New England Soccer Today

A Season to Remember

Photo credit: Mark Smith

NEW HAVEN, Ct. – On a mild midsummer’s night in the middle of the very pitch his players dominated for 90 minutes, Elm City Express coach Teddy Haley could only soak up the scene surrounding him.

Champagne and beer spewed skyward. Drums thundered amid loud and wild cheers. Packs of navy-clad players and rowdy supporters alike chanted and waved flags. A small wooden whale, possibly a mantle piece at one time, was passed above a small, but dense crowd clamoring for its captain.

Indeed, there was plenty to celebrate in southern Connecticut following Elm City’s 5-0 thumping of Midland-Odessa FC in the NPSL title game, a destination few could’ve predicted the club would reach in its debut season.

“It’s massive for us,” Haley said. “It started with the ownership group and the management group doing it the right way from the beginning, putting together a collection of players that bought into what we wanted to do and the vision of it.”

Haley, who also won NPSL Coach of the Year honor after guiding his club to a 9-1-2 regular season record in Year 1, certainly knew how to get the most from his team in 2017.

The club opened its inaugural campaign with back-to-back wins before drawing to in-state rival Hartford City FC in the first I-91 derby. They followed it up with another victory before falling on the road to the Brooklyn Italians.

At 3-1-1, there was plenty to be happy about within the organization. Yet, few could’ve predicted what the immediate future held.

Following their loss in the Empire State, the Express went on a tear, going 6-0-1 in their final seven en route to a first place finish in the Atlantic Blue Conference. Even then, there was far more that awaited Haley’s talented team.

In the postseason, the team collected five more wins, and outscored their foes on aggregate 17-1. In many ways, the team that Haley and his assistants assembled seemed to get better as the season progressed.

“It’s great to be around these amazing and talented guys,” Express forward Tavoy Morgan said. “We push each other every day, on and off the field. It’s a fun team.”

That sense of fun was on full display in Saturday’s final. Morgan scored twice before the break on symbiotic sequences in which he and Cris Hernandez seemed to reach each other’s minds given the placement of the passes and the timing of the runs.

The second half was no different. Substitute Quenton Swift added two of his own on similar plays while Daniel Oliveira’s golazo sent the 3,112 on hand into frenzy.

Yes, Saturday’s championship victory had all the hallmarks of a squad that was clearly enjoying themselves as the ball traded partners.

But make no mistake: Elm City’s creative and cohesive display wasn’t happenstance. Rather, it was the the culmination of countless hours spent in the shadows, far removed from the bright lights that shone upon them at Reese Stadium on a summer night made for soccer.

“The team worked really hard to get better every week and stay together, grow together,” Haley said. “We talked about going on a run and doing something special.”

As the celebrations stretched into the early morning, the Q Bridge, which crosses the nearby Quinnipiac River, basked the same bright shade of blue prominent in the badge worn by the newly-crowned champions out of New Haven.

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