Whitney Browne fires Minneapolis City into the U.S. Open Cup first round. Photo courtesy of Minneapolis City SC.

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It Has Begun: Early Season Power Rankings

by on 23 May 2018

Things remain as wild as ever in the NPSL North, with big scorelines, shock results, a close bunch of teams at the top, and off-field skulduggery. If you have not gotten into lower division soccer yet, you, my friend, are missing out. Let’s get into the Power Rankings.

With most teams having played three games, we have a worthy sample size for the first Power Rankings of the season. For this installment, we are going to measure the clubs against where they were last year. That will give us some insight into which ones have moved forward and which have moved backward in these early days. Soon enough, what will matter is where they are in the table, but that time is not quite upon us.

 

1. Duluth FC

Alex Ganeev Photography.

The defending champions are right where they were last season, with an opening draw against Minnesota TwinStars courtesy of a now-familiar slice of last minute will, luck, and finishing prowess all wrapped into one. Duluth FC also picked up the full three points with its expected shelling of La Crosse Aris.

The key here is the retention of that never-say-die attitude. A club that believes it’s a club that can achieve things, even if its defense has, so far, looked leakier than in the past.

The Bluegreens may not have shown gains from last season yet, but last season went pretty well for them didn’t it?

This week is a huge test with Med City away on Wednesday and Minneapolis City visiting on Saturday. We will know a lot more about them by Sunday.

 

2. Viejos son los Trapos

The St. Paul side is off to an impressive start and, with new signings like Andrew Jenkins and Zuheer al-Abase stolen from conference rivals, looks set to continue its current good run of form.

Los Trapos opened the season in Fargo with a 2-2 draw against Dakota Fusion. Traveling has proven tough for the Sky Blues in the past — last year their trip to face the Fusion ended in a 5-2 defeat — so they are already a point better than they were in 2017.

They were also able to secure a 1-0 win over Sioux Falls Thunder, a wonderful free kick downing a plucky Thunder side that was unlucky not to get a point. Unlucky does not affect the match report, and that win equals their win last year when Sioux Falls came calling.

The big result, with another clean sheet, was the 1-0 win over visiting Med City. Last season, these two fought to a 1-1 draw, so Saturday’s win, courtesy of an Andrew Jenkins goal, gives them two points more than they got from the game last year.

That is a positive three point swing for VSLT, clear evidence of progression. The dark horse is running well.

 

3. Minneapolis City

When Crows attack. Image courtesy of Dan Mick

Like their Twin Cities neighbors, the Crows are off to a very good start to the season, even though their opening match was not very good.

Lack of cutting edge cost them as Sioux Falls Thunder were able to score a flukey 40-yarder to draw 2-2 in the opener. There were mitigating circumstances in how early in May the game was played, but it was, in general, still a poor result and two points dropped compared to the 3-1 win for City in last year’s trip to South Dakota.

Since then, it has been all positives.

Last season, Med City emerged victorious from its visit to Minneapolis. An incredible goal from the most acute of angles made it 2-1 and, despite a late flurry, City were shocked.

And then, Fusion came to town and roared back from a halftime deficit to beat City 3-2. The Crows were visibly stunned as Fusion celebrated boisterously on the field at full time.

This year, the schedule threw up the same two games in order. Against Med City, the Crows went behind early but, showing a new level of resilience and drive, clawed their way back into the game and stoutly defended a lead to beat the Medics 3-2. It was the gritty, hard working City that head coach Adam Pribyl had promised.

And then, on Saturday, Whitney Browne and company went wild and beat Dakota Fusion 5-0. It was a complete performance from a team with belief and confidence in each other. Fusion did have chances to score, but the defense was as impressive as the attack. Maybe a fluke, maybe a statement, we will see, but undeniably an eye-popping result.

Two big wins, made all the bigger given how last season’s games went.

In total, that is a positive four-point swing for Minneapolis City and loads of momentum going forward. Of course, that momentum is headed to Duluth this weekend where fireworks are sure to ensue and the course of the season could well be set.

 

4. Minnesota TwinStars

This has been quite the week for Minnesota TwinStars, which at least showed a willingness to do whatever it takes to get a result when it forced a reschedule of last week’s game against Minneapolis City. It is a black eye on the season and raises all sorts of questions, though none of them are appropriate for power rankings.

On the field, things have been better for the TwinStars.

The Dragons took a creditable draw against Duluth at home, the same result as last season, though they are left once more with the feeling that it was two points dropped rather than one point won. That said, it is still a good point.

Then they played Sioux Falls and, with a full team this time, were able to record a 3-2 win over the Thunder. That is plus two points from Sioux Falls’ visit last season when the teams drew.

They are slightly ahead of where they were last season on the field, which is good for them, though their results remain overshadowed by their actions off the field.

 

5. Sioux Falls Thunder

A bit of a surprise package in that the Thunder were able to secure a draw against Minneapolis City and were so very close to doing the same against VSLT.

This is an example of the critical importance of a quality coach in the NPSL. Last season’s coaching upheaval has been replaced by the quiet competence of Mohammed Afa and the difference is noticeable.

That said, the Thunder balanced their draw with Minneapolis City with a draw against TwinStars. They beat Aris at home like they did last year and lost to VSLT away like they did last year, so they are even.

But, while they may be even in points relative to last year, their on-field displays are much improved.

 

6. Med City FC

Med City looks to get their season back on track

The title contender and playoff favorites is in a surprising spot, behind the 8-ball already this season, with only a win against Aris to its name.

Last year, the Mayhem spent most of the season in the top spot in the conference. While in the end they fell just short, they were the lead horse and seemed to have the togetherness and luck that is the hallmark of all good teams.

They do not seem to have lost the ability, but they have lost their knack of getting results.

In 2017, they found a moment of magic to beat Minneapolis City. This year, they scored early and then watched as the Crows ground out a victory. Last year, the Medics drew away at VSLT. This year, they gave up an early goal and found the dogged Sky Blues defense unbowed by their attack.

That leaves Med City four points worse off from these fixtures last year. Because it is so early in the season it could just be a blip, especially for a team so heavily reliant on out-of-state college players. It does, however, ask questions about the Rochester side’s ability to compete for the top spot this season.

 

7. Dakota Fusion

Last year’s playoff qualifier has had a rough May. An incredible comeback from 3-1 down against Duluth in the U.S. Open Cup was stopped thanks to penalty madness and a concussive red card tackle that knocked Fusion back to 10 men (they had already used all of their substitutions when the wild tackle left the recipient unable to continue).

The Fusion followed that up with a home draw against VSLT which, while a more than decent result considering the Sky Blues’ caliber, represents two points dropped compared to their home game against VSLT last year, which they won 5-2.

Saturday’s walloping against Minneapolis City was an emphatic and stinging defeat. Last year Dakota took three points home from its trip to Minneapolis.

It looked like a full strength Dakota Fusion side in both league games, which will disappoint all the more.

This year, Dakota Fusion is a whopping five points off the pace it set for itself last year and has to pick itself up from a humbling defeat quickly or this season risks running right off the rails.

 

8. La Crosse Aris

The season is progressing in typical fashion, with Aris having collected exactly as many points this year as it had at this time last year: zero.


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