SoccerNation Coach’s Corner: NPSL Final Preview with Elm City Express’ Teddy Haley

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SoccerNation Coach’s Corner: NPSL Final Preview with Elm City Express’ Teddy Haley

Just like their counterparts from Midland-Odessa FC, New Haven, Connecticut's Elm City Express are into the NPSL National Championship in their debut

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Just like their counterparts from Midland-Odessa FC, New Haven, Connecticut’s Elm City Express are into the NPSL National Championship in their debut season in the 96 team league.

While Midland-Odessa were in the midst of a dramatic penalty shootout with Detroit City FC, Elm City Express were taking care of their own business with a 2-0 victory over Oakland, California’s CD Aguiluchos at Reese Stadium, the nostalgic setting on the campus of Yale University, the same ground that will play host to the final.

I caught up with Elm City Express Head Coach Teddy Haley, discussing what this final means and what the road to the NPSL National Championship has been like for his diverse and energetic side.

Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Coach, Elm City Express are into the final in the club’s first season in the NPSL. What does this mean for you and the team?

Teddy Haley (Elm City Express): It’s phenomenal. The guys have been doing great things for months, going all the way back to the late winter and early spring. We’ve had this thing planned out accordingly. Our goals were set from the day we put the finishing touches on the squad. We were intent on making the playoffs and making a serious run at winning a national championship. We’ve taken it one step at a time, and things have worked out. When we knew we had a chance to host the semi-final, we were real confident. We’re hosting again in the final. We’re really looking forward to this Saturday night.

Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): You guys took down a talented CD Aguiluchos team in that semi-final. It ended with a 2-0 result in your favor, but it was far from easy. In your view, why did your side come out on top?

Teddy Haley (Elm City Express): It definitely wasn’t easy. We weren’t great in the initial stages of the match, and we didn’t get into any kind of rhythm until a good ways in. We just couldn’t get comfortable, and they deserve a lot of credit for the way they went at us. Our goalie Matt Jones made a couple huge saves early on. They could’ve been ahead, but Jones kept us in it. Then we made things click and created a bunch of chances and ended up getting a couple of goals. The key one came late in the first half, in the 45th minute in fact. That was huge to be able to take a lead back into the dressing room. Then we just rode it out. We played much better in the 2nd half, and really felt like we controlled from the restart. It was a total team effort.

Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): In talking with the management and ownership and learning about Elm City Express, it seems as if it’s been a total team effort off the pitch as well.

Teddy Haley (Elm City Express): You hit the nail on the head. Zack Henry is the owner and the original visionary of this whole thing. We met for lunch about 10 months ago, along with my longtime friend Brian Neumeyer who is now the club’s General Manager. Zack asked what I thought about this project. He asked if I’d be interested in doing this, in being the Head Coach. I told Zack and Brian that if we were gonna do this, we were gonna do it right. They were in full agreement. We knew this wasn’t gonna be some trial run or testing of the waters.

From that day on, we put together the best group possible, from the players in the squad, to the off-field management, the coaching staff, etc. We built out from there, and we’ve been fortunate to have surrounded the whole project with good people.

We started this thing with the goal of winning a national championship. It all started with Zack and the original small group of individuals who believed in this vision. Now here we are, ready for this final.

Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Coach, tell us about the community involvement with Elm City Express. How have the people of New Haven taken to this club and the vision of which you speak?

Teddy Haley (Elm City Express): We had over 2,000 people at the semi-final. It was beautiful to see, that crowd the type of thing that reminds you of the fact that you’re doing things the right way. And to have it all at Reese Stadium at Yale, it just adds to the buzz. The place is loaded with history and you can feel those historic vibes.

The New Haven community has been brilliant. A bunch of local pubs, bars, and restaurants have been on board since day one, and people have been more and more enthusiastic as we’ve progressed through the season, the way it would be anywhere else in the world. Our supporters have been awesome. They deserve a national final.

Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Teddy, who are some of the players on the Elm City Express side to look out for in this final?

Teddy Haley (Elm City Express): We wouldn’t be where we’re at without Matt Jones, our goalkeeper. He’s an English lad who played in Portugal for six years, a longtime professional who also spent some time in MLS.

We’ve got some quality veteran leadership on this team, those guys who are experienced but not too old to contribute. We’ve got some youthful exuberance as well. Shaquille Saunchez is definitely someone who a lot of people have enjoyed watching. He’s possibly the fastest guy in the league, like lightning fast.

Cris Hernandez is another guy to keep an eye on. He’s a young guy who should be playing in MLS. He’s certainly one of the best players in this league. He’s so technically gifted with an incredible left foot. He was a MLS homegrown player who signed and played with Philadelphia Union when he was 17. He still has aspirations to be at the top levels of the game, and I feel like he will be back there very soon. He’s done so well with us, and we’ve been grateful to have him as part of our squad.

Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Coach, New Haven, Connecticut is a city with a uniquely diverse cultural makeup. In our conversation last week, your good friend Brian Neumeyer spoke all about what diversity means to Elm City Express. What does the diversity of your squad mean to you?

Teddy Haley (Elm City Express): It’s massive. It’s part of who we are. I feel like there’s an incredible amount of positivity that comes from bringing in different groups and different cultures, bringing it all together for a common goal. But first and foremost, it’s about bringing in the right guys with the right mentality. It doesn’t matter whether we’re bringing in a guy from New Zealand, Jamaica, Ireland, Gambia, or Wisconson. Wherever they come from, they’re gonna come to us because they’re the right person for our team.

When you’re building a squad, you’ve got to find commitment. We’ve been able to get a group that from the beginning has been about unity, shaking hands after every practice, putting in blue-collar shifts. Local guys who played at nearby high schools and colleges and guys from halfway around the world are all in for the same goal. It’s all about loyalty to the group and a respect for the badge.

Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Coach, how have you and your team handled the Midland-Odessa FC situation this week? There were rumors of a forfeit over the last few days due to most of their almost entirely NCAA based roster being ineligible for the final. They have managed to field a squad and we will, thankfully, have a national championship match. Has that story been a distraction at all for you?

Teddy Haley (Elm City Express): When I saw the date come up for the final, and knew they were making a serious run, I knew there could be some issues. We didn’t know what the league or the club had in mind, so we just continued focusing on us. As far as the NCAA stuff, I mean, I’m a NCAA Division 2 coach myself (at Post University here in Connecticut). I know the rules. They are what they are. That’s all I can say on that. And again, we’ve stayed strict to our schedule. There’s a match Saturday. Nothing else matters.

I will admit, it has been a little distracting at times, guys just wanting to know what’s up. My job is to keep everyone in tune with what the real goal is. That’s what we’re doing. We’re here to win a final.

Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Last question, Teddy. If the players, coaches, and management of Elm City Express are lifting the NPSL National Championship trophy at Yale on Saturday, why will they be doing so?

Teddy Haley (Elm City Express): Because we are a group. From the beginning, I’ve held players accountable to do things the right way, to grow together. We’ve talked about unity from the start of this whole thing. We have talent, lots of it. We didn’t always have camaraderie. That type of thing doesn’t just happen magically. The cohesion that we now see with this squad has been a growing process. There was snow on the ground when we first started trials and training. We’re light-years ahead of that point. We’ve worked hard to improve and we’ve worked hard to come together as a group.

The management, the folks in charge of this club, they have treated players and coaches the right way. They’ve helped us flourish. A group is playing in a final, a group of men with ample respect for this club. They’re ready to go out, as a group, and win a national championship.

(Stay tuned to SoccerNation.com and follow @Soccer_Nation on Twitter for more on the NPSL National Championship.)