Coming off the heels of a successful Midwest Pro Soccer Combine for the second year running, Mike Novotny has impressed. This season, it has resulted in his first professional contract in the United States, and second in his career. On January 2nd, Novotny announced his signing with USL Championship side Hartford Athletic for the 2019 season. Novotny becomes the second AFCAA player from last season to sign with a USL side, joining Stanley Okumu (Real Monarchs).
For Novotny, this represents a thrilling opportunity to play at a very high level within the country. His first contract, with Stöde IF in Sweden, presented an opportunity for the goalie to play at a professional level overseas. He told AFCAA last month ahead of the combine his experiences overseas allowed him to realize what it takes to get to that next level, and he has been able to reach it for the season to come.
Novotny learned of the interest on Hartford’s end through Eric Rudland, “I was told from Eric that they struck an interest in me and he really helped along the way with the whole process.” As a whole, Rudland also feels this is a great set-up for his keeper from last season to step into. He said, “Obviously Hartford are a new club with a very good set-up and they have high aspirations. For Mike it's a great opportunity to start with a new franchise where he can earn everything he deserves.” He added that while he may enter the side of one of the youngest players on the team, he will be in a great position to learn.
Hartford is an expansion side for the USL Championship this season, the first season as a whole with the new USL-tier system of Championship, League One, and League Two. HAFC will be led in their first season by Jimmy Nielsen, who spent over a decade playing in the Danish Superliga for AaB, winning the award for top Danish keeper of the year twice in his career. In addition to experience overseas in Denmark, he spent part of a season with Leicester City and won the MLS Cup in 2013 with Sporting KC.
Nielsen, and the staff as a whole, including goalkeeper coach George Kostelis, excited Novotny, who said, “The coaching staff definitely set it apart from other teams. The head coach, Jimmy [Nielsen], was a big-time goalkeeper and I felt I could connect with him well.” Novotny added, “Along with him, the rest of the coaching staff was very personable and you could tell they [want] to make some big things happen this year.”
Previously the head coach at Oklahoma City Energy in the USL, Nielsen’s impact on the squad has seen three Danes already announced and five who have played for Nielsen in OKC, Novotny enters an exciting squad already familiar with the coaching staff and the league as a whole. As shown by his performances in Sweden and Ann Arbor, new faces and places have not seemed to faze the netminder one bit, and he is eager to showcase his quality. When asked about what excited him about this opportunity, he stated, “[A] new city, new people, [and] a whole new opportunity.”
Speaking to Rudland and his involvement in the process, it was clear that Hartford took a liking to Novotny during the search. AFCAA’s head coach said of the process, “[Hartford] carried on their own vetting process and ended up really liking Mike's personality, ability and his ambitions. I kept Mike in the loop throughout the process and at the end of the day it ended up being a great fit for both Hartford and Mike.”
In all the excitement surrounding this exciting time in his career, Novotny still has not forgotten about The Mighty Oak. The man affectionally dubbed “Handsome Goalie” by the Main St. Hooligans said, “Thank you for the endless love and support! AFCAA is always going to have a special place in my heart because of all the people that made it happen.” He continued, saying, “I’m looking forward to watching a successful season.” Surely the AFCAA supporters around the globe will say the same about their keeper’s new side ahead of his season to come as well.