Elm City Express President Zack Henry Talks Inspiration, Why NPSL, What’s Great About Spider Man
How many teams join a league and then win the National Championship? Elm City Express became NPSL National Champions their inaugural season — and, yet this team of champions still have a deep sense of humility and determination to rise to new challenges.
Soccer News: Elm City Express’ win for the title of 2017 National Champions was a clear victory with the final score 5-0 against Midland Odessa FC.
Elm City’s Morgan and Swift scored twice and Oliviera once to bring the total number of goals to 5 in the shutout victory in their inaugural NPSL Season — a remarkable achievement reflecting determination and commitment on and off the field.
When this men’s soccer team from New Haven, CT joined the league as an expansion team, competing in the Northeast Region’s Atlantic Conference, the NPSL was a new frontier for this club.
While the management team was experienced — and owns a professional soccer club in Brazil, Clube Atlético Tubarão which competes in the First Division of Catarina — becoming national champions right out of the gate was not what Elm City Express President Zack Henry or Head Coach Teddy Haley assumed.
Here is GoalNation’s exclusive interview with Henry who goes into the backstory of his journey in soccer, why the team joined the NPSL, what he hopes for the future.
Diane Scavuzzo: First of all, congratulations. What an inaugural year for your expansion team! When did you become involved with the NPSL? Why chose the NPSL for your league?
Zack Henry: First, thank you very much for the congratulations, which I accept on behalf of all of our players and staff.
A couple of years ago, I was having a coffee in downtown Florianópolis with my partners, and we started talking about the idea of launching a soccer organization in the USA — to be the sister club of Clube Atlético Tubarão, our club in Brazil.
We agreed that the NPSL was the right league for us.
Among other things, we really like the collaborative nature of the league, which is eloquently embraced by the league’s motto:
“We compete for 90 minutes on the field. We are business partners always.”
Diane Scavuzzo: As President of Elm City Express — what exactly do you do?
Zack Henry: There are a lot of balls to juggle, but one thing I do consistently is place complete faith and trust in my partners, in our management team and our coaching staff.
My job is to solve problems on a daily basis — and I’m lucky that I have such insightful and resourceful colleagues.
From my partner Luiz Henrique, VP of the Elm City Express, to Elm City Express GM Brian Neumeyer – I’m really lucky to have the steadfast support, ingenuity, and drive of so many talented people.
Diane Scavuzzo: Tell us about this NPSL season — What were the biggest challenges? What were the best accomplishments?
Zack Henry: People have been asking me lately “How did you do it?” and my response is always the same: “I didn’t do it. We did it.”
For me personally, the soccer part of the equation was not something I spent much time thinking about, because Head Coach Teddy Haley, Assistant Coach Luis Figueiredo, Technical Advisor Eric Da Costa, Goalkeeping Coach George Kostelis, and of course GM Brian Neumeyer were all over that.
So rather than losing sleep over which formation we were going to use or who was going to start in the 9 position, I lost sleep over paperwork instead.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is K2 Soccer USA — a sister company of Brazil-based K2 Soccer SA? And, of course, how closely do you work with Club Atlético Tubarão? Can players on your NPSL team tryout for the team abroad?
Zack Henry: Elm City Express is owned by US-based K2 Soccer North America LLC and Brazil- based K2 Soccer SA, both part of Baltoro Group. K2 Soccer SA owns and manages a professional soccer team in Brazil, CA Tubarão, which plays in the first division of the state of Santa Catarina and will compete in the national Série D in 2018.
Our two clubs are cooperating on various fronts, from player loans to exchanges of coaching techniques and expertise.
Back in February, I brought an Elm City Express delegation to Brazil to spend a week with their counterparts.
Just from that week, we uncovered a number of avenues for cooperation that we have been exploring since.
Two players from CA Tubarão came up to play with us in the 2017 NPSL season, and we’ll send a player or two from Elm City to train with CA Tubarão very soon. Some clubs sign MOUs and then after the press conference, nothing happens. We are making things happen.
We are making things happen.
Zack Henry: Yes, of course!
We decided to start a new club for a number of reasons, and one of those was to help provide options for talented local players to continue playing soccer at higher levels.
Our 2017 roster featured graduates from 9 different Connecticut universities, which I think is just awesome.
Diane Scavuzzo: Who do you believe is your team’s biggest rival in the NPSL Northeast Region’s Atlantic Blue Conference?
Brooklyn handed us our only loss of the season, but our guys bounced back from that as I knew they would.
Diane Scavuzzo: How devoted are soccer fans in the New Haven, Connecticut area?
Zack Henry: Based on that question, I think you need to attend a home game next season! Days after we launched Elm City Express, I was both surprised and excited to see that a supporters’ group, the Yard Dogs, had popped up on Twitter.
I sent them a note: “Hey guys, this is Zack from the Elm City Express. Can we grab a coffee sometime?” During subsequent months, we were in regular contact with the Yard Dogs, as well as with the Brick Oven Brigade, and scores of other organizations: from youth academies to universities.
I would be remiss if I did not share our heartfelt thanks to the Elm City Internationals, who are some of our most dedicated fans – and they made it to several road games to prove it. It has been an absolute pleasure to chat with the fans before games, after games and during the week through social media.
Diane Scavuzzo: What were your goals for this season? How did you reach them?
Zack Henry: When we were putting the project together in late 2015/early 2016, we thought a lot about how we were going to define success.
- Winning games?
- Ticket sales?
- Community engagement?
We took a step back from those metrics and decided that our shared vision would be to run the Elm City Express in the most professional way possible.
Professionalism has been our compass, and I think it has served us well. Minutes after we won the national championship last month, I was talking to one of our players, Joe Baccielo, out on the field. Joe said “It’s really great to see a group do things the right way, and then win it all. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.” That felt great.
Diane Scavuzzo: What were your goals for 2018?
Zack Henry: Looking ahead to 2018, we’ve obviously set the bar pretty high by winning the national championship this year. We’re working on a number of exciting strategic, off-the-field initiatives that I think will help us to grow our visibility and impact. But overall, in 2018 we will again focus on running a professional organization, which we hope will translate into success on the field.
Diane Scavuzzo: How does watching an NPSL match compare to an MLS, NASL or USL game?
Zack Henry: I think it is kind of like going out to dinner at a restaurant versus going over to a friend’s home for dinner.
At the restaurant, with some exceptions, it is a more formal affair, with established boundaries that we all know and follow.
At your friend’s home, you can kick off your shoes, plop down on the couch, hang out in the kitchen, help yourself to what’s in the fridge before dinner – you feel more at home.
Diane Scavuzzo: When did you become in involved in soccer?
Zack Henry: I started playing soccer when I was five years old, basically because my mom thought American football was too violent.
So there I was at some junior high school field on Long Island, with a size four ball at my feet and a sunburned guy with a funny accent holding a clipboard and blowing a whistle.
I stuck with it, and next thing I knew I was playing some relatively competitive ball: club soccer, select teams, playing in the Dallas Cup and other big youth soccer tournaments.
When I was around 14 or 15, our select team went to Europe for two weeks to play in Belgium, Germany, and Holland.
Then I went to Amherst College, where I played center midfield. After college, I played semi-pro in Puerto Rico for a season with the Guayama Brujos and played amateur ball for a number of other clubs in San Juan.
I later played in various leagues in NYC, including at Chelsea Piers, where I sprained my MCL and then later tore my ACL.
And I thought “Ok, game over.” But the soccer gods were not done with me yet.
Diane Scavuzzo: Would you like to see promotion and relegation exist in the USA? Why?
Zack Henry: As I lived in Brazil for years and I now work shoulder-to- shoulder with my partners there, I’ve seen and felt the excitement that comes from starting out in the Second Division of the State of Santa Catarina…and then earning promotion to the First Division and in 2018, CA Tubarão will compete in the Série D at the national level.
For sports fans, that emotional journey is matchless. I’d love to see promotion/relegation in the US. I think if any country loves an underdog, it is the US — just think about Rocky, James Braddock, or the 1980 US Men’s Hockey team.
But I, of course, understand it is not an easy equation to solve here.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the one moment/experience/decision you would like to turn back the clock and change?
Zack Henry: I’d say I would have avoided the plays that caused my MCL sprain and my ACL tear. Sorry, that’s two. Can I have two? And if I can erase those, does that mean I can try out for the Elm City Express?
Diane Scavuzzo: If you could pick any super power, what would it be and why?
Zack Henry: My son loves super heroes, and Spider Man is pretty big at the moment. So I guess I’d take Spider Man’s web-slinging skills and throw on a goalkeeper’s uniform so I could give our starting keeper Matt Jones a run for his money. But I’d still need two good ACLs, so I think it would be pointless.
Related Soccer News: NPSL NEWS: ELM CITY EXPRESS SIGN FIRST PLAYERS
Photo Credit: Elm City Express.