None of the above is to say Minneapolis City has been disingenuous. A transparent, member-funded approach in the club’s first year of existence earned it plaudits from out of state, and a small but loyal (and growing) following in the Twin Cities.
This offseason, the thin margins of amateur soccer and the costs of travel prompted a move from the Premier League of America (PLA) to the NPSL’s new North Conference. Gone are league games against the historic Milwaukee Bavarians, and a summer team for indoor professionals (Cedar Rapids Rampage United). In their place are meetings with crosstown opponents the Minnesota TwinStars and Viejos Son Los Trapos FC.
As its slate of opponents has changed, so too have expectations. Now, heading into its second season, City finds itself front runners, expected to win its conference by many in and outside the club. The thinking is that in year two, Minneapolis City has learned from its growing pains — agreeing to schedule road games on consecutive days in the heat of the summer, playing home games on an inconsistent playing surface, etc. — and has assembled the most impressive roster in the NPSL North (at least on paper).
Key members of last season’s PLA squad were retained, the club used its buzz and an abbreviated U.S. Open Cup run to recruit from other top amateur sides in Minnesota, and it brought in a pair of former NASL professionals in Brian Kallman and Dan O’Brien.
Now, it falls to the team’s former goalkeeping coach, and new head coach, Adam Pribyl to get the Crows to take flight. The earliest of results have been mixed, with City playing the University of Minnesota men’s club team to a 2-2 draw this past Friday.
“The first half was poor,” Pribyl reflected. “Positionally we just didn’t look like we knew how to play with each other. Different looks — guys hadn’t played a ton together.”
With the process of assembling a roster spanning from the fall to the spring, the Crows had not practiced 11 vs. 11 since January, and due to the weather, City has only trained outdoors on a large field a handful of times this spring.
“Our goals going in [to the friendly] were to get some guys on the field, get some match fitness, get guys playing together.” Pribyl offered. “We battled back in the second half, we just didn’t finish what we needed to finish, and that’s okay for the beginning of the season. Disappointed we only tied the U of M, but we accomplished the goals we needed to.”
A question asked by this publication and others is which Crow, if any, will make the No. 9 position their own this summer. The crafty Tim Wills started up top last Friday, with 6-foot-1 Connor Stevenson yet to return from school. Former Minnesota United Reserves player Miles Stockman-Willis is also receiving consideration.
Stockman-Willis has impressed in training, but is working his way back from a knee injury sustained a month ago, and showed signs of rust in last weekend’s friendly.
“I expect [Stevenson], who tore it up at center forward for Loyola (Ill.), to come in and start challenging for minutes,” said Pribyl. “Right now we’ve got two very different players at the No. 9 spot. Tim Wills, back to goal, combines really well with guys, and finishes when he needs to. Miles Stockman-Willis is a really dynamic player. He’s a player to watch, and will score goals this season.”
Successfully integrating some of Minnesota’s best collegiate talent as it returns home for the summer with the players City has had in training all winter and spring will go a long way towards determining how well the Crows perform this season. The club is expecting a steady trickle of collegiate players to arrive, running through the end of the month.
“That makes my job more difficult,” Pribyl winked. “It’s also the fun part. ‘Shoot, I’ve got more talent coming in.'”
As to if a team with a semi-fluid roster is ready for Saturday’s season opener, Pribyl is confident.
“Absolutely. Expectations are high, and that carries a certain weight and responsibility. So, in training, the guys are sharp. When we get our true team out there, I think what we saw glimpses of in the second half [against the U of M] is who we can be; very attacking-minded, we’re going to have the ball in the other team’s half.”
That excitement is tempered to an extent — at least outwardly — by Pribyl’s pragmatism.
“We’re a second-year team with some good players, and some really good PR. We’re in a pole position. We can go out and prove we can do whatever, but frankly, it’s soccer. We could come out and fall on our faces, too. And that’s not talking bad about our guys, that’s just the reality of the game.”
Looking beyond his first competitive game at City’s helm, to what he felt he needed to accomplish on the season, Pribyl stated, “What’s going to define success, for me, is these guys continually playing good soccer, together. Playing for each other and improving every game, that’s going to be my measuring stick.”
Modesty, growth and the journey aside, the first-year head coach couldn’t help but add, “With that being said, our goal is that we need to win this conference.”
Whether the Crows use the weight of new expectations to build momentum, or are slowed by it, will be revealed over the next few months. On Saturday, against VSLT, Minneapolis City will take its first steps in pursuit of a conference title, and only 90 minutes will be needed to ascertain if they were made in the right direction.
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