Hailstorm FC manager Éamon Zayed believes the cupset underdog can excel in first season

Hailstorm Rob Cornwall Éamon Zayed

EDITORIAL – Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC are four competitive matches into their existence. Two of those games have been cupset wins in the U.S. Open Cup over Colorado Springs Switchbacks and Real Salt Lake. Hailstorm have made the presence known to the USOC nerds of the American soccer community. They’re still a work in progress, but first year head coach Éamon Zayed is bullish on what the club can do in this 2022 expansion season.

Hailstorm FC manager Éamon Zayed believes the cupset underdog can excel in USL League One

The roster has been settled now for several weeks with a number of signings from abroad taking time to arrive due to visa paperwork, among other delays. Goalkeeper coach Owain Fôn Williams did not arrive in Colorado until the end of preseason. Hailstorm have shown tactical flexibility. Based on the preseason, Hailstorm are working towards a mix of pressing and playing out of the back.

“We want to be an attacking team. I’m bringing a high level of intensity from the first minute,” Zayed told Last Word on Soccer. “I’ve been really pleased. I’ve seen progress from the very first game against the Switchbacks to the second game against New Mexico and then continued on. I’m happy so far, not content. They’re probably around 70%, maybe less, where we can get as a group in implementing the way we ant to play.”

In their two Open Cup games, they were more pragmatic, conceding possession and at times playing with five at the back (or at least a deeper lying holding midfielder). Switchbacks outshot them 25-9 while RSL outshot them 16-5. Northern Colorado had four shots on target, two of them goals. They’ve been nothing if not efficient and hardworking.

“This one is even sweeter,” said Zayed after the win in Utah. “So proud of our players tonight. They brought everything, every ounce of effort, every ounce of fight. They were solid, we talked about it, we had a game plan. We wanted to remain compact and hard to break down.”

For any expansion team, recruitment and roster building is critical. There’s a good mix of older players with veteran experience from abroad, the USL Championship, and League One. Zayed and company have also picked up a few younger players including Jerry Desdunes and two recent loaned player under the age of 21. Desdunes scored the winner against Colorado Springs back on April 6.

“The coaches didn’t only bring talented players, they brought very good people. I know it sounds like a cliché. This is a great group of men,” midfielder Stafan Lukic said to Last Word.

“I would not change my group of players for any other team in this league. I 100% believe I have the best team on paper, the best squad of players [in the USL League One],” Zayed added.

Two of the key pieces at the back will be holding midfielder Shane McFaul and captain center back Rob Cornwall. Zayed was familiar with both. All three are originally from Ireland and played in the League of Ireland. Zayed has emphasized character in his recruitment. That has contributed to the players getting along and building team chemistry early on. Cornwall scored the winner at Salt Lake.

“Rob Cornwall can play for any USL Championship team at center back. He’s a monster at the back, a proper old school defender and somebody who can organize at the back,” said Zayed.

So far, the key veterans and young additions are contributing. They are making noise in the Open Cup. With construction of the Legends Complex coming along and a decent start to league play on the road, Hailstorm could be in position to dent everything.

Photo courtesy of Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC.