MINNEAPOLIS — Semi-pro Minneapolis City SC is leaving the Premier League of America for the National Premier Soccer League, and will begin play in the latter’s rebranded North Conference, formerly the Midwest Region’s Central Conference.
City will face a pair of holdovers from the old Central Conference as divisional opponents: future metro area-rival Minnesota TwinStars FC and Airs SC of Lacrosse, WI.
The Crows’ decision to join the NPSL grew out of offseason discussions and networking.
“We weren’t looking to make a move,” said Chairman Dan Hoedeman. “We were talking with our friends at other clubs to set up friendlies and such, and in the course of those talks some feelers were put out to us and they turned into discussions. We gave [the NPSL] our number, they bought us an expensive dinner, and now we’re in bed together.”
Regarding that new partnership, NPSL Managing Director Jef Thiffault stated, “We were very happy when Minneapolis City SC engaged us in discussions to join the NPSL, because they’ve already laid a great foundation for what the NPSL seeks in a new team. I personally spent time with Dan [Hoedeman] and [Business Director] Sarah [Schreier] at our new-team orientation dinner a few weeks ago at our Annual Owners’ Meeting in Orlando, and was very impressed with their professionalism and vision. We look forward to Minneapolis City SC being a long-term member of the NPSL.”
On the reorganization and rebranding of the former Central Conference, Thiffault offered, “The NPSL is constantly approached by potential new members applying across the country, which speaks to the desirable platform the NPSL has created. The Midwest Region continues to grow as part of our national platform and Minneapolis City SC became a great fit to join our expansion in that region within the new North Conference.”
A primary factor in City’s decision to join the NPSL was a reduced cost of travel.
“The new NPSL North Conference is going to give us some great in-state and regional clubs to play, rivalry-worthy games, and also allow for our fans to travel regularly to away games,” Hoedeman offered. “Additionally, that helps the travel budget. We want this club to outlast us, and a focus on sustainability will make that happen.”
Hoedeman continued, “The PLA is a great league with fantastic, historic clubs. I hope that we have a chance to play those teams again in the near future, especially our frenemies from Milwaukee. However, given the geography of the league with Minnesota United set to establish its reserve side in the USL at some point, the value proposition of the NPSL was too good to look past.”
City is coming off an inaugural campaign that saw it compile a 3-4-3 record and a third-place finish in the PLA’s West Division. The Crows finished ahead of local rival Minnesota United Reserves, but behind perennial amateur powerhouse Milwaukee Bavarians and Cedar Rapids Rampage United (the full-field, summer sister team to Cedar Rapids’ professional indoor side).
Changing leagues after its first year of operation, City risks leaving behind the friendly rivalry it established on and off the field with 2016 PLA West champion Bavarians. When asked if any efforts were being made to preserve the fledgling bromance, Hoedeman replied, “Bavarians are a top club on the field and off and we maintain a good relationship with them. We are looking at schedules together now and, while we can’t promise anything, we’re working hard to keep that rivalry going.”
Last season, City’s performance was a bit of a rarity as a semi-pro side that picked up more points on the road than it did at home, due in part to what could charitably be described as an inconsistent playing surface at South High School’s Les Barnard Field. City’s brass is presently pursuing a new home ground for the 2017 season, and looked poised to challenge for the PLA West crown.
Now, City faces a new challenge in the NPSL. Instead of playing the role of quirky upstarts, the Crows may enter the North Conference with targets on their backs.
“It’s hard to know what to expect. If history is anything to go by, I expect the North Conference to be a lot harder than I think it’s going to be,” said Hoedeman. “Just look at TwinStars. Their U-18 academy team won the Dallas Cup this year and are all aging into NPSL. That’s a team that is going to have a lot of talent, and don’t forget that they were national finalists not too long ago.”
“On top of that, because of our visibility we are the team to beat. It’s hard when you’re everyone else’s big game,” added Hoedeman. “But, I back our boys to win. We’ve got a strong core returning and they have unfinished business from last year.”
Looking beyond local and regional rivalries, joining a national league after playing in the Midwest-based PLA in 2016 carries added benefits for City. The top two teams in the North Conference earn the right to compete in the Midwest Region’s finals, with the winner of the latter competition advancing to NPSL’s national tournament.
“We are all really excited about the chance to play for a national title,” Hoedeman said. “The level of play in the Midwest is really high, and knowing that we’re playing to be the best in the country, that’s huge. A major difference in the NPSL’s favor.”
City’s players will also benefit from increased visibility of the NPSL, as well as opportunities like the NPSL’s Player Showcase event held during the MLS Combine, which attracts MLS, NASL, and USL coaches and scouts.
Further additions to the North Conference are expected in the coming days. FiftyFive.One has learned from a source that Duluth FC will be announced as a member of the North Conference, as early as tomorrow. The Bluegreens played their inaugural season in the American Premier League, finishing in second place behind the late FC Fargo with an undefeated 3-4-0 record.
— Duluth FC (@DuluthFC) December 14, 2016
Also joining Minneapolis and Duluth in the North Conference will be the St. Paul-based Viejos Son Los Trapos FC.
VSLT — whose name literally translates as ‘The Rags Are Old’, but figuratively carries a meaning closer to ‘Might Be Old, but Young at Heart’ — played in the Minnesota Amateur Soccer League last season, winning the MASL’s Division 2 with a record of 13-2-3 and boasting a plus-32 goal differential. Club founder Juan Fiz — a member of the 2007 and 2008 NPSL All-Star Teams as a TwinStars player — announced VSLT’s decision to join the NPSL via VSLT’s Facebook page on November 28th, stating:
Hello, lovely people from the Twin Cities. We recently announced that we would be playing at the regional level in the APL (American Premier League), but today I would like to announce that the NPSL (National Premier Soccer League) has introduced new teams, including ours, to the North Conference of the Midwest [Region], giving us the opportunity to play at a national, semi-professional level, and maybe even to get to play in the US Open Cup.
This is great news for our community, for Latino leagues and players, and for those who are passionate about this sport.
City, Duluth and VSLT are the latest additions in a wave of NPSL expansion that kicked off in September, and has seen the league introduce Hartford City FC (Hartford, CT), Oxnard Guerreros FC (Oxnard, CA), TSF FC (Wayne, NJ), Inter Nashville FC (Nashville, TN), Milwaukee Torrent (Milwaukee, WI), Midland-Odessa FC (Midland, TX), Boca Raton Football Club (Boca Raton, FL), Tyler Football Club (Tyler, TX) and FC Arizona (Mesa, AZ).
Joseph Walker and Andrew Lovgren contributed to this report.