Elm City Express and Hartford FC square off Saturday for in-state bragging rights

It takes nine months to bring a baby to term, but it will take the National Premier Soccer League just half that time to give birth to the latest Connecticut rivalry.

The Elm City Express will welcome in-state rival Hartford City FC to Reese Stadium in New Haven on Saturday night at 7 p.m., in a battle for bragging rights across the Constitution State, just four and a half months into their teams’ existence.

Elm City announced its arrival to the league in January, just over a month after Hartford City FC joined. Hartford City was first to join the league, but Elm City will look to be first when the final whistle blows on Saturday night.

“It’s two in-state teams trying to make their names known,” Elm City Express defender Sean O’Brien said. “I’m excited to get out there on Saturday.”

Fans are excited to get out to the pitch as well for Elm City’s home opener. Both teams’ respective fan clubs have been vocal on social media as the expectations continue to build for Saturday night.

Elm City’s fan club, the “Yard Dogs,” prefer to leave Hartford City out of their Facebook posts and instead name them as “that other team from Connecticut.” Sometimes they’ll settle for “Fartford.”

The Yard Dogs are urging fans to bring a plethora of noise makers in an effort to “send those northerners back to the capitol with a nice serenade.” Meanwhile, the Hartford City FC fan club “Agents of Hale” is using Reese Stadium’s parking prices as an avenue to poke fun at their new rivals. The social media simmer has spilled onto the practice field and has the players fired up.

“The way social media is playing out, it seems like it’s going to be one of those epic cult forms in New Haven where both sides are going back and forth,” forward Shaquille Sanchez said. “We’re hoping for a big crowd and that we put on a show for them.”

For Sanchez, Saturday night’s match will be an opportunity to get the best of an old teammate. Sanchez went to elementary and high school with Hartford City defender and fellow Jamaica native Jhamie Hyde. The two still keep in touch on social media, but leave the trash talking to the fans.

“We like to let the ball do the talking,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez and Hyde is hardly an isolated incident for these two teams. Both clubs are scattered with players who have played together or against one another in the past, and even spreads to the coaches on the sidelines.

“I was in the (American Soccer League) with a lot of them last year,” Elm City head coach Teddy Haley said of Hartford’s roster. “They have players that we’ve worked with and that we know. There’s definitely a crossover there as far as knowledge of players.”

So what other logs can be thrown on the fire to make this new rivalry burn brighter? Well, both teams come into the match with 2-0 records. A rivalry is only as good as the competition on the field, and it doesn’t seem like this match will fall short in that department.

“They’ve got a quality team,” Haley said of his upcoming opponent. “It’s going to be a fight for three points.”

The match is sure to be a unique experience. This is not a typical rivalry where the only existing layer is the name on the front of the jerseys. With the majority of the players hailing from the Connecticut area, there is plenty of history up and down both rosters, whether it be playing with or against each other in the past. Like Sanchez said, they will let the ball do the talking when play kicks off on Saturday night, but there have already been some playful jabs nevertheless.

“They’re scared,” Elm City defender Quenton Swift said. “They’re definitely scared.”

Both teams will be looking to make a mark on the league in their inaugural seasons. They will have to get through each other first.

Tickets are available at http://www.elmcityexpress.com.

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