COLLEGE PARK – At 4:30 p.m., Cody Albrecht joined millions of Americans leaving work and hoping not to get stuck in rush hour traffic.
However, he was not heading home to eat dinner and rest up for the next day of work.
Instead, the new business management professional for Northrop Grumman headed to the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown. He arrived two hours before kickoff and quickly said hello to his parents, who tailgated with fans sporting neon green t-shirts, before rushing into the locker room for warmups.
As temperatures rose into the 90s and the referee blew his whistle to start the game, Albrecht stood in front of the penalty box, checking on his goalkeeper before starting to run.
Albrecht was no longer one of millions. He was one of 11 looking to make one of the biggest upsets in American sports.
Albrecht, a Calverton native, played as the defensive lynchpin for Christos FC, an amateur soccer team out of Baltimore, whose Cinderella story defied the odds as they reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup against D.C. United on June 13.
Albrecht shined at center back, limiting D.C. United to one goal in the first 80 minutes while helping block eight of 30 shots. However, the former DeMatha star’s performance wasn’t enough to help keep Christos’ dream of an upset alive as United defeated the Baltimore club, 4-1.
“The amount of effort we gave, in a game that was really hot, against a pro team that gets paid a lot of money to play that game, it was impressive to see the effort we gave,” Albrecht said. “The heat and the lack of fitness may have worn us out at the end, but a couple of bounces that go one way and a couple of things here or there, you never know what happens, but I was proud of the effort the whole team gave.”
For observers of Albrecht’s rise, him playing center back comes as a shock. During his senior year at DeMatha, Albrecht won Washington Catholic Athletic Conference and Prince George's County Player of the Year honors after recording 31 assists as an attacking midfielder, leading the Stags to an undefeated championship season.
After four injury-riddled years with St. Johns University, Albrecht transferred to the University of Maryland determined to play out his final two years of eligibility. Men’s Soccer Head Coach Sasho Cirovski was stunned to see his former midfielder and captain playing on the defensive line for Christos, saying Albrecht “wouldn’t have been (his) first choice at center back.”
“For him to play center back against a high-quality side like D.C. United is a testament to his versatility and ability to read and understand the game,” Cirovski said. “He’s not the fastest guy in the world, but he has a good brain that makes up for a lot. I thought him and (midfielder) Daniel Baxter were the men of the match.”
There was a glimmer of hope in the 23rd minute as midfielder Mamadou Kansaye smashed a curling free kick past United’s Travis Worra to give Christos an early 1-0 lead. Albrecht, along with his teammates, could not contain their joy as they celebrated with a sea of Christos fans waiting for them by the corner flag.
The lead held for only 12 minutes, but the moment was perfect for the Christos players.
“To see the place go nuts for a beer-league Sunday team was pretty cool,” Albrecht said. “It was probably one of the coolest goals I have ever been a part of in my career.”
Just seven months ago, Albrecht played his final college game in Providence’s upset victory over Maryland in the Division I Men's Soccer Championship tournament. In his last season as a Terrapin, Albrecht helped lead the team to an undefeated regular season and two championships.
“Cody is a winner,” Cirvoski said. “He became the captain of our team in just his second year at Maryland, and he didn’t even get into the lineup until late in his first year. Every player who plays with Cody loves and respects him.”
After finishing his college career and graduating with an master’s degree in business administration and management in April, Albrecht was content to keep the sport he loved a hobby. A call from his brother and former Christos player, Kyle, about Christos’ interest in him allowed Albrecht to think about playing competitively again.
“For me, it’s all about going out, playing and having a good time,” Albrecht said. “We have a good group and not only are we good, but I also have a good time playing the game.
“So no matter if it is a cup game or a random Sunday when we are playing a Maryland team, the point is to enjoy the game I love, which I didn’t get a chance to go pro.”
While Christos’ credo includes not practicing before games, they are no couch potatoes either. The team is composed of several former college players, most from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, and former pros.
Last year, the Baltimore club won the U.S. Amateur Cup and the Werner Fricker Open Cup in a span of two weeks.
Albrecht joined Christos in March as it prepared for its first round appearance in the U.S. Open Cup. The Cup is comprised of the country’s amateur, semi-pro and professional teams together in a single elimination tournament, similar to several NCAA tournaments.
After winning in the regional round, Christos upset its second division pro team, the Richmond Kickers, 1-0. The club successfully received funds through a GoFundMe.com campaign to compete in the third round, defeating Chicago FC United, 1-0, to set up the match up with its district pro counterparts.
Christos’ unpredictable run took the sports world by storm as mainstream outlets, in and outside of the state, interviewed members of the club to learn more about the journey. Albrecht received calls from friends and former teammates, wanting to discuss Christos, unaware he was a member of the team.
“Childhood friends would text me and say, ‘hey, this team is going far,’” Albrecht said. “I would tell them, ‘yeah I know, I’m playing on it!’ It was pretty cool to see the media attention and people following us.”
Despite the loss to United and elimination from the tournament, Albrecht was all smiles as the crowd gave him and his teammates a standing ovation.
“I was joking around with some of the kids, telling them, ‘this may be the last time I ever give an autograph so I am going to give as many as I can,’” he said.
After finishing his commitments, he rushed home, arrived before midnight, ate a quick dinner and fell asleep. His shift started at 7:30 a.m. the following morning and regardless of the pain in his hamstring, he could not be late.
Albrecht put away his soccer player disguise and returned to the daily pressures of life millions face without the support of adoring fans.
“Pray for me,” Albrecht said, with a small chuckle.