Father-Son Tandem Leads Pride FC To Championship Success

By Andy Hutchison
Published: Apr 09, 2020

Back in the early 1990s, perhaps it was ‘92, Mike Svanda believes, his son Matt’s seventh-grade travel soccer team needed a coach. Mike had no prior soccer-playing experience but wanted to help out his son and teammates so he stepped in.

Fast forward to nearly three decades later, and this father-son tandem is the driving force behind the success of Newtown Pride FC, which brought Connecticut a United States Adult Soccer Association (USASA) National Amateur Championship for the first time since 1967 with a 4-0 win over Houston-based Horizon FC in August of 2019.

 

The link from then to now is much more than the father-son connection. In fact, Pride FC evolved from that very same middle school team. As Matt and his teammates grew up, the team went to U16 status to U19 and then U23. It was around that time that the roster began to change significantly due to players moving and increased talent levels. The team, then known only as Newtown FC eventually joined the Connecticut Soccer League, the top league in Connecticut. The Newtown team, which went on to become known as the Pride, has won five consecutive league titles.

“If it wasn’t for Matt’s team needing a coach I don’t know if I’d ever have gone on to start it,” said Mike, head coach of Pride FC, who officially founded the team along with his son, in 1998. Matt is a player/manager, taking on more of a off-field management role in recent seasons.

The roster certainly has a much different look than it did back in the early 1990s and many years that followed. Mauro Dos Santos, who scored on a header for the first goal of the Amateur Championship match last year, is from Sandy Hook. Players on the team represent many states and countries. It has representatives from England, Jamaica, and Brazil — just to name a few.

Something that makes the Svandas are very proud is the character of this team.

“Because we have such diversity and players from all over the world the character is very important. They have to be willing to come together and accept players from different backgrounds and come together as a team,” Mike said.

A Reshaped History

The team, which plays home games at Newtown High School’s Blue & Gold Stadium, has experienced a few key points in its many-times-reshaped history.

“In 2012 Our club dedicated our play to give back to the community of Sandy Hook for the long term betterment of the community. We also aim to raise awareness and spread love in as many communities across the country through the game of soccer in honor of the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” according to the homepage on the team’s website, newtownpridefc.com. After the Sandy Hook tragedy, Matt’s daughter, Maya — who was 5 years old at the time — drew a heart that was developed into a logo used by the team.

Higher-level teams such as the New York Cosmos and Major League Soccer’s Red Bulls II agreed to compete with Pride FC to raise money for the such groups as Newtown Youth & Family Services. This attention on the team helped generate more interest in Pride FC while helping bring out the give-back personality of the squad. A team that once struggled to field enough players had bigger turnouts for tryouts and the level of competition continued to climb.

In April of 2013, the New York Pancyprian Freedoms and Pride FC met in Newtown in the quarterfinals of the USASA Region I Open Cup tournament. After the Freedoms’ apparent 1-0 victory, they were disqualified for using an ineligible player, only to have that decision overturned because their roster was erroneously approved by their league. The game was replayed and Newtown FC came out on top, winning a penalty kick shootout 7-6 after a 120 minutes of scoreless soccer.

This was a huge win for Pride FC.

“It was a significant win that nobody in the soccer community around here saw coming,” Mike said.

Not all of the team’s success has come from victories on the pitch.

Back in 2010, a tough-to-swallow defeat, in which the opposing team ran up the score on a Pride FC team that did not have enough players to field a full squad, to the tune of 15 goals, left Mike disappointed. Matt pointed out that his dad had spent decades building a team and doing it all — driving around picking up players for practices and providing water, among other duties. Matt decided to step up. Something that would typically wait a few months — pursuing and signing players for the following season — started the day after that loss. Matt was on his way to taking on a bigger role in helping his dad run the team; that is when he took on the role as manager.

Pride FC won the United States Adult Soccer Association’s Rocco Amoroso Award for Fair Play following a tough overtime loss in an appearance in the regional finals in 2015.

“We’ve learned a lot from losses along the way,” Matt said.

The team has maintained a high level of play and competed in national competitions every year since 2013. Last season’s step forward was a substantial one for Pride FC.

With last season’s amateur championship, Pride FC qualified for US Soccer’s most prestigious competition, the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, which has been suspended due to COVID-19 (coronavirus) but will be played, Matt said. Pride FC also earned the right to host UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) Regions’ Cup winner Dolny Slask of Poland for a world championship. This game was also postponed because of COVID-19, but has been rescheduled for the spring of 2021.

“It was quite a run last year,” said Mike, who earned the 2019 USASA Region 1 Coach of the Year award.

Matt points out that many of the top teams in the country play in Region 1, which represents the northeast.

Pride FC is looking forward to continued success on the fields. The 2020 season’s start is on hold due to COVID-19, but the Svandas are optimistically anticipating the start of competition, whenever that may be.

“We will be playing games this year,” Matt anticipates.

Follow Pride FC on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by searching @Newtownpridefc, and visit the team’s website at

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TOGETHER WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Newtown Pride FC plays in the top soccer league in Connecticut. *CSL* The club is based out of the Sandy Hook, Connecticut section of
Newtown,Connecticut.
The club was officially founded in 1998 By head Coach Michael Svanda & Son Matt Svanda. Character is the most important quality we look for in players. In 2012 Our club dedicated our play to give back to the community of Sandy Hook for the long term betterment of the community. We also aim to raise awareness & spread love in as many communities across the country through the game of soccer in honor of the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

FACEBOOK-Newtown Pride FC