Pro Soccer Coming To Town

The Nighthawks and the Ravens may have long since flown from New Haven, but now the Elm City Express is returning pro sports to town.

The Elm City Express is a new team joining the Atlantic Conference of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL).

The owner of the team — an offshoot of a team called Clube Atlético Tubarão that plays in Brazil — publicly announced the new New Haven squad Monday afternoon.

The team will play at Yale’s Reese Field at 75 Central Ave., just off Route 34 in Westville. It will probably play six or so regular-season home games between May and August, according to team President Zack Henry. (The team is opening an office at the Grove downtown; it planned an inaugural happy hour at BAR Monday evening.)

Professional sports teams haven’t fared well in this century in New Haven. The once-popular New Haven Nighthawks hockey team, then its more minor-league successors, went out of business before the home-ice New Haven Coliseum finally came down. The New Haven Ravens baseball team and its more minor-league successors also failed to draw enough of an audience to stay in business.

“Here in New Haven we have the right ingredients” to make a soccer team succeed, Henry said in an interview on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” program.

New Haven already has a rich soccer culture, with international teams drawing players from Africa and Latin America playing regularly on city-owned fields. Henry said he hopes to tap into area schools like University of New Haven for players or other forms of participation. (Some of the players will be members of the Brazilian club, as its season doesn’t include our summer months.)

Henry has also linked up with Elm City Internationals, a soccer-themed educational program for young refugees. He serves on the board.

Paul Bass PhotoIt cost in the “low six figures” to create the new team, Henry said. He said city government arts czar Andrew Wolf enthusiastically helped convince the team to locate here.

The club came up with the “Elm City Express” name based on a shared rail history between New Haven and the club’s Brazilian home city of Tubarão.

Henry recently moved back to the U.S. East Coast, where he grew up (specifically in Long Island), from Brazil. He always loved soccer growing up; he was a nationally ranked player at Amherst College. He pursued an international business career after that, but never lost his love for the game, and ended up forming the Brazil team with some business associates who share his passion. He quoted a popular joke in Brazil: “Volleyball is the most popular sport in Brazil — because soccer is not a sport. It’s a religion.” Now he’s ready to spread the faith on these shores.

Click on or download the above audio file to hear the full interview with Henry on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven.”

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posted by: Fairhavener on January 9, 2017  7:32pm

This is fantastic, Reese is a nice field in Westville and I very much look forward to attending with my son and more friends.

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on January 9, 2017  8:05pm

Well that’s pretty interesting/surprising.

I wonder if there will be any kind of shuttle between downtown or anything.

posted by: RobotShlomo on January 9, 2017  9:49pm

First off, couple of corrections. The Nighthawks didn’t “go out of business”. Owner Peter Shipman changed the name to the Senators, the same as the parent club the Ottawa Senators, and then moved the team to Prince Edward Island. The Ravens were bought and moved to Manchester, NH.

Now before anyone says anything, mind you I was one of those kids whose father (an immigrant from Italy) took him to Connecticut Bicentennials games to see Pele’ in the 70’s, who was constantly told by all the so called experts “in twenty years soccer is going to dominate the U.S.” All that’s happened since is the guys who were all swore they knew the future of American soccer and I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about, went from being twenty years older than me, to being twenty years YOUNGER than me. “Just you wait, in 1985… in 1995… in 2015.. In the year 2525… If Man. U. is still alive…”.

Why does New Haven always gravitate towards these niche sports? A minor league baseball team, which any other city would bend over backwards to keep, we chase out of town with pitchforks and torches. But cycling and soccer? Well COME ON DOWN!!

posted by: wiseman12797 on January 10, 2017  12:16am

It’s feels like a “dream come true” for the town, because New Haven never really had any good professional sports teams. Maybe this could be the start of something big. I like soccer, so I’m happy about it.

posted by: westville man on January 10, 2017  9:56am

to dovetail on RobotSchlomo-  The Ravens would have stayed if yale agreed to upgade the baseball facilities into the latter 20th century.  Surprise!-—Yale said no.  So they moved to New Hampshire of all places where the residents are happy to have a family-friendly sport to see in person.  I am just glad my duaghter and I were able to enjoy those games for the years they were here.

and, as far as soccer goes, i agree with Robot.  But maybe the time has come??  We’ll soon find out.

posted by: Renewhavener on January 10, 2017  10:42am

While I agree that filling Reese Stadium is a lot different than filling Anna Liffeys or Christies, I disagree with the detractors commenting here.  Reese is little remote for their to be much marginal benefit to the games as an economic event, but it will be nice stand alone. I’m looking forward to it, and not just b/c the stadium is walking distance or b/c I am bullish on ALL sports and cultural events.  Objectively it’s an up and coming sport, especially at the youth level, there is good access and parking which will attract out of town folks as well as locals and temp local international fans.  Hope CT transit can put together a shuttle option, which will also help.  There is a good business case for it and should attract an audience.  Wishing them luck.

posted by: RobotShlomo on January 10, 2017  11:55am

@westville man That was one of the biggest problems with the Ravens, in that you had a team with “New Haven” on their uniforms, that played in West Haven, in a stadium owned by Yale. The team wasn’t anyone’s baby. Former GM Charlie Dowd once said that there was a huge difference between the Portland bid and the New Haven bid for EL expansion teams. In Portland you had the mayor who appointed two members of his staff to make sure the bid went smoothly. In New Haven, Mr. Dowd said ” from day one we were treated like interlopers”. The other glaring problem is that unlike modern ballparks, Yale Field was far too removed from downtown to have any economic impact. Even visiting players hated playing the Ravens, because they’d be holed up in a hotel on Saw Mill Rd. with nothing to do.

@Renewhavener I’ve been hearing about how soccer is an “up and coming sport” since the 1970’s. Now it seems that hipsters have latched on to it, mainly because they’ve finally found a sport they can smugly say to the rest of us “you just don’t understand”. It also doesn’t help when fans keep saying “Its’ the most popular game in the world, you’re too stupid to understand this game!!”.

The other big problem with soccer in the US (apart from the lack of action, game fixing, condescending fans, and scoreless ties) is those kids at the youth level stop playing around the age of 12, and take up other sports. That, and the average salaries still lag FAR behind other sports. The average NBA salary is $5 MILLION a year. The average MLB salary is $3.3 million. NHL is $2.4 million. NFL is $1.9 million. The average MLS salary is $160,000. It’s difficult to get a kid to devote his life to a sport he’ll never become rich playing.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on January 10, 2017  12:54pm

Totally exciting and cool. I to am all for it and hope it succeeds and grows!

posted by: Fairhavener on January 10, 2017  1:49pm

@RobotShlomo re: “The average NBA salary is $5 MILLION a year. The average MLB salary is $3.3 million. NHL is $2.4 million. NFL is $1.9 million. The average MLS salary is $160,000. It’s difficult to get a kid to devote his life to a sport he’ll never become rich playing.”

The NBA, MLB, NHL, NFL are the highest paying leagues in the world in their respective sports, not so for MLS. If you want to earn millions each year as a US Soccer player you do not aspire to play in MLS but abroad. The English Premier League for example is a better comparison and the average salary in that league is between 3-4 million USD annual.

posted by: RobotShlomo on January 10, 2017  3:11pm

@Fairhavener

Granted, however you need local growth. You don’t get that with the English Premier League. A kid can turn on a television and see LeBron James, Sydney Crosby, Eli Manning, and Joe Mauer, or better go and see those guys in person. You’d have to subscribe to a special cable package to really follow the English Premier League apart from the handful of games that are shown on television here, and fly across an ocean to go and watch those games. Oh, I’m sorry. “Matches”. As far as I know, kids aren’t waking up early to watch Chelsea vs. Manchester City, whose rivalry they know probably nothing about. It’s very much the same reason why Formula 1 is a niche sport in the U.S. There’s no representation on a local level.

posted by: Renewhavener on January 10, 2017  3:13pm

@RS.  I hear you.  Just not fully in agreement.  And that’s okay.

Wherever one stands on the matter, we should at least take note that per this article last week in NYT, and per the source article they reference from ESPN.com, Soccer’s most sought after star Cristiano Ronaldo just turned down $105MM / Annum.  That’s a sum that would have made Michael Jordan have to go change his tagless hanes.  Don’t think anyone needs to know much about the game to appreciate that.  They just need to know math.
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/04/world/asia/china-soccer-xi-jinping.html?_r=0
http://www.espnfc.co.uk/story/3028297/ronaldo-rejected-300-million-euro-move-to-china-with-100m-salary-jorge-mendes

@Fairhavener, “...If you want to earn millions each year as a US Soccer player you do not aspire to play in MLS but abroad. The English Premier League for example is a better comparison and the average salary in that league is between 3-4 million USD annual.”

Absolutely.  Soccer’s compensation center of gravity is decidedly not North America.  And let’s be real, this new team in NH isn’t going to throw the world off its tilt.  The question is rather will this increase the level and diversity of entertainment choice we enjoy locally.  Again, absolutely.