The 2017 National Premier Soccer League season is in the books, with New Haven, Connecticut’s Elm City Express being crowned National Champions in the club’s inaugural campaign.
This week, NPSL Chairman Joe Barone sat down for a lengthy phone conversation with yours truly.
In the first installment of a two-part interview, Barone and I take a look at some of the league’s success stories this season and examine some of the difficulties the NPSL faced in 2017, including the logistical issues that surrounded last Saturday’s National Championship.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Mr. Chairman, thanks for joining us.
Joe Barone (NPSL Chairman): Thanks for having me. It’s always great to talk about our league.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): How would you sum up the season that was the 2017 NPSL?
Joe Barone (NPSL Chairman): I think the season was a huge success. It was a success based on the performance of a variety of teams all around the country. The league managed 95 teams across the country this season. The attendance we had in multiple regions was outstanding. And to have a final between two teams each in their first year in the league, to me, shows how high the commitment level is of the teams that are entering the NPSL.
Both our league champion, Elm City Express, and our runners-up, Midland-Odessa FC, deserve ample credit for the way they performed in 2017. The staff of the NPSL continues to do an amazing job, and I’m confident in saying that this season was a major success.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): What were your thoughts on the National Championship itself?
Joe Barone (NPSL Chairman): I thought it was a quality, competitive final. It was 2-0 to Elm City Express until late in the game, and the home side pulled away late, ultimately winning 5-0. There were a couple calls and bounces that could’ve gone differently. Those things happen. But it was competitive. There was a crowd of over 3,000 people in New Haven. Myself and members of our league staff were there at the ground on the Yale campus.
There was quality soccer on the night, and the game exemplified the talent that exists in amateur and semi-pro soccer. There were a number of players that really stood out for me, with Cris Hernandez on the Elm City side certainly being one of them. A big goal of ours is to do what we can to help these games get scouted better by fully professional teams. It is great to have Cris in our league, but he should be back playing in MLS. That would make us all happy.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): There were some major logistical issues that overshadowed the build-up to the final match, with rumors of a forfeit floating around league circles. Midland-Odessa FC, a team made up almost entirely of active college soccer players, was forced to play with a depleted roster due to NPSL and NCAA rules and regulations. Why do you think things went the way they did on the logistical side?
Joe Barone (NPSL Chairman): Look, there were some challenges faced. At the end of the day, both teams did a great job in creating a competitive environment. I thought Midland-Odessa played a very competitive game. I’m honestly quite happy with the way the match turned out. Attendance was fantastic, there was a buzz in the air, and there was more quality exposure for the league. There are challenges faced in every league in this country, and every league around the world. I feel like in this case, we rose above the challenges. We played the game. There was never any question that the game was gonna be played.
Those rumors of a forfeit were just that, rumors, nothing more. The game was always gonna get played. At the end of the day, some people might not like the score at 5-0, but the credit goes to Elm City Express. The score was 2-0 until very late in the game. Midland-Odessa gave their all. There were some difficult circumstances in play and I’m happy we were able to have a true soccer spectacle to close the season.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): What goes through your mind when you see or hear people say that Elm City Express’ 2017 NPSL Championship is cheapened by the fact that they played a side that featured mostly replacement players in the final?
Joe Barone (NPSL Chairman): Honestly, I feel like someone would have had to have actually been present at the game last Saturday in order to make a comment like that. The intensity of that game was real. It was a league final with a trophy on the line, and everyone there, including every Midland-Odessa player and coach, treated it as such. People have the freedom to talk about and say whatever they want. The fact is, Midland-Odessa had a very competitive team. The game was a good one.
I can’t change people’s opinions about the final. All I know is that I was there and I watched two teams battle hard for 90 minutes. I want people to have opinions. I want people to talk about our league, and share their opinions, whether they’re flattering opinions or critical opinions. I’m confident in knowing that as the league’s chairman, I was present for a very competitive final match of our season.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): Do you think Midland-Odessa FC were at all hard done in the way things transpired?
Joe Barone (NPSL Chairman): Look, at the owners meeting, which took place in New Orleans all the way back in December of 2016, the performance schedule was laid out. In the western portion of our league, as you know Nate being out in San Diego, the season starts in March. The rest of the league gets started soon after. Everyone knew that the final was scheduled for mid-August. Everyone is aware of the timing of the NPSL National Championship, and everyone has ample opportunity to make adjustments to their rosters until a set date in July.
Once our league officials have done their part to make sure everyone is on the same page, it becomes the responsibility of the teams themselves to make sure that they have a roster in place that can perform all the way to the end. Our club owners have a huge say in the way this league is run. The board comes up with these dates, and then they are voted on by the league members, aka the club owners. They vote on when the final is played. The 2017 schedule was approved by the owners. Everyone knew what these dates meant in regards to eligibility rules.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): What does all this mean in regards to the 2018 NPSL season?
Joe Barone (NPSL Chairman): I think there’s a learning process in play, and there should be at all times. We judge ourselves on performance, and while we feel like as a league we performed at a very high level this season, there were certainly areas in which we can improve. We’ll break things down in great detail the owners meeting. Everyone will have a say. We will make adjustments. We have owners who are boisterous and motivated. We will continue to grow this league and improve with every passing day.
(Stay tuned for Part 2 of this special SoccerNation Sitdown with Joe Barone, where the Chairman and I discuss the ongoing efforts of Kingston Stockade FC Owner Dennis Crowley and his ambitions to take the fight for the implementation of promotion and relegation in the United States all the way to the FIFA hierarchy. We talk Detroit City FC, and what their story means to the NPSL. We also learn a little bit more about Joe Barone the person and his hopes for a meaningful legacy in American Soccer.)