After six years of success fielding teams in the MASL and MRSL, local amateur club Stegman’s Old Boys will take its most ambitious step to date and launch Minneapolis City in the Premier League of America. We sat down with Stegman’s three founders and the newly appointed head coach of Minneapolis City to discuss City’s inaugural season, community focus and aim to provide a summer home for Minnesota’s best young amateur players.
Participating in the interview were Stegman’s co-founder Dan Hoedeman, who is serving as Minneapolis City’s first president, Stegman’s co-founder Nick Sindt, Minneapolis City’s administrative lead, Stegman’s co-founder Jon Bisswurm, who will retain a focus on the Stegman’s arm of the organization, and newly appointed Minneapolis City head coach Keith Kiecker.
The interview below was lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Starting at the beginning, what is Stegman’s Old Boys’ origin? What was the impetus to start the club?
Dan Hoedeman: It’s kind of a two-pronged origin story, if you will. It’s good that Keith is here, he’s part of the other prong of it. The way that it happened—so Jon and I played travelling soccer way back in the day, in the ‘80s, in Ohio of all places. I’m from Minneapolis, but moved around a lot as a kid. I ended up moving off to California, Jon ended up moving off to Milwaukee, and thanks to Mark Zuckerberg we ended up reconnecting in our 20s on Facebook. Both happened to be in advertising. Jon moves to Minneapolis to work at the same ad agency I’m at—“Oh, no wonder we were friends when we were 11.” I said, “Hey, I’m playing on this team, they’re okay, do you want to come out and play together?” Jon came out and said, “No, not for me. Why don’t we start our own team? We’re at the age where I don’t want to do anyone else’s thing. Let’s do our own thing.” I said, “That sounds like a good idea.” Jon said, “I know a guy, let’s meet with him.” So Jon introduced me to Nick, and that’s how the Stegman’s thing started. We’re actually celebrating our sixth anniversary tonight.
DH: Through that, and through some of the work we did in the league Minnesota Amateur Soccer League we met Keith, who had been involved with FC Internationals off and on for I-don’t-know how long.
Keith Kiecker: Since I was 16.
DH: And now, since he’s 18—
Jon Bisswurm: —It’s been a really good two-year stretch.
KK: I was with Internationals from age 16 to 22, when I was playing in college and playing in the Premier Development League with the Twin Cities Tornado, which was Minnesota Thunder’s reserve team. Then I left—had a failed attempt at a professional soccer career. Went to Los Angeles, started playing semi-pro and started coaching out there at a pretty high level for several years. There was a team called Orange County Blue Star and also a team called Cobalt. Then I was part of a team called Hollywood United. I played with John Harkes for several years. Eric Wynalda, Frank Leboeuf (from the World Cup-winning French National Team) and a couple of those guys. But it wasn’t really semi-pro, we did a lot of celebrity events. It was a pretty amazing experience being around those guys. Then I got busy with a career, moved to New York, came back to Minnesota.
JB: Stegman was actually Dan’s and my coach when we were little kids.
DH: Just a total legend. Incredible mustache, short Umbros—remember the crosshatch shadow box patterned shorts?
JB: We were kicking around ideas for names and that’s where we both went first—to pay homage to the Tom Selleck doppelganger that was Tom Stegman.
DH: For the past couple years we had an affiliation with FC Internationals, traded players, and realized that we had a lot in common. Ended up merging the two together last year. It was a really good fit, and we had this idea that what we could do with Stegman’s is be the antidote to what people don’t like about men’s league. Where you turn up, and maybe there are nine guys, mismatched uniforms. We joked, “We’re going to make this professional amateur soccer.” We’re at the age where adult sports are just kind of silly. We’re really going to have fun, we’re really going to enjoy it. We’re going to do events off the pitch, not just roll up and play. It’s a true club that you join. Especially because, when we started, we had a lot of guys that weren’t from here. It was a really good social network to join. We’ve had a lot of success in adding a bunch of different teams.
DH: As we were talking within our group and some of the guys in Internationals, it’s half golden age, half Wild West in soccer right now. We saw what Minnesota United was doing to really raise the profile and invest. And we’ve seen soccer really grow in Minnesota. But what Minnesota United has left is a gap for amateur, high-level players. Especially as they go to MLS, they’re more a pro route.
As Minnesota United will almost assuredly move its reserve side up to the USL when it joins MLS, assumedly that gap will widen.
DH: Realistically, if you’re the type of player who isn’t on an early track to that academy-slash-pro route, or is making the choice to hold on to your amateur status because it could help you get into a good college, you have to be careful about how far down that pro route you get to keep your amateur status. A lot of other parts of the country have really high-level amateur clubs with top players. You can still get noticed by people, you don’t shut off that pro route, but you keep yourself fully eligible. We don’t have that in Minnesota right now. A lot of the top amateur players, if they want that, they have to go elsewhere.
JB: I think, too, if you haven’t already made it at the professional level, but your skills are almost there and you aren’t quite ready to turn the ignition fully on, you’re already overlooked. I look at this as also an outlet for that. If there is a player that is on the fringes, that is from Minnesota, that needs a shot, then we’re willing to give it to them. They could end up blossoming.
KK: There’s a huge gap in Minnesota soccer right now. In youth soccer, you have development academies that bring in the best players and then these kids go off to college. Then, for four of five years, they’ve got nothing. The Minnesota Amateur Soccer League does not provide an environment to challenge college players. Tyler David, who was recently drafted by Vancouver Whitecaps, I ran into him in a couple different summers. He was coming back for three weeks to spend time with family, then going back to school to train with the guys on his team. There’s nothing here for them. So what we’re hoping to do, is to fill that gap. When I played at the University of Louisville I had the PDL to fill that gap. I would come back and play with Division I, II and III guys—some of the best guys out in Minnesota. Minnesota doesn’t have a single dollar of men’s soccer scholarship. So all these kids have to go to Drake, Madison, Milwaukee, and the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. We have seven pretty solid commitments from seven Division I kids. We’re looking to add more.
KK: One of the coolest things we’ve done so far, in my opinion, is recruited a developmental player. Tyler Johnson is a junior going into his senior year at Como Park High School. He’s one of the lucky few from Como Park High School that can play club. His family has the means for him to do it. Here’s a kid, doesn’t want to do the development academy but still wants to go to college and has trained with Internationals since he was 12 years old. Somalian, Hmong, Karen—a lot of these kids don’t have the option to play club soccer which can cost $2,000 to $6,000 per year. With Stegman’s, they’ve got an MASL Division 4 team and some Minnesota Recreational Soccer League teams that can take in some of these kids for $220 a year—to play summer ball and really improve.
KK: On Stegman’s, all the guys are professional guys. With Internationals, we’ve got a bunch of athletes. A third of the guys are still playing Division I soccer, the other one’s just finished, or they played competitively at a Division III school. They’re not in that position to mentor. That’s one of the greatest things about Stegman’s—the community focus, as well as Dan, Jon, Nick and myself to take these kids under our wings. Tyler is a kid I picked up that’s going to be under my wing. He still has dreams of playing college soccer, he’s just going to go about it a different way.
DH: As we look back on playing, soccer brought a surprising amount to our lives. Jon and I are still friends after all this time. It helped me personally, gave me some discipline, an outlet for energy so I could sit down and focus on studying. It got me thinking about colleges early. I was really lucky that I could do it. It was less expensive when I played. It still wasn’t cheap, but it was great that I had that opportunity. We look at the Twin Cities and as soccer gets more expensive, a lot of kids aren’t plugged into it. We want to help with that.
DH: Our goal is, as much fun as we have, to go out and support local talent. We’ll be doing free clinics before games where we’ll reach out to clubs that are focused on inner-city kids. We’re going to reach out to developmental players, some who can really ball. Others who maybe, they have a love of soccer, but it’s more about getting them in a good environment. Then we take a lot of the I-can’t-afford a-$7,500-development-academy away, because they’re getting support from us. Either playing a super-discounted rate, or playing for free. Our goal is, once we get this off the ground and find our financial footing, to do scholarship-like things. You play with us, you get some gear, we start out with some rides for you to help with that. You get the mentoring and tutoring, but you’d better be in school. If you’re struggling writing, that’s cool, we’ve got a guy in our club that writes for the Star Tribune. He’ll tutor you in writing. We have professionals who are interested in doing these types of things. If we make that connection through soccer, then what a win.
You mentioned Internationals, you mentioned running clinics yourselves. Any other outreach efforts currently underway? How are you going to identify kids that don’t have the means to play and bring them into your fold?
KK: This past fall I volunteered at Como Park High School. In working with the varsity team, all but one or two of them play club soccer. The biggest barriers to playing club soccer are the financial piece, but also transportation. Talking internally about ways for these kids to play on one of Stegman’s lower-division teams, a player on that team that has a car would meet these kids at Como Park High School and take them to the game.
KK: I did some consulting for the Sanneh Foundation for a while and came into contact with a lot of community-based clubs like Club Deportivo Lobos. They’re just an extremely talented club made up of primarily Hispanic kids. They don’t have the money to pay coaches. One of the things we’re looking at is maybe sending a coach out one session per week, to do some community outreach, get these kids into the free camps before we have our home games. Then give them tickets to stay and watch the game. Really make them a part of the club and do a give and take, as opposed to the NASL model where the kids show up, pay $15, get to watch a game and that’s it.
KK: As these college kids come back, we’re looking at creating a commitment for them of five to 10 hours per week of community service. That could be going to a club and running a session for a team that has a dad as a coach. That’s a not bad thing. It’s just that, if they’re under 10 years of age, soccer has progressed in a way now that even under 10, you can’t have a dad coaching if you want to stay at pace with the times.
JB: I think my personal experience as a kid—our coach Mr. Stegman knew very little about soccer. He was a dad. But we had the players from the old Dayton Dynamo in the NPSL. When they came out for one session a month or one session a quarter, everyone paid attention and everyone would engage. I remember how great that was when I was a kid. It gave me that aspiration—I didn’t know what the Dayton Dynamo really was at that point, but I knew there was a way to play soccer at a higher level and you could actually do it as a job. It was great.
DH: From Keith being involved and those connections, we’ve done a lot of work with the Sanneh Foundation in terms of charity events and giving. We’ve done some work on the board, that’s got us connected. We have a couple guys in our club who are doing work with an organization on the West Bank that has a Somali focus around soccer. We’ve got a couple guys involved with St. Paul United, some of the Hmong clubs. We have people who are out there who are already doing this type of thing. We figured, maybe we could find a way to do it a little bit bigger.
DH: Keith has really been helping lead this. We threw an advisory board together of some people who are really well known and really well connected within the soccer community. We’ve already announced [former Minnesota Kicks defender] Alan Merrick, [former Minnesota United Reserves head coach] Donny Mark—I always joke he’s like the soccer Google. You ask him what’s going on and he already knows. That will allow us to make the right decisions about who we should partner with. Who are the kids we should keep an eye on? How do we make the right approaches? It’s a little bit Balkanized right now. We’re not trying to step on anyone’s toes. We’re not taking kids away from a club. We’re helping them do things they maybe wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.
KK: One of the other things I would add—Thursday I ran a futsal session over at Como Park High School. There were about 30 kids there but not a single parent. It kind of drove home the idea that idea that more so than soccer, we need to give these kids more of a well-rounded approach to mentorship. We’re not just bringing in the top college talent and men’s league talent that we can find. We’re also trying to look at these kids and say, this is your service commitment. Then they walk away at the end of the summer and they’ve had a 360-degree experience.
KK: I think Minnesota United has gotten really far away from the local connection. They’ve got a community, they’ve got a fan base, but there’s no local talent playing for Minnesota United anymore. And that’s where the Thunder really thrived—not only with players from Minnesota, but too, they were out at the camps, running the camps, working with five year-olds, working with 16 year-olds. That’s something we want to bring back.
KK: Minnesota United doesn’t have their finger on the pulse of Minnesota soccer, either. Their reserve team does not sign college kids. What you wind up with, is a bunch of really good men’s league players and then out-of-state guys that want to get their foot in the door. What we’re doing is really focusing on homegrown talent. You look at players like Tony Sanneh, Manny Lagos, Tod Herskovitz, Donny Mark, Leo Cullen—these are homegrown guys that had really good professional careers and were at a point, some of the best players in the country. That’s what we want to really harvest with this team. Bring those guys back here and really see what they can do.
DH: It’s nothing against Minnesota United. They have a professional organization. They’re looking to compete at a national level. We have our focus on the local, regional level. If we were a regional powerhouse, we could turn that into a US Open Cup run. As the league grows, we could turn that into a national tournament at this level, we think that’d be great if it were built on that core of Minnesota guys. We kind of joke, it’s like Target versus the corner store. I really like the corner store, but it doesn’t mean I don’t like Target.
What advice have the likes of Mark and Merrick given you? For what advice are you turning to them?
KK: Alan has been a mentor to me since I was young. He helped me get some professional tryouts. He’s just a great soccer mind. Alan coming on in an advisory role is an amazing opportunity for us. He’s been involved in professional soccer for as long as I can remember. He’ll prevent us from thinking something is a great idea that isn’t. He can say, “I tried that. It didn’t work.” The same goes for Donny. Donny is more closely tied to professional soccer as he was at Minnesota United last season. And Donny was in the Minnesota Thunder Academy for years. All these kids that I’m asking to come play for me are kids Donny coached at one point or another. So he has insight with regards to these kids that I don’t have yet. I think, with those two included in our group, we can fill every gap needed to have a successful organization.
DH: We basically came at this with the idea that we were going to screw up. If we just went with what our own opinions. We’re looking to those two and some other people really plugged into that community so we don’t do the things that didn’t work before. We’ll get a bunch of points of view so that we can be as smart as possible. Hundreds of lower division clubs have failed. We would not be smart if we didn’t find as many people as possible to talk to and to get advice from.
JB: I like the group of advisers we have, because they’re going to let us bring forth our own ideas and listen to our rationale before giving their opinion. You want approachability along with that background.
Speaking of that future US Open Cup run mentioned, your league now has 11 teams. Are you eligible in 2016?
DH: We’re talking to the USSF right now. They make it very complex. Nick has been doing a lot of that. We’ve looked at the US Open Cup and USASA Regionals.
Nick Sindt: The US Open Cup, you don’t have an automatic entry. There’s a very difficult qualifying process which doesn’t necessarily work for the kind of guys we’re going to be bringing in. Our team come August is going to be going back to school. Unless the PLA—which, they’re still in those discussions for having our champion get that automatic entry—the US Open Cup is looking like a little bit of a bridge too far for the first season. It’s simply something we’re interested in. The USASA regional tournaments are going to be more in our wheelhouse. That application process isn’t going to get started for a little while. They’re revamping their website. It looks like around February, we’ll get all the information we need. That’s definitely something we’re interested in, not only to give our players that experience, but to get our name out there.
DH: We’re kind of at peak U.S. soccer. I would expect the PLA gets a US Open Cup bid for 2017, if not beforehand. But we’re not sure. There’s kind of this Wild West thing happening. That’s one of the reasons we really like this league. We looked at the teams in it—Milwaukee Bavarians, RWB Adria in Chicago, Carpathia FC—you have these clubs that have been around for a long time. There is a concern we’d have if we joined a league where teams come and go all the time. People have been asking us, “Are you around to stay?” Internationals has been around since 1977.
DH: Based on what we’ve been able to do with the budget, it’s not that much more expensive to run a team like this as to run a team like Internationals and go to the regionals. It’s slightly more. We already have six teams and run on almost a six figure budget. We have sponsors in place. We have guys who are already helping us out with a lot of the operational stuff. We have grand designs for an amateur national cup title. Realistically, in five years, we want to be winning games in a good league against good, solid clubs, doing good things. I think that’s really achievable. If you look at our history and the teams in our league, they’re going to be around for another 30 to 40 years.
As a new team, did City approach its league or did it approach City? How was the initial contact made?
DH: We got aggressively shopped by multiple leagues. NPSL talked to us, a league called ASL approached us. Name a league, and they probably approached us. With this league, we were talking to Milwaukee Bavarians about doing a friendly. They said, “Hey, we joined this new league. Do you want to join with us?” I said, “If you guys are in, we’re definitely interested.” So we called the PLA and they talked to us about what their vision was. What we want is to play at a high level and have it be reasonable, cost-wise. We’re real believers in the regional nature of things. Especially in our market. If you want to watch the best live soccer that you can, we’re going to have Minnesota United and you can do that. No doubt they’re going to build a great stadium. Hopefully they do safe standing. There are a lot of cool things that they’re going to do. That exists. But for all the merits of MLS, and I like it—we had a great time going down to watch Sporting Kansas City—we can offer a different kind of fun. It’s slightly more rewarding every time a Minnesota team plays a team from Wisconsin. I would rather beat Milwaukee than I would Orlando. I’d like to see Kaka play in person, don’t get me wrong. But man do I want to get one over on Milwaukee.
DH: If you’re really into soccer, we have a fun thing you can go see live and Minnesota United has a fun thing you can go see live. I think we are a big soccer city. We have a lot of really passionate people. I know I plan to be a season ticket holder at United and go to every Minneapolis City game. The United Reserves are going to be really fun to play. The two teams from Milwaukee including Bavarians are going to provide a really great rivalry. Madison supporters are already talking shit, which I appreciate, because I forgot they are in our league for a minute.
JB: From a fan perspective, the fact that we are to an extent community owned and you can become a member—it can become your thing for five games a summer at home. Then, if you want to travel with us as well. It’s not just that you’ve bought season tickets. You have a vested interest in it.
Is City going to be organized around a board of directors elected by people that buy into the club?
NS: We just put out some membership information. You can buy in for a yearly membership at $50, you get your season tickets, it’s great. You have a little bit of voice. But you can also buy in as a lifetime member. Then you get season tickets, you get a discount in the future, you get the opportunity to run for the board. We are going to have a board of directors that advises and helps keep the club going. It’s kind of based on the Green Bay Packers model. It will be a supporter-owned, supporter-run and supporter-advised vehicle for a little while. We’ll see where it goes from there. The intent is to always have supporters own it and give them a voice in all of the major decisions.
DH: It is a lot like San Francisco City FC, actually. It’s a non-profit. So ownership is maybe a slippery concept because there’s no real equity. That’s a feature, not a bug. We don’t want to create a business because then the risk is always that someone will sell it, somehow. But if it is non-profit, then it is something that can last and there isn’t that risk. Not that there is a realistic risk that anyone would have a buyer for a team that doesn’t exist yet, but with the focus on the community, a non-profit made sense.
DH: As a non-profit, the board is going to be really involved in the details. They’re going to have to handle the budget, prioritize our objectives and make sure we stay on our mission. We envision regular updates and certainly we want member meetings every year where there is a presentation from the board. There might be up and down votes for other things. We might have some options for uniforms, let’s have the members vote on that. I think the board will define exactly what members vote on, but to Nick’s point, this is something that, if you’re a member, you have a voice. If you get elected to the board, you’re involved with the details. As Jon said, it’s very much regular people getting involved as much as they want to get involved. I see board members running the club.
Transitioning to the coming season, I know City plans to secure a stadium to host its home games by early February. As a community-focused team, what are you looking for from a venue?
DH: It has to be in Minneapolis, and as much as possible, urban Minneapolis. That limits the number of options available. We prioritized neighborhoods that were accessible without a car and neighborhoods with people who are in to soccer. We also wanted close proximity to local bars. We would like to arrange kickoff times where people can attend our game, then roll off to a United watch party afterwards.
NS: Tying those things together, the stadium location isn’t about just showing up and watching. Having all those other tie-ins gives us opportunities for not only sponsorships and things that we can do as a club, but it gives our fans something else, too. It makes it more than just, “I went there for two hours and then left.” It builds on everything else that we want to do, with all the other pieces.
JB: You can broaden it to, I went downtown and now I’m at a Twins game or I’m seeing the nightlife downtown. It doesn’t have to be focused entirely around soccer, it can be a starting point.
Stegman’s is sponsored by Summit Brewing and City wants to be located in close proximity to local bars. As you are potentially looking into playing at high school stadia, have you investigated the sale of alcohol at your games and what restrictions may be in place?
DH: We’re going to do our best to provide options. There is a law which allows alcohol to be served at schools if you are a specific type of organization, which we are. Stegman’s has gotten that exact permit the last three years. We have a track record of being able to responsibly serve and manage an event. We haven’t had any issues.
JB: Related to events Stegman’s has had before United games, the City of Blaine is traditionally strict with regards to their permitting. And we’ve always been responsible and have shown that under the watchful eye of the people issuing that permit.
Any long-term plans related to establishing your own facility? Is that one of the team’s goals?
DH: Jon has been talking about that for years.
JB: I just need to find an investor willing to give us the seed money. Dan mentioned Milwaukee Bavarians. They have had a small stadium, maybe 700 to 800 seat capacity, since the mid ‘70s. They have locker rooms, they have a clubhouse, they have all of it. To have ownership of our own home, whether it’s a home for Minneapolis City or it’s a Stegman’s home and Minneapolis City shares it with Stegman’s and vise versa, that to me is the ultimate goal. The problem is that it’s expensive. But it would be great to have a place people could come to, a home people could come to watch games, hold camps there. The sense of home speaks to me very closely. It’s something that I think is attainable, but as everyone has said, this more than one-year thing, and that’s part of the vision.
NS: It’s something we’ve looked into since the second year of our men’s league club—finding a place for adults to play in the Twin Cities is ridiculously hard. To get the fields to play nice with you in time for league registration, to get the leagues to play nice with you in terms of getting a schedule, it’s one of the biggest headaches every team manager in the MASL and Minnesota Recreational Soccer League faces. The expense is off-putting for a club like that but in terms of where we are going now, maybe it is something that will be attainable in the future. But we would definitely need a bit of startup capital to get it going. That’s not going to be available to us in year one.
KK: Minnesota right now has an attrition rate of about three baseball fields to one soccer field. And the way things are going, that’s even too slow to keep pace. Then you throw lacrosse into that, which is a burgeoning, growing sport here. It makes things a lot more difficult. Grass fields become more and more precious. Establishing a youth club like San Francisco City or partnering with one like Minneapolis United would definitely further that discussion.
Are there certain sponsors that you’ve lined up?
DH: Summit is one. We’re negotiating with two companies as kit providers. That sponsorship would include not just uniforms in kind but an actual financial contribution. We’re talking to all the Stegman’s sponsors about what they’d be willing to contribute. It helps that we’re not starting from scratch. With Stegman’s, we can say we already have over 100 people that are actively involved and have done these events and have these case studies on referrals. I think we fit in on a good level for sponsorships. We’re not looking for the same types of businesses as Minnesota United.
Regarding your niche in the local soccer market, do you think it is comparable to that of the St. Paul Saints in relation to the Minnesota Twins?
KK: The Saints go after experience where the Twins are going after talent. I think we’re a mix of both. Experience is at the forefront of all our minds. For me personally, talent is a big focus.
JB: We only have five home games—four league games and our friendly against FC Fargo. So we’re not asking people who are interested to make a commitment of 12 weekends. It’s pretty attainable to be able to plan for.
KK: The Minnesota lifestyle is work Monday through Thursday, cabin Friday through Sunday. It takes people out of the weekend. One of the issues I had with the NASL this past season was the way they scheduled games. Minnesota United had four home games in October as a cold-weather state? The good thing about the PLA is that Dan is able to work with them about changing our schedule around so it best suits not just the community but the timing of certain things in the summer, whether its Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. There is a lot of flexibility there that doesn’t exist with other leagues.
DH: We learned some things with regards to scheduling. Minnesota United prefer their reserves to play the Sunday following a game on Saturday and are locked into a specific schedule. But United were good to work with.
I assume that is so United can have the players who didn’t see action off the bench on Saturday get a run out on Sunday?
DH: We’re doing the same thing with our MASL team. We want to play on Saturdays so there is an MASL game on Sunday. So if you didn’t play or didn’t play a ton, you can just roll in and play Internationals or Old Boys and get your time in.
KK: Our training schedule is set around having Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays available for these guys to play in the MASL. The more games the better. It also benefits those leagues. There are only a handful of guys that can play at this level. If you take them all out of the MASL or MRSL, it’s kind of like the development academy did to high school soccer. You’re really leaving not much quality, and it’s going to kill the league. We want to see everybody be successful, whether it’s Minnesota United or the MASL. Giving these guys the freedom to do that will only benefit us and the MASL.
Are you going to have specific first-team training sessions for Minneapolis City?
KK: A lot of these kids, when they come back, are going to be coaching. So that is going to be a bit of a challenge for us. And they’re going to want to get as many games as they can in a week. So the training schedule right now is a standing scrimmage on Monday nights to try out new players and try out our tactical view on the field. Training sessions on Wednesdays and Fridays. We’re lucky that we’ve got a couple older guys that are pretty experienced and very mature, and can run training sessions on their own. We’re also looking at a Tuesday and Thursday morning fitness-only training session for guys that aren’t going to play in the MASL game that night.
So you’ll have something going every day of the week?
KK: Yes. They’ll have an option to play every day of the week. Whether they take advantage of it or not will be up to them. There will be certain players that we’ll limit. The top 11, 12, 13 players I’m not going to want playing in the MASL.
Surely it will be shaped by the players you bring on board, but are you going into year one with a playing philosophy you want to implement?
KK: I call it effective possession. So, two-thirds of the field, quickly out of the back. Possess in the middle of the park, keep it tight. I cannot stand kickball. Any of the guys that play on Internationals will know, if you do a 30-yard diagonal ball into the chest of the opposing team—I don’t lose my shit often, but I lose my shit. That’s one of the things all the guys know is a hot button issue. Outside of that two-thirds of the field, diagonal balls into the ground and get going in attack. Either get it out wide or work it up the gut. Some of the guys that we’re going to bring on, no matter what system we play, we’ll be successful. They’re just that good. There’s not that much coaching that will have to be done, other than organizing and communicating effectively. Getting the right guys in the right place. That’s really where success is going to be.
KK: I don’t have a traditional coaching background. Our assistant is Jeremy Iwaszkowiec, who is the head coach at Bethel. He’s a professional coach. That’s where he spends 90 percent of his time Jeremy and I have the same philosophy. I think what I bring to the table is, I spent two years on Wall Street, I spent eight years at investment banks in Los Angeles, and I coached the entire time. Whether at Brooklyn Athletics or South Bay Force—which is now a development academy called LA Galaxy South Bay. So, I got to coach at a high level, but a lot of coaches don’t have that professional experience like the four of us do. I really bring that to the table, which makes it easier from an organizational standpoint. Definitely from a communicating standpoint. I think that’s not something they’re used to. They’re used to communicating with coaches, not coaches and professionals. I’m not someone who is going to try to over-coach them. If anything, I’ll let them be and just give them the tools to be successful.
DH: I would expect us to be pretty stingy at the back. Then we have a lot of options with regards to our wide guys. I can see it, as Keith said, it’s quick out of the back, playing out wide. Then, in that final third, it’s playing direct. The talent available to us will definitely fit that philosophy.
Can you go on record with any notable commitments?
DH: What we are hoping to do at our launch event on February 6th, is announce a couple of the guys. So, on the record, we’d like to keep that locked down.
KK: We’re looking at a few kids from Minnesota playing Division I and few kids at MIAC schools. I’ve done some research and reached out to a bunch of MIAC coaches, and have a solid pool of five to seven guys that are local.
Are you familiar with Northwoods League and Cape Cod League baseball?
JB: Yes—we even talked about a model where if people do come to play for us who aren’t from Minnesota, we try to get them a host family.
KK: That’s where the youth club partnership comes in. We can provide them with coaching jobs. What we want to do is project these kids into professional soccer or a professional lifestyle. I think they’d get a lot more out of coaching than they would anything else. So, for out of state kids, we can line them up with jobs working with a youth club outside of any internship or community service commitment they’re going to have with us. As well as a host family. I think that’s an amazing experience, not just for the host family but also for the kid. Obviously that would come with a bit more oversight, but if a kid can’t meet that requirement, that’s not a kid we want to play at the end of the day.
Are there any clubs in your league that have similar organizational goals, or is Minneapolis City fairly unique in that respect?
DH: I think we’re unique. Outside of our league, San Francisco City is set up similarly with regards to their organization, but I don’t think they have the same community outreach focus that we do.
KK: Bavarians are a good organization, but they’re not really—
JB: The Croatian Eagles, they’re the same as Bavarians, just on a smaller scale. I would say Madison is close but they don’t have the community aim. They do have a youth system that supports the top team. So yeah, we really are unique.
Looking forward to your first year, what do each of you think is going to go best for Minneapolis City?
DH: We’re going to be so surprised by everything.
NS: We already have a supporters group that formed itself from the Minnesota United subreddit. So, we’re not sure if they’re actual supporters of us or they’re doing it because they loathe us.
DH: I think they’ve been pretty positive. But we don’t know any of these people.
JB: But we’re one-hundred percent okay with that.
NS: The Stegman’s thing kind of grew up as a quirky, professional-amateur, we think this is our hobby, we’re going to do it over-the-top, we’re going to have fun. The Minneapolis City professional amateurs will be very different. But this supporters group, how we’re going to interact with them, it feels like that quirky thing Stegman’s grew up out of.
NS: Our first interview, which we did with the Two United Fans podcast, our supporters group tweeted us a picture of some guy giving us the bird and saying, “You’re going to fail.” We took it as our version of break a leg. We have an image and ethos we’re cultivating, too. We’re going to do things our way. Not to hell with everybody else, but just going to do it our way, because that’s us. So, not quite sure who the supporters group are and how they operate. But either way, we’re going to have a fun time with them and they’ll probably show up to either three or four games to either shower us with adoration or hate.
JB: As far as I’m concerned, success-wise, everything we’ve done with Stegman’s—the free beer nights, going to things like Comcast Cares Day and 30 to 40 guys show up to build a park. That, or playing, or travelling to Fargo and seeing that we’re on the news with our third division men’s amateur team—everything that we do, Dan and I always take a step back and say, “I can’t believe that this actually happened.” And that’s awesome. I look at this as a little more controlled version with all the moving pieces working together. Success for me will be looking back after the last home game and saying, “Maybe we had a bump or two in the road, but it worked. Soccer was good.”
JB: Year one, we’ll make an impression on players and they’ll go back to school. Year two, we’ll have people coming to us instead of us recruiting them because they’re bring people with them.
DH: Our first game, away at Bavarians, I fully expect we’ll have at least 50 people there.
JB: They’ll all be my family.
DH: Then we’ll have 100. We have over 100 people that are already involved in Stegman’s. We have supporters we don’t even know. We put out a tweet and a Facebook post that memberships were for sale, and I screwed up the checkout so it wasn’t even working for the first two hours and we still got people who signed up. My brother and I are big Twins fans. And we used to argue about baseball on the way to and from games. And that’s Major League baseball. Here, you could talk to Keith after a game at the bar and he might talk to you about tactics. You can have that discussion. And if you’re voting, you can vote on certain things. It’s yours in a different way. I think having that is going to make it a different type of community feeling. This is my club. A lot of times, after college, its hard to get integrated into a city if you’re a single guy in your twenties. It’s not like in our grandparents’ day where you had the Minneapolis Athletic Club and you go have martinis there and some of that stuff. This could be a fun thing to be a part of. I can see this thing being like Stegman’s. Everyone involved with the team saying, “We did that. Let’s do it again.” Looking back, it was pretty ramshackle, but it was ours. Every year, we do this anniversary party where we go over stuff. “Yeah, we did that. All of us. Let’s do it again.” My hope is that’s the best thing.
JB: It’s a more responsible version of Will Ferrell streaking the quad. “Who’s coming with me!?”
NS: Eventually, we’ll have a big oil painting of the three of us.
Specifically for Keith, what do you think will go best for City on the field in year one? What are you really optimistic about?
KK: I think we’re going to be really surprised. I think we’re going to have one of the best teams in the league. I don’t think we’re going to be short on talent. At all.
What do you think is going to be the greatest challenge in the coming season?
NS: On the administrative side, the PLA is growing and expanding. There are things we’re all working on, like, what does the registration path look like? It will all come together. But it’s just a matter of everything is brand new to us. We know how to run amateur and recreational teams. We know how to run different leagues and training sessions, and secure playing fields. Things like that. This is definitely a step up. We’re venturing out into the unknown a bit. It will test the same skills we already have, but in a different way. We have to make sure we step up our game and we get our ducks in a row as early as possible. How do we get to Milwaukee? How do we bring 50 people to Milwaukee? How do we bring it fruition and not leave anybody behind in Milwaukee? We have 100 people in the Stegman’s organization that like to go out and have a good time, but we’re not babysitters. How do we have a good time and make sure everyone stays on the up-and-up? Those kinds of things are going to test our patience but we’ll make sure we make it work and that we leave a good impression on all the cities that we go visit.
JB: I think winning too many games and being too successful. More seriously, I think other people in US soccer will look at us and say, those guys aren’t going to make it for reasons X, Y and Z. Our biggest challenge will be aligning our support network to make the proper decisions our way, as there will be more voices than just the four of us.
DH: I think we have to convince people to give us a change. There is a lot of stuff to do in Minneapolis in the summer. I think we’re going to provide a really fun experience. A really unique experience. We want to get everything together so that when people roll up, they come back. None of us are professional sports people that have run something like this before.
And on the field?
KK: Firstly, timing. We’re going after college players. 75 to 80 percent will be out-of-state guys. As the college season expands, the timing of guys going back is going to be a challenge. Secondly, to quote Herb Brooks, all-star teams fail because they’re based on talent. We’re not going to be short on talent but we’re going to have to win as a team. Creating that team cohesiveness with all those guys coming back at different times is going to have to be my main focus. Not so much the tactical and technical side of things, but can I get a team on the field that can play well together. That might take more than a season. My hope is that it won’t. But that’s going to be my biggest challenge. I’ve got these 11 guys, or 18 guys, how do I get them playing together, quickly, in the way that I want? The way that I want to play might not be the best system for these guys, and that’s something I’m going to have to figure out.
City seems well positioned to tackle the numerous challenges it will face in its inaugural season. Thank you for your time, everyone, and best of luck in the coming year and well beyond.
FiftFive.One would like to encourage any readers interested to attend SSC Minneapolis City’s free launch party this Saturday, February 6th at 3:00 PM at the Local in downtown Minneapolis. Those in attendance will have the opportunity to speak with the club’s brass and will receive a complimentary pint of beer, courtesy of Summit Brewing. For more information, and to reserve a place, email firstname.lastname@example.org.