After a few days of uncertainty, Midland-Odessa FC will play in the National Premier Soccer League national championship game, club officials confirmed Wednesday.
MOFC advanced to the title game with a penalty-kick win in the semifinals at Detroit City FC Saturday in Detroit — but knew the trip to the final would be put in jeopardy with its roster full of NCAA Division I players leaving the team to return to their schools for the start of fall camp.
After some scrambling, MOFC has pieced together a squad to challenge the NPSL’s top-seeded Elm City Express at 7:15 p.m. Saturday in New Haven, Conn. on the campus of Yale University.
MOFC had just five players left from that Detroit City FC win, but through a week of discussion with league officials on whether the final would go on or MOFC could potentially be replaced, the club put together a full 11 of others who are associated with the club, but mostly haven’t suited up with MOFC.
Now, a team that has never practiced together has a chance to win a national championship.
After MOFC’s win last week, head coach Matt Barnes began the process of finding players to have an 11-man squad to play in Connecticut.
Barnes started with the five uninjured players from Midland-Odessa FC’s semifinal roster who are not tied to a Division I school — Andrew Moullin, Isaac Sanchez, Alex VonHolle, Ricardo Palomino and Leo Barba.
He then re-added Gil Rocha to the group after he appeared in one game for the team earlier this season but then left Midland-Odessa FC for personal reasons.
As a final step, Barnes added five more players who were on Midland-Odessa FC’s roster to start the season, but never appeared in a game.
Not among the group, however, is a goalkeeper. That means a player who doesn’t traditionally play the position will have to be MOFC’s netminder for the national championship game. Both goalkeepers on the roster from the Detroit City FC win were recalled by Division I colleges.
Midland-Odessa FC’s attempt to get a goalkeeper exemption from the NPSL and sign one not originally on its roster was denied, Barnes said.
MOFC was allowed an exemption however from the NPSL rule stating that 14 players must be on a team to be eligible to play a game.
Barnes is leaning toward using Palomino in goal because of his interest in the position. That would mean Midland-Odessa FC’s leading scorer would be trying to stop shots from hitting the back of the net — instead of putting them in himself.
“It’s been a trying week for our club,” said Jeff VonHolle, Midland-Odessa FC’s general manager of soccer operations. “It’s been the perfect storm with us being an amateur team using mostly DI college players.”
On top of that, most of the team is separated right now. Barnes is back in San Antonio to start fall head coaching duties at St. Mary’s University. Palomino and Sanchez are in Mexico visiting family. VonHolle and Barba are back at their DII schools for the week. Moullin is training in Midland.
Maybe most unique of all, Barnes hasn’t met any of the five players not to play for MOFC this season who are slated to appear in the national title game for the team. Barnes said Wednesday that he’d be in shock if all 11 make it to Connecticut in time for the match.
“This is one of those times in my life I’ve been absolutely blown away by what’s happened this year,” Barnes said. “It feels really surreal right now.”
All of this comes as Midland-Odessa FC faces its stiffest test of the season in Elm City. The Express have played together all season and despite playing in the NPSL, are registered as a pro team.
Elm City took more than 80 percent of the regular-season points available to the club. It seems MOFC is David going up against a Goliath.
“It might be even bigger than that,” Barnes said about the lopsided comparison. “It’s a difficult, almost impossible task, but it’s hard to count us out of anything. There is still a chance that we can win this thing.”
If Midland-Odessa FC had not been able to find enough players to field a team, it would have been replaced in the final by Detroit City FC.
That didn’t happen, however, and now the chance exists that a team that won’t hold a formal practice could win a national title together.
“I feel like we’ve made the best of a bad situation all around,” Jeff VonHolle said.