The Crows bring back a core of 15 players from their inaugural season that saw the team finish in third place in the Premier League of America (PLA)’s West Division. With several of its players returning to their respective colleges and universities last fall, City had to recruit replacements ahead of its since-abbreviated U.S. Open Cup campaign. And while City’s cup run didn’t turn out as the club had hoped, it was able to carry over five players from its cup roster.
The Crows also bolstered their ranks with six new players, including a pair of NASL veterans.
Goalkeeper Matt Elder, left back Abdallah Bah and central midfielder Ben Wexler were each selected to the 2016 PLA West Division Team of the Year. Elder was chosen to captain the team during its short Open Cup run, Wexler was picked by this site’s readers as FiftyFive.One’s 2016 Minneapolis City Player of the Year, and Bah was not only a unanimous selection for the aforementioned year-end divisional honors, but earned a place in the PLA West’s team of the week for every week in which he played.
Center back Nate Engel, right back Aaron Olson, center back (and PLA team captain) Trey Benhart, central midfielder Samuel Ruiz-Plaza, holding midfielder A.J. Albers, central midfielder Ian “Steve” Smith, winger Isaac “Goose” Friendt, full back Kevin Hoof, and wing-forward Will Kidd all logged regular minutes for the Crows in 2016.
So too did Connor Stevenson, and the former MHSSCA Mr. Soccer award winner was primarily used by City on the wing last summer. However, with the departure of the likes of Matthew Gweh and Andy Lorei, expect the 6-foot-1 Stevenson to be deployed as a center forward for the Crows in their inaugural NPSL season. The position is a familiar one for the Woodbury, Minn. native, who currently plays as a striker for Loyola University (Ill.).
Forward Tim Wills was in the starting XI in Minneapolis’ road game at Madison last summer, and keeper James Neher dressed for several PLA matches but did not make an appearance. The former also started in City’s second qualifying round Open Cup match against Oakland County FC.
With the aforementioned need to supplement its roster with the best-available amateur players from Minnesota ahead of Open Cup qualifying play, Minneapolis City took advantage of the Minnesota United Reserves’ indefinite hiatus. United is not fielding a reserve side in 2017, as it focuses on finding its feet in MLS and the ongoing development of its future stadium in the Midway neighborhood of St. Paul.
As a result, the Crows picked up a total of six players from the United Reserves’ 2016 PLA roster, four of which featured for City against Oakland County. Those four were midfielder Martin Browne, Jr., winger Whitney Browne (related), midfielder Miles Stockman-Willis, and midfielder Charlie Adams. Of the four, Whitney Browne drew the highest marks in the Crows’ lone USOC game, scoring a brace in the 2-1, extra-time victory.
In addition to that quartet, City was also able to recruit center back Joey Gustafson for its cup rup from (now) division rival Duluth FC, and has since convinced all five to sign on for its 2017 NPSL season.
Joining Browne, Browne, Stockman-Willis and Adams in moving from the Minnesota United Reserves to Minneapolis City are attacking midfielder/forward Javier Alcantara and goalkeeper Peter Runquist.
Max Kent is a 6-foot-2 defender currently playing for Macalester College in the Division-III Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Kent is described as athletic enough to play either center back or full back, and has been brought in to provide the Crows with cover across their back line, but at just 19 years of age there is plenty of room for growth.
Natural left wing back Nick Hinds could be considered a product of City’s parent organization, Stegman’s Old Boys, where he has played alongside his brother Charlie. Hinds won a NAIA national championship at Hastings College (Neb.) this past season, and has been rostered to provide City with a different look at left back — though displacing Bah in the starting XI could prove challenging.
Dan O’Brien’s playing career has taken him as far as New Zealand, and as a professional the midfielder last made five league appearances for the Tampa Bay Rowdies during the 2012 NASL season. Now 30 years old, O’Brien will reunite with a former Minnesota Thunder teammate to help provide the Crows with experience and veteran savvy.
The last addition mentioned here, but easily the most notable of City’s offseason, is the signing of defender Brian Kallman. The elder brother of Minnesota United center back Brent Kallman and Washington Spirit center back Kassey Kallman, Brian made 48 league appearances for the Thunder (2006–2009) and 72 league appearances for the Minnesota Stars/Minnesota United (2010-2015). Early word is that Kallman (now 32) could see time as a defensive midfielder after spending most of his professional career at full back.
There were growing pains for Minneapolis City in its first year of existence, and the club failed to reach its preseason goal of qualifying for the PLA’s playoffs, finishing one place out in the West’s standings from a berth into the first round of the postseason. Lessons seem to have been learned, as City’s brass has vowed never again to schedule a Saturday-Sunday, midsummer doubleheader, and in contrast to South High School’s Les Barnard Field, Augsburg College’s Edor Nelson Field will provide the Crows with a consistent playing surface.
City has built upon its inaugural campaign, and having proven how seriously the club takes its on-field product, it has been able to recruit the likes of Kallman, O’Brien, the brothers Browne, and more. On paper, the Crows look to have both quality and depth at a majority of positions, but their forward corps stand out as the biggest unknown heading into 2017.
Stevenson is the only out-and-out striker on the roster. Wingers like Whitney Browne and Friendt lessen the absolute need for a traditional No. 9, but without Stevenson in the lineup, it appears the Crows will have to make use of a front four dependent on pace and movement. That can work swimmingly, but it is worth noting that Stevenson is the only City forward that offers a physical presence inside the 18-yard box.
Those who watched Wills start as a lone center forward in City’s USOC game saw clever movement and the ability to link play as Wills looked to set up his teammates. However, in the admittedly too-small sample size of one game, Wills’ finishing let him down at times. The incoming Alcantara, who played primarily as an attacking midfielder for the United Reserves last season, would presumably be best-used as a false No. 9 (albeit one with strong finishing ability). And the indefatigable Kidd looked best suited to playing as an outside forward in a 4-3-3 last season, though he could be deputized to play centrally if needed.
That quartet can give incoming head coach Adam Pribyl different looks at the tip of City’s attack. It will be interesting to see which of the four find their way into the starting XI when the Crows kick off their season against Viejos Son Los Trapos on May 13 — or perhaps, if a different player with an attacking skill set is tapped to move up top. Further, whether or not the Crows can get a steady supply of goals out of their forwards, or if they will look to their wingers and midfielders for that production.