SoccerNation Coach’s Corner: NPSL Final Preview with Midland-Odessa FC’s Matt Barnes


SoccerNation Coach’s Corner: NPSL Final Preview with Midland-Odessa FC’s Matt Barnes

Going into a final shorthanded is an example of adversity in the game of soccer. Going into a final with eleven players and no goalkeeper, that's a si

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Going into a final shorthanded is an example of adversity in the game of soccer. Going into a final with eleven players and no goalkeeper, that’s a situation more akin to a footballing fiasco.

So it goes for Midland-Odessa FC, the first year NPSL side who last Saturday defeated Detroit City FC on penalties at Keyworth Stadium, sending them onto the National Championship Game where they will face New Haven Connecticut’s Elm City Express. They will go into that contest on the campus of Yale University knowing that eleven players, some of whom haven’t played a minute all season, will be fighting for a league title.

It is a murky set of circumstances for Midland-Odessa, the West Texas club that for nine years (eight of which were spent in the PDL as Midland-Odessa Sockers FC) has built itself around the foundation of college talent, players joining the team purely for the non-collegiate summer months.

Rules and regulations from the NCAA (including the rule that no active NCAA player can participate in any outside competition once an official NCAA team practice has taken place) and the NPSL (who, despite the unique situation, ruled against the West Texas club’s effort to sign new players after the league’s signing deadline and has forced them to pick only from the list of players who were registered at the beginning of the NPSL season) see Midland-Odessa FC with their work cut out and their hands tied.

It is still a one-off, and crazier things have happened than a team of 11 defeating a team of 18. It may take a miracle, but it’s already been a miraculous campaign for Midland-Odessa. What’s one more rabbit from the hat?

I caught up with Midland-Odessa FC Head Coach Matt Barnes, discussing the magic of the semi-final win over Detroit City, and the prospect of playing for the NPSL National Championship amidst all the weirdness.

Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Coach, thanks for joining us. Midland-Odessa FC are into the final. What does that mean to you?

Matt Barnes (Midland-Odessa FC): Thanks for having me, Nate. It’s a dream come true for myself and for this club. Coming off a PDL final-four appearance last year, then the decision to go into the NPSL, and just to do this type of thing back to back, regardless of the league in which we’re playing, it’s a great feeling.

We had one of the youngest teams in the entire NPSL this year. No players over 23 suited up for us this season. We bring in kids from all over the country, with no games or training during the majority of the year, no exhibition games, and a four-day camp before our first league match. We didn’t have much time to prepare. It’s show and go for us. And with all that, plus so many other difficulties and speed-bumps along the way, to make it to the final is truly a great accomplishment and an awesome feeling for everyone involved.

Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Let’s talk a little about the semi-final against Detroit City FC, which your side won 4-2 on penalties after 120 scoreless minutes on the pitch. What was the experience like, especially playing in front of the famed Keyworth Stadium crowd?

Matt Barnes (Midland-Odessa FC): We knew all about the unique atmosphere in Detroit, and about the incredible culture they’ve built. But once we saw the draw, it became all about the two teams on the field. After reviewing some film, and breaking it all down, we felt like it was actually a really good match-up for us. Then you get there on matchday and look around as you’re getting into the stadium, and it’s suddenly all about the atmosphere again, and you have to make sure everyone stays focused on the task at hand. I was thinking quite a bit, how are our young guys going to handle it all?

Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): I’d say the handled it quite well, eh?

Matt Barnes (Midland-Odessa FC): We got out of there with a trip to the final, so you’d have to say that they handled it quite well. We went into the week making sure we maintained what we called “radio silence”. No responding. We had fans of Detroit going at our players on social media, trolling our guys and trying to provoke them. It was kind of cool in a way, because it was something new for our guys to experience.

We were very loose in the locker room, basically understanding that they were gonna have a big, tenacious, raucous crowd behind them, something none of us had really ever had to go up against, but that everything would play itself out the same way it would anywhere else. I was proud with how the guys handled it.

Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Describe the emotions of the penalty shootout, and the feeling when you guys knew you had won it.

Matt Barnes (Midland-Odessa FC): It was odd. We went into that shootout as loose as we’d ever been. We played that match with 14 guys in the squad! Knowing how shorthanded we were and even remembering the feeling of disappointment from last year, we just felt destined to win.

We’ve been practicing penalties all year. I strongly believe in doing so. We had some good laughs in our huddle before the shootout and ended up making 4 of 5 and our keeper saved two of theirs.

After we won the shootout, of course the guys went absolutely crazy. And that Detroit crowd was wild. I’ve never been called so many dirty things in my life. We had cups of beer thrown at us, beer cans, and a few other items as well. And you know what, not that I advocate that kind of thing, but our guys were out there celebrating on their field for a good thirty minutes after we won. I understand their anger. It was all pretty crazy, and certainly a night that none of us will ever forget.

Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Coach, how are you and the club dealing with this current situation regarding your roster going into this final?

Matt Barnes (Midland-Odessa FC): It’s been really really difficult. But I’m grateful that we’re playing. We’ve got 11 guys to play. A few of them I’ve never met, guys who were on our preliminary roster but never played for the club. We don’t have a goalkeeper. We’ll use a field player in the goal.

All that outside stuff is out of our hands. We’ve got 11. I’ll meet the team in New York on Friday night and we’ll plan it all out. Then we’ll go out Saturday night at Yale and play.

I’ve never been in this position, essentially having to walk into a meeting room, talk to a few guys for the first time, and then tell them how they’re gonna go out and win a national championship! We’ll have a tactical plan. We’ll try to keep everyone loose, the same way we did in Detroit. We’re gonna do our absolute best in some really difficult circumstances and see what we can do. We’re staying positive. It’s a one-off. We’ve still got a chance.

Looking to the last remaining stars:

There are four Midland-Odessa FC regulars who will be taking part in Saturday’s final. Team Captain Andrew Moullin, four-year Midland-Odessa veteran Isaac Sanchez, Alex VonHolle (the son of club G.M. Jeff VonHolle), and leading goalscorer Ricardo Palomino. There’s just one rather important note on Palomino going into the clash with Elm City Express. The highly touted striker will be wearing a different colored top with gloves on his hands. That’s right, Palomino has volunteered to play goalkeeper in the NPSL National Championship.

“He’s as selfless as any player I’ve known,” said Matt Barnes. “He’s a pure goalscorer. But he said he’s played goalie before, and we don’t have anyone else. He’ll be between the pipes for us, playing for a title.”

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