In the late fall of 2015, a small group of writers sat down over beers and discussed the idea of branching out on our own to create a new soccer online zine that told soccer stories from Minnesota and surrounding areas we call “The North.” With backing from our friends and partners at Brave New Media, we worked hard over the next five months to hammer out the details of FiftyFive.One, which was launched in May of 2016. Starting out with a staff of nine, we now have nearly 30 contributors who published more than 600 articles in seven months breaking many local and national news stories.
After sitting in the shadows of his friend and long time teammate Mukwelle Akale, 2016 proved to be a year for Jackson Yueill to find his own spotlight. He earned multiple call-ups to the US Men’s U-18 team where he participated in the 2015 NTC Invitational and the Copa Chivas. He made the cut again for the U-20 team where he played in the 2015 Four Nations Tournament in Germany. He told FiftyFive.One in June that he was ready to go pro after his fall season at UCLA. He trained in Europe and with Minnesota United, then had another outstanding season as a sophomore at UCLA. He set an NCAA record for three assists in 32 seconds and was honored at the end of the season with many awards, was named to several year-end lists, and is expected to be offered a Generation Adidas contract. Top Drawer Soccer recently said he is ranked fifth in this year’s MLS SuperDraft.
For the first time in more than a decade, the US national team returned to Minnesota in October, playing at the newly opened US Bank Stadium. Playing in front of the largest Minnesota crowd ever for a women’s soccer game (23,400), the US defeated Switzerland 5-1. The crowd was treated to a spectacular Carli Lloyd strike from 27 yards out. The last US women’s game in Minnesota was on July 15, 2006 at the National Sports Center in Blaine, where they have played more times than any other US city.
The world suffered many losses in 2016. The Minnesota soccer community was also affected. In February, we heard of the loss of Minnesota’s first professional soccer coach, Freddie Goodwin, who was 82. The former Manchester United player, who served time as both coach and president of the Minnesota Kicks, put together a roster of top players that made his team competitive from day one.
In September, we learned that 37-year-old Gavin Pugh passed away from ALS. The Wales native had called Minnesota home since the early 2000s. Through his coaching and directing of soccer programs Pugh had an effect on the local soccer community more than most have had in a lifetime. Pugh was survived by by his wife Crisha and children Katalina and Caden.
It took a while, but Minnesota United finally announced the hiring of some major components for the team as they moved toward MLS. In September United announced that former Shattuck-St.Mary’s Development Academy coach and director Tim Carter would become the new DA director for the team. In November, the team announced that Minnesota native Amos Magee would leave his position at DC United to become director of player personnel and Adrian Heath, former Orlando City head coach, would take charge of the coaching duties for the Loons.
Yes, it was a friendly. Still, the fact that two storied football clubs such as Chelsea and AC Milan came to the Twin Cities to play a preseason game was a sign that those promoting such games saw Minnesota as a growing soccer market. The fans didn’t disappoint in their support of the match, drawing a record soccer crowd in Minnesota of 64,101 to US Bank Stadium.
After six years of fielding successful teams in the MASL and MRSL, local amateur club Stegman’s Old Boys launch Minneapolis City SC, which played its first year in the Premier League of America. City attracted many of the best MN college players on break for the summer and former collegiate standouts. While the team had moderate success on the field, off the field they created an organization that grew rabid followers for lower division soccer with a pro team in their backyard.
All good things must come to an end and so Minnesota United fans bid farewell to the National Sports Center as their home stadium on Saturday, October 29. Neither the late season Loons slump, nor the cool damp weather hampered the atmosphere of the crowd who wanted to “be there” that final evening at the Nessie. A stadium that was never meant to host professional teams did so for nearly 20 years. It wasn’t the best home, but it was our home. The Loons will play at TCF Bank Stadium starting in 2017 as they move to MLS.
The Minnesota Gophers fielded one of their strongest teams ever after coach Stefanie Golan finally had a roster of players she personally recruited. The Gophers shared the Big Ten title and won the conference tournament. In the final postseason ranking, the Gophers were No. 15 in the NSCAA and No. 20 in the final NCAA Division I Rating Percentage Index (RPI). Many players were honored throughout the season and the team ended with an outstanding 16-3-4 record.
In many ways, the press conference held by Minnesota United in late Feb. revealing details of their stadium plan could have been ranked as the number one soccer story this year. While MLS had already announced that Minnesota was picked to host a team in the future, a detailed stadium plan implied the ownership group was fully vested and fans would someday have their own soccer-specific stadium home. To add icing on the cake, the plans, designed by Populous, showed a beautiful modern stadium in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood. The stadium had its share of ups and downs in 2016 with a tax exemption bill being passed in the state legislature then vetoed in the governor’s office. The St. Paul City Council did approve their end of things and in December a ceremonial groundbreaking was held on the site. Construction is not expected to start until the spring of 2017.
The number one story of 2016 was the official announcement by MLS Commissioner Don Garber that “Minnesota United FC” would start play in MLS in 2017. Held at CHS Field in St. Paul, Garber not only told Minnesota fans their start date but revealed that the “United” name could be kept – a pleasant surprise to many who had believed the league would force the team to drop that portion of their name. It was also announced officially that the team would call TCF Bank Stadium their home until their own stadium was completed in St. Paul.