October 18, 2017

Hartford soccer team seeks to join national league

Hartford City FC
Hartford City FC
Hartford City FC, in the white jerseys, plays a game in August in New Haven.

The Hartford City FC soccer club, one of the bidders to revamp Dillon Stadium, said Wednesday it is in advanced talks to join the North American Soccer League (NASL).

Interim NASL Commissioner Rishi Sehgal confirmed Wednesday that "Hartford City FC is among a number of clubs" the league has had expansion discussions with.

"We think highly of Hartford as a soccer market, and we think it could be a great fit for the NASL," Sehgal said in an email. "We're not ready to make any announcements yet, but things are progressing."

He added that the league is "supportive of Hartford City's efforts to help revitalize Dillon Stadium."

Hartford City FC is currently a member of the National Premier Soccer League, a semi-professional league, and played its inaugural season this year in New Britain.

Hartford City Owner Aaron Sarwar said he's now looking to join the higher-profile NASL, which has provisional status this year from the U.S. Soccer Federation. The NASL, however, lost its sanctioned status from the U.S. Soccer Federation for 2018 and is suing in court to regain full standing.

"We had a successful season based in New Britain playing at Central Connecticut State University," Sarwar said. "We filled the stadium [with fans]."

Hartford City FC also is one of three bidders to redevelop Dillon Stadium in Hartford, which has fallen into disrepair following a development scandal. In July, James Duckett Jr., the would-be developer of a $12 million soccer arena at the stadium, was found guilty of bilking the city out of more than $1 million as part of a scheme to bring pro soccer to the Capital City.

Hartford City FC's bid, which would involve spending about $400,000 to repair the stadium and "hand it back to the city of Hartford [to] use as they see fit," is not contingent on establishing a working relationship with NASL, but the two developments could be mutually beneficial, Sarwar said.

"Hartford deserves professional soccer; that's been our goal," he said. "We'll continue to field a team in 2018 with NPSL ... and we're talking with different leagues. NASL would be great."

There are four divisions among the national soccer leagues, he said. Team membership in NASL costs $3 million.

Sarwar declined to say where the team would play if Hartford City FC doesn't win the Dillon stadium bid.

The other bidders for the stadium redevelopment project include Bruce Mandell, president of Hartford Sports Group, and TJ Clynch of Civic Mind Studios, which was chosen in 2013 to redevelop Dillon, but was terminated from that project, after which work was given to Duckett.

The Capital Region Development Authority, which is handling the bids, will be scheduling public meetings in a week or so before CRDA's venue committee so each group can make presentations about their plans, a spokesperson said via email. Committee members will be able to ask questions of the presenters, the public will only be able to make comments. No date for the meeting has been scheduled yet.

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