The National Premier Soccer League will welcome over 20 new clubs for the 2017 season, and certainly one with high ambitions for the future ahead will be Hartford City FC.
Headed by team owner Aaron Sarwar and club president Shawn Simao, the club aim to bring high-quality soccer to a community with a strong passion for the sport.
Hartford City FC: A Look at the Inaugural Season with Club President Shawn Simao
The squad will compete in the Atlantic Conference of the NPSL’s Northeast Region, facing quality opposition such as New York Cosmos B, Brooklyn Italians and Elm City Express.
Co-founder of the American Outlaws Hartford chapter, Shawn Simao brings with him a desire to highlight the best in the game. Executive producer of both “Rise And Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story” and “The Bobby Moore Movie”, he is now part of Hartford City FC in his hometown.
Last Word On Sports spoke with Shawn Simao about the launch of Hartford City FC, his work and the future of soccer in the area.
Roy Emanuel: “What were your motivations behind starting Hartford City FC and how did you become involved?”
Shawn Simao: “For me personally, the dream of bringing professional soccer to Hartford began as a kid in high school. As a community, the Hartford Whalers of the National Hockey League were our city and our team. They left town around the time I was graduating high school and it was truly one of my greatest disappointments.
Since then, it has been my ambition to bring a professional sports team back to the city. And one of the beautiful aspects of soccer is its simplicity. You don’t need a rink. You need a field, two goals, your fans and your players. Understanding the financial aspects of Hartford, I always thought soccer was a better fit for the community.
After college and having lived in several different places around the world, I came back to hometown to raise my family. That was around the time we founded the Hartford chapter of the American Outlaws, and it began in modest ways. Two people turn into 25, and now we have over 500 members in the area. When my son Landon was born (and yes he is named after Landon Donovan), I stepped aside from Outlaws leadership.
Then about a year or so later, my friend Aaron Sarwar bought a NPSL team. His family has been a great part of the Hartford community for a long time. Now, a lot of people may not know about this, but there was an investment group that promised to bring a team of the same name to the city and ended up stealing millions of dollars. Con artists who claimed they needed an advance on stadium work.
But we saw the possibility that from the ashes rises the phoenix. So we are taking the name and showing the community what Hartford is all about in a much more viable way. We are not promising the world before we take the field. We are going to start at Central Connecticut State University, work closely with supporter groups and show the city that this is how you develop a club. Take what you have and work to make it better, all with a community-driven focus.”
RE: “Were there ever any thoughts to other areas in Connecticut, or was Hartford always the real target”
SS: “Hartford is one of the largest media markets in the country without a professional sports team. There has always been a quest to bring back the Hartford Whalers, and there is a need for the community to have something to root for.
It is one of the most wonderful and diverse cities in this part of the country. Along with my friend Jay DeMerit, we are donating 50 season tickets to the inner-city schools of Hartford and creating a specific section for them near our supporters groups. So for each game, we will have different schools and kids treated with a great experience and merchandise.
Ultimately, Hartford was always where the team had to be.”
RE: “Was there specific aspects to the NPSL that drew you there as opposed to another league?”
SS: “The league with the greatest national reach is certainly Major League Soccer. But for the lower tiers, the NPSL’s model is ideal. You are playing your neighbors. Instead of the massive costs that come with travel, you just need to get to the game. With a keen eye on our budget and costs, the NPSL was a perfect match.
RE: “What are your expectations for results in a competitive Atlantic Conference this season?”
SS: “For us, we have a major focus on our in-state rivals Elm City Express. They have actually partnered with a Brazilian club, and that is where they are now for their pre-season. We are currently in the process of partnering with a team in Chile, which should be announced soon. Hartford and New Haven will always have a strong rivalry.
Boston City FC will be a second close rival, and you have great competition from the New York Cosmos and the Brooklyn Italians. But the team I look forward to playing the most because of the beauty behind the story is the Kingston Stockade. Their owner, Dennis Crowley, started the team last year and basically created a template on how to run a professional soccer club. We utilize that template often, and I am especially looking forward to the trip to play them.
It really is a special conference.”
RE: “Home matches will be played at CCSU. How important was securing that field for the first season?
SS: “The most important aspect is that at that first game, after all these years of Hartford waiting for a professional soccer team, we are ready to deliver. It is a facility and an organization there that is run well, and the guarantee is there that the matches will be played.
Partnering with the CCSU athletic department was an important step in showing our commitment in bringing soccer to Connecticut.
RE: “Are there future stadium plans in mind already?”
SS: “Our ideal plan would come about in the fifth year, and there have been sites identified for that vision of our own stadium.
There are initial steps already being taken, and we are certainly working towards that goal.”
RE: “How has the reaction been from the local community for Hartford City FC, and where do you see the club’s goals in the coming years?”
SS: “The community is looking for something to believe in, and they have supported us more in the last few months than I could have ever imagined. Our supporter group, Agents of Hale, is growing and they are very active in the local area.
They know something genuine is ready to start. We feel that Division II, whether it would be NASL or USL, is where our aim is. Without promotion and relegation in the United States, I think that is the most realistic expectation to have.”
RE: “How much do you find yourself still involved with the American Outlaws?”
SS: “The Hartford chapter is always near and dear to my heart. I am still very much in touch with the organization, as many of the members are now part of the Agents of Hale.”
RE: “What is one of your best memories of making the Jay DeMerit Story?”
SS: “To see the power of the Internet, in the early days of Kickstarter, to help get that movie into theaters is something that I will never forget. So much success has come for Jay and those involved with the project.
I speak with Jay almost on a daily basis and Hartford City FC is something that he wants to be a part of in different ways.”
RE: “What is your favorite memory from the making of The Bobby Moore Movie?”
SS: “The best story about The Bobby Moore Movie is how my name was brought up in London during the Kickstarter campaign, and that they needed to bring me on. We are an ocean apart, but we are all still very much connected through the game.
Bobby and Jay have very different stories, but both are quite inspirational.”