for local players

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Posted on: June 10, 2024

By GRIFFIN LIMERICK

DMV Elite FC is a new Hyattsville-based amateur soccer team that represents the Prince George’s County area in the National Premier Soccer League. The team plays at Bladensburg High School and practices at Heurich Park. The season started May 18, and runs until July 6. As of press time, the team holds a record of 2-2. The rest of the schedule, as well as information about the club, can be found at the team’s website, dmvelitefc.org. This article tells the story of the club’s founding.

If DMV Elite FC has an origin story, its Garden of Eden is the Heurich Park turf field behind Home Depot on East-West Highway in Hyattsville. There, on a Saturday morning in 2010, Prosper Adangwa found a game of pickup soccer. Fourteen years later, he would own the team that trains there.

Adangwa had moved to the United States from Cameroon about four months prior, set up a home in Hyattsville, and was cruising the streets of the Route 1 Corridor for a pickup game the way a smoke-windowed SUV with “Diplomat” plates might scour Capitol Hill for an escort. At the field that day, in addition to several Nigerians and Ghanaians, was a fellow Cameroonian — Manfred Tambe — who, after moving to the U.S. in 1988 to play college soccer, had established a number of amateur teams in Prince George’s County, most recently Le Coq Indomptable FC — a nominal fusion of the French National Team’s iconic rooster (Le Coq) and the Cameroonian National Team (Les Lions Indomptables).

As a child in Cameroon, Tambe’s relationship with soccer had been complicated, even for something as simple as a pickup game.

“Our parents never let us play when we were younger,” Tambe said. “Football was for truants. Kids that would skip school. There was no real money in football, there was no real avenue. It wasn’t a way of life. So, whenever I played, I’d come back and they would whip me. I had to play in hiding.”

That childhood repression might explain Tambe’s nearly fanatical enthusiasm for soccer — a game his partner, Mirabelle, calls his “second wife” — as an adult. Tambe has coached, refereed, managed, organized, trained, and played, sometimes all at once. 

That day in 2010, after the pickup game, Tambe invited Adangwa to his home to meet his family, and eventually to try out for Le Coq Indomptable. Adangwa made the team — one of several the two men would participate in over the years. More important, however, was the budding mentorship: Tambe was so impressed with Adangwa’s first touch — what Adangwa’s academy coach in Cameroon called, in French, contrôle orienté — that Tambe paid for Adangwa to go on trial with soccer clubs in Europe, specifically Turkey. Adangwa started in Istanbul and worked his way east along the Black Sea. 

Abroad, he gleaned a holistic approach to the game and an international contact list for future soccer business. Over the next decade, in Maryland, Adangwa became a licensed referee, a Sports Management Worldwide scout, an intermediary (a broker who generates player interest and secures moves for a club), and — after memorizing 500 pages of regulations and passing an October 2023 exam — a licensed FIFA agent. 

“Even if I didn’t succeed to play professionally myself,” Adangwa said, “I could still help others to achieve that similar goal.”

All the while, Adangwa remained a fixture of the Tambe family, attending the games of their son, Preston, and, ultimately, becoming Preston’s first agent. Preston is also on the DMV Elite squad, which is co-founded by Adangwa and Tambe. It’s the kind of real-time karmic restitution and circle-closing that one finds in true community investment, the stuff of teachers and mentors.

The business of soccer

When Adangwa decided to consolidate his soccer experiences and found his own club in September of 2022, there was only one person he could envision helping him, the man he affectionately refers to as “Uncle Manfred,” and sometimes, more reverentially, “Mr. Manfred.”

He picked up the phone and called the familiar number. But there was a problem.

“In my mind, I was done with running a team,” Manfred Tambe said.

In addition to Le Coq, Tambe had established several other amateur clubs in Prince George’s County, including a Cameroonian “Dream Team,” which consisted solely of Cameroonian Division 1 and 2 footballers who entered tournaments and attended conventions across the U.S., and a few different squads in what Tambe refers to as the “Nigerian Soccer League.”

When Adangwa called, Tambe said, “He had to tell me something different for me to be involved with it, not just wanting to run another amateur team.”

Adangwa’s sales pitch was the holistic approach: He would use his status as a FIFA agent to scout international talent, hire a world-class coach, attract the best amateur players in the DMV region with television and social media exposure, and form an alternative path to professionalism for athletes who couldn’t — for whatever reason — attend college to play soccer and, thus, get drafted by the major leagues.

Ultimately, Tambe agreed to co-found the team.

After a fall 2022 and spring 2023 season in the Maryland Major Soccer League, DMV Elite joined the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) in 2023 as a 2024 expansion club.

The jump wasn’t merely a move from the local to the national level of amateur soccer. The NPSL sits at the bottom of the official, four-tier U.S. men’s soccer pyramid, the apex of which is MLS, or Major League Soccer. Although the other three tiers of the pyramid consist of separate, professional leagues with paid players, the NPSL — sometimes dubbed “semi-professional” — tends to rub elbows with professionalism, with teams even playing in some of the same tournaments, like the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. 

The move to the NPSL also signified a certain seriousness of intent to Mirabelle Tambe, who only agreed to get involved with the team once it joined the NPSL, and now serves as DMV Elite’s administrative director.

“Joining NPSL, you have to actually have a business,” Mirabelle said, “and the business is soccer entertainment. For the longest time, he [Manfred] has done it pro bono, for free. It’s just something he loved. So, I was really excited that, somehow, he’s turning his passion into a business.”

Mirabelle — who claims she has been “a soccer girlfriend, a soccer mom, a soccer wife,” and now is “just soccer” — owned and operated a company called Grace Ambulance Services with Tambe for 15 years. Tambe was a paramedic and emergency room nurse who bought an ambulance after noticing a number of stranded patients in need. Like with soccer, he ended up providing “a lot of pro bono and free services,” according to Mirabelle.

“For Manfred and I, it was kind of like a ministry also,” Mirabelle said.

But Tambe preferred being on the road, so Mirabelle ended up running the company, working with hospitals and insurance agencies, finding substitutes for sick paramedics, delegating tasks. She occupies a similar role with DMV Elite FC.

“I’ve always liked telling people what to do,” she laughs.

From the ambulance company, the Tambes learned several lessons. One is that foundations are important. With Grace, Tambe bought the ambulance without considering the bureaucratic roadblocks of insurance and nursing home negotiations or the need to have two EMTs in the vehicle at all times, according to Mirabelle. In contrast, with DMV Elite, every position was considered and filled ahead of time. Friends and family stepped into roles like finance and marketing director, the latter of which is occupied by Adangwa’s brother-in-law, Kenne Zony.

The Tambes also learned the importance of consulting industry peers. In the ambulance business, rival services refused to consult with Grace or offer advice, which left the Tambes unmoored.

“All the other companies kind of saw us as a threat,” Mirabelle said. “It was really shocking to me that we didn’t have anybody to help learn from.”

The Tambes’ experience with the NPSL has been entirely different. According to Mirabelle, the league has embodied its stated philosophy — “We compete for 90 minutes on the field; we are business partners, always.” 

In the early stages, Adangwa and Tambe met with the owner of DMV Elite’s Mid-Atlantic Conference rival, the Annapolis Blues, and “picked his brain.” The Blues — who, despite only joining the league last year, set an attendance record of 8,480 fans — have served as DMV Elite’s mentor and business model, helping them — in conjunction with NPSL University — navigate the many rules and regulations of the league, particularly with regards to the venue. 

NPSL field requirements range from the practical (“Benches for the visiting team to accommodate 16 players and staff,” “Use of electronic scoreboard and working time clock”) to the cultural (“National Anthem played,” “American flag displayed”). With the assistance of Bill Sheehan from Prince George’s County Parks and Recreation, DMV Elite ultimately settled on the Bladensburg High School stadium as their home field, and Heurich Park as their training grounds.

“We’re in the heart of Prince George’s County,” Tambe said. “We want to be an access point, a window, and an opportunity for anybody that wants to practice soccer at the highest level.”

Meet the Team

To get acquainted with DMV Elite FC, you’re likely going to need a map. 

Stripes, DMV Elite FC’s mascot, watches on from the stands.
Photo credits: Griffin Limerick

At the launch party on May 11, after a DJ set by Adangwa — who goes by, simply, DJ Prosper — Tambe, in a pastel pink suit, stood at center court in the Takoma Park Academy gymnasium, surrounded by banners testifying to the prowess of the girl’s basketball team, and announced the name and country of origin for each squad member of DMV Elite FC. The mostly college-aged young men walked out juggling soccer balls, performing tricks, as the mascot, Stripes the tiger, pumped up a modest crowd of youth soccer players and their parents.

There were forwards from Switzerland and Senegal. Midfielders from Botswana and El Salvador. Defenders from Jamaica and South Africa. A captain of the Bahamas national team. A midfielder from Cameroon, by way of the University of Maryland.

Actually, a map might not be sufficient. You’re likely going to need a globe and some WD-40. 

The diversity of DMV Elite FC is a testament to Adangwa’s reach as a FIFA agent. He culled his international contact list in order to find players from around the world to complement local Marylanders or Americans attending local universities.

“We believe that having that balance and that exchange in ideas and quality just makes a better system of soccer,” Adangwa said. 

On that same contact list was an Argentinian coach named Gustavo Onaindia, who was working with a team in the Guatemalan second division, Mazatenango, when Adangwa reached out via LinkedIn in November of last year.

“Then through WhatsApp, we began to talk,” Onaindia said. “He told me about his project with the NPSL. I always had the dream to work in the United States.”

Onaindia has coached around the world in countries like Chile, Peru, Colombia, Panama and — most notably — Spain, where he was an assistant to former Argentine national player Eduardo Berizzo. Onaindia worked with Berizzo at Celta Vigo in the Spanish first division, La Liga, playing against the likes of Ronaldo and Messi.

Onaindia said one of the reasons he took the job with DMV Elite FC is that “Here, in the United States, you can finish the process.” In more soccer-obsessed countries, Onaindia continued, if a coach loses three games, he can be fired.

“For me, the United States is a good challenge,” Onaindia said.

“Challenge” might be an understatement. Due to the harried nature of the NPSL recruiting process (much of the talent pool consists of college players who aren’t available until the spring semester ends), the abbreviated, eight-week summer season, and DMV Elite’s abrupt entrance into the league four months ago, Onaindia and Adangwa only had a few weeks to select the team. They did so solely by watching ten-minute highlight videos, without ever meeting the players in person.

“It was the only way to build the squad,” Onaindia said.

Onaindia had even less time to train the team. One of the players from Senegal flew in a day before the launch party. Total practice time amounted to about ten days of two-hour training sessions before the team played its season opener in Frederick on May 18.

Mirabelle said DMV Elite rents a house for the players to help them build some camaraderie in their brief time together. The club even bought a bus so the players can travel as a group.

So far, for such a quick turnaround, the season has gone well. After an initial 2-1 loss in the season opener, DMV Elite trounced the Alexandria Rough Diamonds 8-0 in its home opener on May 25 (“The diamonds are having a ‘rough’ day, the announcer quipped several times), and eked out a 2-1 victory against Grove Soccer United (a Midlothian, Va., team, named for its coach) on a Monday two days later.

More importantly, under Onaindia’s direction, the team has started to play a fluid, possession-based style of attack-minded soccer. Like so many other coaches in the world, Onaindia’s system is inspired by the great Argentinian coach Marcelo Bielsa, whose acolytes include Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola and Onainda’s mentor, Berizzo, who worked under Bielsa while he was coaching the Chilean national team.

“In a nutshell,” Adangwa said, the Bielsa system is “high-pressure, possession soccer. So, you always have the ball, you’re aggressive, and you react quickly once you lose the ball.”

So far, the system has resulted in some beautiful goals, including several through-balls into the box and a counter-attacking goal of perfect one-two passes.

“You want to win, but you also want to entertain,” Mirabelle said. 

Whether DMV Elite can do both, or “win beautifully,” as Adangwa puts it, will depend on time, of which the two-month NPSL season offers very little. 

“We’re learning from match to match,” Onaindia said, smiling.

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