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Once rivals and teammates, Chaplow and Collins face off in USL Championship Final

Orange County and Tampa Bay managers meet again on sideline.

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The head coaches in the 2021 USL Championship Final, Richard Chaplow and Neill Collins, go way back.

You could even call them friends.

Chaplow did when he was asked about Collins during a conversation with Angels on Parade on Tuesday, ahead of Sunday’s Final between Chaplow’s Orange County SC and Collins’ Tampa Bay Rowdies.

“Me and Neill shared a locker room together for for a season at Preston [North End], played against each other a ton too, both playing in competitive teams in the [English] Championship and Premier League, in [England’s] League One for a season or two as well,” Chaplow said.

The English Chaplow and the Scottish Collins, only separated two years in age, had pretty similar career trajectories in general to this point. In addition to playing together at Preston North End in 2009-10 and facing off against each other in various leagues in England, both men came to the United States, to play for the teams they would respectively eventually manage. Collins arrived in Tampa in March 2016, Chaplow in July of that same year, and after playing several seasons for their clubs, they ended up as head coaches of the teams themselves, and now face off in the league title game.

“I know Neill, really, really well, kept in touch with him all the way since, into this season, but also before that, coming over to the States, helping me settle [in the U.S.], questions I had, things like that. So I definitely consider him and put him in in the friends bracket. But, you know, not until after the game’s finished,” he said with a wry grin.

Collins’ help for Chaplow sheds some light on the informal club of British expats in the pro game in the United States who help each other with the process of settling in and understanding the sport over here. Chaplow said he hopes in turn, the British exports do their part to help the sport in this country.

“There is obviously a few of us over here now,” he said. “...Anthony Pulis, another coach, has been in the USL and currently with Inter Miami as an assistant, was a big help. Even small things, like applying for your Green Card, ‘Which attorney did you use?’ and things like that. I think I used the same one that Anthony and Neill used. Luckily, he’s good at his job, because he got us all in and we’re now contributing to what’s an exciting league, an exciting scene in soccer right now in the States.

“It’s something that’s growing quickly and I can definitely speak for myself and I’m sure I can speak for every one of us that is over here coaching that we’re enjoying being part of that process,” Chaplow added.

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