There will be an abundance of talent at Yale University’s Reese Stadium this weekend as the Elm City Express and CD Aguiluchos USA meet in the NPSL National Semifinals. Elm City boasts players with international experience, with one representing New Zealand at the U-17 World Cup and another starring in the Portuguese Second Division. Aguiluchos carries talent on the club which features the 2013 NPSL Player of the Year and a two-time NPSL Golden Boot winner.
Aguiluchos continued to the national semifinals with a 1-0 win over Orange County FC last week. They shut down a team that was a scoring at will, totaling 65 goals for the season, and had this season’s NPSL Golden Boot co-winner.
“Orange County was easily the best team we played this season. It was a battle the whole game. We had overcome last-minute corners, crosses, and saves to come out victorious,” said CDA striker Simon Rawnsley.
CD Aguiluchos shares the same admiration for their current opponent, but this comes at a completely different circumstance, as the Oakland side will travel 3,000 miles for this match.
Nevertheless, Rawnsley is not worried about the travel.
“We will have a day to relax, prepare, stretch our legs. We are not going to let the travel or the crowd mess with our mental state.”
The NPSL veteran is eager about the chance to play in another national semifinal.
“We’ve been at home for the playoffs this season, we have never traveled to Connecticut before. The weather could play a factor for us during the game, but we want to enjoy the experience and play our game has we have with every opponent.”
Aguiluchos clearly won’t have homefield advantage, but they won’t be alone thanks to CDA’s amazing following and sense of community.
Over the years, CDA has drawn attention from the media heavyweights like MLSSoccer.com, SB Nation, and CentroDeportivo. They have already won their conference, region, and now have their sights on a national title.
Rawnsley put it simply. “We want to win it all.”
Elm City is coming off a 3-1 win over Clarkstown SC Eagles and has outscored their postseason opponents by a 9-1 margin.
A big reason for Elm City’s success is the experience of forward Graciano Brito. He has played professionally in Portugal and the U.S., starring for Clube Operario Desportivo, FC New York, and the Rochester Rhinos. Brito is a calming impact for the Express roster that is in its first year in the NPSL.
“This is a massive accomplishment for the club to be in the national championship because it is our first year in the league. We have a feeling of accomplishment from all of the hard work we have put in,” said Brito.
Defender Ashton Pett, who beckons from Auckland, New Zealand, had a similarly encouraging experience.
“The season has been fantastic. I wasn’t too sure of what to expect heading into the season as it is our first year, but our mentality as a team has not changed. The hunger and passion is there from every member of the squad to go out on Saturday and get the job done. We know that we are going to need to perform to proceed through to the championship.”
Brito knows what needs to be done should Elm City look to advance to the finals.
“We must thoroughly exam the scouting reports on what to expect from the other side. However, we try not to focus too much on the opposition, whoever it may be. The focus is on us and how we want to play. All season we have had an amazing fan base which has contributed to our success. It is a tremendous opportunity to be able to play this game in from of the people who have supported us from day one.”
Pett similarly agrees that playing at Yale this year has been a decisive advantage for the club.
“We have made Reese Stadium a bit of a stronghold this season. We have played some good football there and have been very hard to break down. We are at home crowd will be a huge advantage. Our fans are unbelievable and we will do our best to put on a show for them this Saturday night.”
Elm City hopes to join the likes of RVA FC, who won the NPSL National Championship in 2013 in their first year of existence. That squad was loaded with loads of local Virginia talent to go along with international and professional stars. It sounds like a very familiar recipe for success.
This matchup will be an outstanding game to watch from the start until the final whistle.
Both teams want to show that belong in the NPSL National Semifinals.
“This is going to be a very tough match,” Pett concluded. “Of course, there will be a few nerves coming in before kick-off for many of the boys, but once that first whistle blows everything will settle down and we will just go out and enjoy the occasion. We trust that everyone on the team will do their job and put their bodies on the line, like they have done all season, to give us our best shot of getting the win. I’m sure this will be our toughest game yet. Aguiluchos have knocked over some big teams thus far and we know that we will need to perform to progress through.”
It is apparent that the national semifinal is going to be one to remember, an epic clash between the top West Coast and East Coast clubs in the NPSL.