The Elm City Express and Clarkstown SC Eagles will go head-to-head for the Northeast Region title this Saturday.
On both paper and on the eye-test, these teams have a noticeable similarity: possession. Clarkstown SC Eagles maintain close to 80 percent possession over the year, while Elm City Express use possession as a help on defense.
Possession is not their only defense, as Elm City Express goalkeeper Matt Jones has been a stalwart in defense this year, as he and his backline have surrendered just five goals all season.
“It’s just consistency really,” Jones said. “My job is just to organize and the guys are good enough and they do the rest. We have two good fullbacks, two good center backs, and a defensive midfielder and they all make my life easy.”
Elm City continued their staunch defensive campaign into the playoffs where they recorded a clean sheet and scored four goals in their rout against Legacy 76 in the regional semifinals on July 21. And now that the team advanced on to the regional final, Jones and the Express are looking to maintain their momentum.
“It’s business as usual,” Jones added. “As of now, we aren’t scared of anybody. We are confident going into the game and feel like we have a great chance going into Saturday.”
As a goalkeeper in a win or go home situation, one specific element is unsurprisingly on Jones’ mind: penalties.
“Ever since the beginning of the season we’ve worked on penalties. But I’m also a firm believer in that everything goes out the window in that moment, and it comes down to whoever is ready in that moment. If it comes to that, all I have to do is make a couple of saves and I’m confident that the boys will finish their chances.”
What is Elm City’s mindset for the regional final?
“We can’t get ahead of ourselves,” Jones continued. “We know if we lose this game we are going home, but our mindset is to win the whole thing, we’re not here just to mess around we’re not here just to attend the regional final, we’re here to win it and move on from there.”
On the other side of the ball, and halfway across the pitch stands former New York Red Bulls player Sacir Hot, now head coach of the Clarkstown SC Eagles. Hot and his squad aren’t there to mess around either.
“We of course want to make the final,” Hot said. “But first we have to focus on Elm City. They will be a tough test for us.”
Hot recognizes that the two teams have similar play styles and is excited to see his team have a go at a team with similar strengths.
“They are like our twin brother. They are a great defensive team and it will be interesting to see our attack go up against their defense.”
For some background, while Elm City is tops in the conference in goals against, Clarkstown SC Eagles boast the most goals for in the conference with 40, making them one of just five teams to reach the 40 goals mark in the entire league. That attacking talent was on display for the Eagles in the playoffs so far, where they have defeated New Jersey Copa FC 3-1 and the Kingston Stockade 6-3. The momentum has given Hot reason to have faith in his team.
“We’re a possession team and we score a ton of goals. We will be at full strength on Saturday so I think we will have a good chance.”
Even with his confidence, Hot knows a strong challenge awaits in Elm City Express.
“I think they are one of a couple teams who I think can really stand toe-to-toe with us. It will probably be the first time since the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open that another team will really see the ball against us.”
So what will they do to combat Jones and the stout defense of the Express?
“Well, I want to keep some things a secret,” Hot added. “But what I can say is we are going to try to play to our strengths and keep possession.”
Jones also understands the threat that Clarkstown SC presents, but is confident in himself and his defense to keep the Eagles’ attack at bay.
“We know it’s going to be a battle,” Jones concluded. “We’ve seen a couple of their recent matches and we know they can score. Defensively, we don’t give up goals. If we keep it tight at the back then we could definitely steal a victory.”
When Elm City Express and Clarkstown SC Eagles meet on the pitch at Yale University on Saturday, it will feature a pair of teams that tend to dominate the ball, score goals, and defend their own. The result will likely depend on which one of these similar-minded teams will be able to enforce their style of play on the other.