Freddy, Tessie, John and Gus Slyvester.


Minnesota Soccer Community Loses John Sylvester to ALS, His Family Needs Your Help

by on 26 June 2017

John Kelly Sylvester (Sly), girls coaching director of Minneapolis United youth soccer club and former Minnesota Thunder player, passed away on June 16th.

John had a long battle with ALS and is the second Minnesota soccer figure in the past year to succumb to the disease. Making matters worse, John’s wife Tessie, who had supported John through his long struggles, found out she has cancer moments after John’s passing. Now Tessie and her two young children, Gus (6) and Freddy (5), need help from the community.

John Sylvester with the MN Thunder. Photo by Liz Schorn

On June 16, shortly after John Sylvester passed, his wife Tessie picked up the phone to call the funeral home. She received an incoming call at the same time — her doctor with the result of a biopsy she had recently had. Cancer has metastasized to Tessie’s liver and lymph nodes and, as a result, surgery was not an option.

Tessie met Sylvester in 2004 when they were both coaching young players in Woodbury. “Soccer’s always been my passion and John’s passion,” Tessie told the Pioneer Press. “We both played growing up and through college and John continued to coach.”

John found out he had ALS in 2010. The battle has been long but Tessie has been there every step of the way.

“If you didn’t know them you might not believe this story is real,” said Tamba Johnson, boys coaching director at Minneapolis United. He met Sly more than 20 years ago on the soccer field. Johnson played with the Tornado while Sly played for the Thunder. Sylvester started coaching in the early 2000s and joined Minneapolis United (MU) around 2005. He encouraged Johnson to coach and brought him along to MU after he started at the club.

“Tessie really stood by John and helped him through this. Now she needs our help to get her through this,” said Johnson. “She’s been the main breadwinner and when John got sick she had to cut back on hours to help him.”

Now Tessie is the one who needs the help.

“Tessie has a lot of support with her family. They are a very close and they are getting through it,” Johnson said.

“One thing I know for sure is I would not be standing here today if it were not for my family stepping in,” said Tessie. She has six siblings and her parents all living in West St. Paul. She said the community support has been “carrying us through this.”

“The support they have gotten from the GoFundMe page started for the family has made a big impact and encouraged her,” said Johnson.

Sly had a very big impact on this community and now people need to step up and support his family. They really really need our support as a community.

“I don’t want to say it’s not fair yet because I’m not ready to give into it,” Tessie told WCCO TV.

You can donate to Tessie, Gus, and Freddy and help support them in this struggle as Tessie will need to take time off to battle her cancer and help pay for medical and family expenses.

Please go here to help support the Sylvester family.


John Sylvester played for the Thunder from 1997 to 2000. He started his pro career as a midfielder, but soon found himself playing full back. He was All-State and All-Metro at Washburn High School and a Minnesota State Select player for seven years. He played 92 matches for the Thunder and scored four goals and had six assists. In 1999 he started in five of six playoff matches for the Thunder, including the Championship final against Rochester.

From right to left: Minnesota Thunder players, John Swallen, Mark Wielebnowski, John Slyvester and Amos Magee. Photo by Liz Schorn.

According to Thunder historian Scott Kerssen, Sly was a solid defender who used his quickness and tenacity to provide solid defense on the right, with the occasional bit of attacking flair. He was named to the A-League Team of the Week several times but did not receive the pro honors that some of his teammates garnered. He was an integral part of the Thunder defense, considered to be one of the league’s most stingy, during the latter half of its most consistently successful stretch in the pro ranks.

Beside Tessie, Gus, and Freddy, Sylvester is survived by his parents: Lloyd & Betty Sylvester; his siblings: Parnell Sylvester, Victoria (Wallace) Hicks, Regina (James) Jackson, Cora (Duane) Shorter; numerous nieces and nephews; and all of the soccer players, coaches, parents, and friends that John touched through his love of the beautiful game.

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