Princeton’s newest soccer team is venturing out beyond the Orange Bubble and breaking the mold of traditional sports teams on campus. And, it’s taking the University by storm with a 400 percent membership increase since its inception in September. With weekend trips across New Jersey, German '90s-inspired uniforms, and a membership that prides itself on community before contest, we had to hear more about what Wawa United FC is all about. The Daily Princetonian sat down with president, captain, and founder Jonny Hopcroft ’20, travel chair Coby Goldberg ’20, vice presidential candidate Jan Domingo ’20, and Matt Timo ’20 — who asked for his position to remain undisclosed — to talk more about the club's origins, story, and “vibes”...
The Daily Princetonian: Ok, first question. Gotta ask before we go any further — so your name is Wawa United. Now where did you get that name from and what inspired it?
Coby Goldberg: Well I think it is funny because we didn’t actually come up with the name ourselves. We got it from the store Wawa. You know, they have a branch here on campus. Great food, great times there — you know we all actually have specific orders at Wawa now. Mine is this panini with tomato, chipotle pesto, lettuce, on bread with two cheeses. Jonny likes his with one cheese. You know, there are more than 80 locations across New Jersey, and so we actually named it in homage to a place where we eat food.
DP: Are you formally sponsored by Wawa?
Matt Timo: Yeah, Xerxes Libsch ’20 [the team's Wawa Outreach Chair] is actually in talks with Wawa right now, trying to get [us] officially recognized.
Jan Domingo: It’s a process, you know?
DP: Ok, before we get into all of that, tell me how Wawa United came to be. Jonny, you were the founder, so tell me how you came up with this idea and how you put it all together.
Jonny Hopcroft: So this idea started coming together last September when I was rejected from club soccer. Now I’m not a very good soccer player — and neither are many of the members of Wawa United — yet we still had a passion for playing soccer. So it was around March when an intramural team formerly known as Glimpse FC (named after our friend Ryan Gruss ’18 and his startup) lost the Campus Rec Open A Indoor Soccer Championship Semifinal. So we told ourselves — well, I said to Ben Clarke ’20 at the time — that we should try to set up a soccer team like they have back home (in England). For a while we forgot about it. Then, over the summer when I had no job, I would spend several hours a day constructing Wawa United.
DP: Go through that process with me. What exactly was involved in “constructing” Wawa United?
JH: So it involved finding a league to join, finding teams to play, finding referees, getting the kits together, finding members to join. Initially it was only about seven of us [and] now I think we’re up to 35 active members in the group chat. The growth’s been pretty exponential. What else did it involve...
CG: It involved a lot of heart. Especially with getting people to commit to playing and who were willing to basically pay a fee to enter the team because you needed to pay for league dues, kits, and all that. So you had those initial people that were very committed to joining the team with Jonny and then it was about finding other people willing to commit to joining this random thing on Sundays. It is hard sometimes finding people to commit.
JH: You know, the hardest part was ... getting through Princeton athletics.
JD: Yeah, so on that note, it took a long time dealing with the administration, trying to get a field and funding, which we got neither of. And that’s kind of the thing, we had to take it upon ourselves to find a pitch that we could play on. That was a huge deal which certainly took a lot of time in the creation process.
CM: So now that you are all settled after dealing with athletics — which for many club teams can be a challenge sometimes — where do you guys play and practice? And for practice are there set times, or do you just kind of use the field when no one else is using it?
JH: So for practices we’ll usually just climb onto Roberts Stadium; it’s a nice stadium and everyone knows where it is. But for matches, we actually rent a field about 20 minutes away in Belle Mead. It’s called Mill Pond Soccer Complex Field Number 6, in case anyone is interested and wants to come watch a game. It’s a beautiful field and we’re very attached to it now. And you know it’s great that we found that field and for so cheap because there was a moment in the second week of September when we weren’t allowed to use the open fields on campus and were going to have to forfeit our entire season. But fortunately we were able to make a deal with the Montgomery Town Council to rent Mill Pond Soccer Complex Field Number 6.
CG: To clarify, the reason why they didn’t want to have the field on campus was because they didn’t want adults coming onto campus. There was never a chance they were going to let us play there because they were non-collegiate games.
DP: So essentially you play in a men’s league?
JH: Yeah, so we play in a “beer league” as it’s called here, I think.
DP: Did you say “B league”?
JH: No, beer league.
CG: It’s essentially the B league of the beer league. It’s actually the B League South.
MT: It’s officially recognized as the Garden State Soccer League B South Division.
DP: And the teams that you play — are they mostly from the area? Are they from all over New Jersey?
MT: We face a wide range of teams and a wide range of talent. A wide range of backgrounds.
JH: Yeah we face a wide range of talent and age as well. We’ve played 50 year olds and 30 year olds, pretty wide range.
MT: I once saw an 8-year-old on the pitch.
JH: So yeah, for example, over fall break we had a game at the Jersey Shore. So, as a team we all went to Seaside Heights and spent two nights before the game. Unfortunately we had to forfeit that game because one of our players (Ben Clarke) pulled his groin the night before. But that trip kind of represents the geographic diversity that we’ll play during the season.
DP: So you’ve talked a bit about the various teams you play, and you mentioned the various skill levels of players coming to play for Wawa United. Talk to me a little about how that growth has been as a team. I’m sure most of your players came in with some soccer experience but not much, so from the time you started the team until now, how has that player transformation been?
MT: Yeah, so one thing you have to realize first is that’s it’s a brotherhood before a competitive team. And that’s one thing that everyone on the team loves so much about it.
JD: So it started out with Jonny, who has friends, and him choosing those friends that he thought would enjoy playing soccer for fun. He wanted them to have a passion for soccer and of course good vibes. And it turned out to be a really nice team. Basically, we put that above soccer-playing abilities. You basically just have to have a passion for it and have fun, you know, be a fun person to be around and have a good time with it.
MT: Large emphasis on the idea of community here at Wawa United, you know how well you get along with the team before how well you can kick the ball into the net.
CG: But definitely most of the people on it are people that wish they can play some kind of competitive soccer more regularly.
MT: We are definitely looking to try to find the optimal balance between friendship and athletic ability.
JH: I think the great thing about it is that each year, there are tens and tens of people who do not play club soccer or are rejected from it. About 80-100 people try out each year and only about 20 make it, so that leaves 60 people looking to find a way to play soccer. And those people really find a home in Wawa.
CG: Also, though, it isn’t just people interested in club soccer. Actually, Jonny is the only one at this table who tried out for club soccer.
MT: We are actually going to try to have a charity game with club soccer at one point — it hasn’t been scheduled yet — to see how we actually do against those guys.
DP: So I do want to talk about the idea of community a little bit. Talk to me a bit about what you do off the pitch together. You talked about a trip to Seaside. What else are you doing when not playing soccer as a group?
MT: Well, we can keep this answer short and sweet: we’re out having a good time.There’s certainly a large sense of community, a large sense of friendship, and a lot of love between the brothers of Wawa United. We all see it as our premiere social group and our premiere friend group on campus.
JH: Another great thing about it is that there really is no sense of social hierarchy between different grades. We’ve got seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen all on the team. Though it’s mainly sophomore-dominated right now, we are trying to get more members from all grades, especially freshmen. And you know it touched my heart when one of the freshmen came up to me and said, “This is my strongest group of friends on campus.” It touched me because I can’t imagine last year as a freshman saying that a group of upperclassmen was my strongest friend group on campus. So I think that’s representative of the loving and welcoming community we have.
MT: We’re all very fortunate to be a member of Wawa.
JH: You're welcome to join if you’d like to!
DP: It sounds awesome — you know I would love to. I cannot kick a ball to save my life but I’d love to get out there with you guys. It sounds like a really good time.
MT: You know, you definitely look like you got the fit for a good goalie.
DP: So for any other person on campus thinking about joining, whether they’re a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior, what do they have to do to go about that?
JD: You honestly just got to slide into the DMs. Just go on our Instagram and message us there.
CG: Reach out to our membership chair, Tom Salama ’20. Feel free to contact him at anytime, he’s available 24/7 to talk to you. The man lives and breathes Wawa.
MT: Yeah we are ramping up our social media and our social presence, so we have an Instagram, Facebook, and we are in the process of making a LinkedIn. We’re in the process of building up our website and like Coby said Tom said, we will certainly answer you and we’ll get you out for one of our training sessions.
JH: We actually had a 32-year-old pharmaceutical consultant from Long Island named Sandeep come to a training session just a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, the birth of his child prevented him from continuing playing with us, but again, I think that’s symbolic of how welcoming of a community we are. A group of college kids, some of us U.S. citizens, some of us not, from all different backgrounds who share a common passion and love being around each other.
MT: One thing though — if you are considering joining, keep in mind that our interest level is building up fast, so make sure you reach out to us sooner if you want to be part.
JH: But don’t worry about the total number of people; we are in the process of making a second team — D’Angelo’s United — that will help make sure everyone, regardless of skill level, has a spot to play.
JD: We got that name idea after some really good food we had there just a few days ago.
CG: I had a tuna melt, with some really thick bread, melted cheese, tuna with mayo, lettuce, tomato, and onion as well. It was great.
JH: Going back to the number of players, we actually had seven substitutes for the last game, which is remarkable considering we started the season unsure if we could field enough players for a team. And we could have had more substitutes, to be honest — some people chose not to play that game. So I think next year if we have enough interest from the freshmen and others during the spring season, we will try and make a B team so that way everyone who wants to play soccer and doesn’t make club soccer has a chance to do so at Princeton.
DP: This has been great so far. Any last things you want to add before we sign off?
JD: So Timo and I are from New Jersey, and there are times when you go [to Princeton] that you forget you’re in NJ just because you never have a chance to get off campus. I think that with Wawa — where you just get in a car and go somewhere to play some soccer — it takes us back to something much more local. It’s nice to get a break and go places and meet guys who aren’t Ivy League students or college students; it’s really nice to break the bubble.
CG: The thing I appreciate about Wawa the most is that rarely at Princeton do you have the chance to do something just for fun. And it’s very cool that there are a lot of people who are actually willing to commit to spending most of their Sunday doing something just because it is fun. You can’t put Wawa on your resume —
JH: I actually do.
CG: — it’s just for the fun and love of the game.
JH: That’s one thing I want to emphasize, you know, some clubs people join maybe just for the social benefits. That’s not the case here; the only social benefit is the great people you get to meet. As Jan said earlier, it’s great vibes all the time.