The North Conference’s inaugural season was a boon to Upper Midwest soccer, pulling in teams from several different amateur leagues across Minnesota and neighboring states, and sowing the seeds of budding rivalries. Short-season summer leagues make player evaluation a tricky task, but there were a handful of players that sufficiently distinguished themselves.
Jade Johnson, F (Dakota Fusion) — Johnson’s 1.31 goals-per-game were the highest among any NPSL player (nation wide) who made at least seven appearances in 2017, as the forward scored 17 times in 13 games. It is likely that the 15-game schedule played by the Southwestern Conference cost Johnson the lead in total goals, finishing just behind former Minnesota Star Amani Walker and Tomas Canale, who each scored 18 times. Fusion were the biggest surprise in the North Conference last year, finishing second out of eight teams and earning the last playoff berth in the North, and they most certainly would not have done so without Johnson up top.
Martin Browne, CM (Minneapolis City SC) — No player in the conference was more difficult to dispossess than the technically-skilled Browne, who served as the cultured engine of the Crows’ midfield. Additionally, the left-footed Liberian was the most dangerous set-piece specialist in the North. To that effect, Browne got off to a blistering start in 2017 by contributing two goals and two assists from free kicks in Minneapolis’ first four games, and drew choruses of “Marty Party!” from Crows fans whenever he lined up over the ball.
Igancio Milla, CB (Med City FC) — Milla was the best defender on one of the conference’s two-stingiest defenses, as the Mayhem allowed just 16 goals in 14 games. The Chilean captained a Mayhem side that had the smallest goal differential (plus-seven) of any North team with a winning record, and the center back’s ability with the ball at his feet was nearly as important as his work without it. Milla fit perfectly into a possession-first approach that saw Med City set the pace in the North before a late-season swoon left the Mayhem just short of making the playoffs.
Sean Teske, GK (Minnesota TwinStars) — Taking only a quick glance at the conference table, it might seem odd nominating the starting goal keeper from a team that shipped more goals (33) than any other besides perennial also-ran La Crosse Airs FC. Rest assured, without Teske between the posts for the Dragons, that number would have been much higher. The Apple Valley, Minn. native made highlight-reel saves a regular occurrence and kept the TwinStars in many tough contests as the Dragons struggled through midseason roster changes and a lack of continuity.
Kyle Farrar, F (Duluth FC) — The ginger forward tallied a team-high 13 goals for a BlueGreens offense that led the North in scoring (42 goals). Farrar was the focal point of Duluth’s direct attack, and was relied upon to stretch the field and hold up the ball. The Englishman employed a combination of strength and guile, not only in billowing the back of the net at a rate of more than once a game, but also in bringing his teammates into an attack that saw no shame in dispensing with patient build-up play through midfield.
Ayuk Tambe, F (Viejos Son Los Trapos FC) — Tambe did not receive as much hype as Johnson or Farrar, and quietly finished the 2017 season with 12 goals in 14 games. The undersized attacker was a uniquely important player for VSLT, providing a vital spark of quickness and speed on one of the older sides in the conference. Playing for a team philosophically wed to controlling play through patience and possession, Tambe put opposing defenses lulled into a false sense of comfort to the sword.
Tom Greensall did a stellar job marshaling an intimidating Duluth defense, and was the best goalkeeper in the North not named Teske. His center back, Gonnie Ben-Tal, defined intimidating for the BlueGreens and was indomitable in the air. Former Minnesota Stars midfielder Eddie Buro pulled the strings in the center of midfield for VSLT. Amadu Myers was often electric on the wing, and it was a shame for Sioux Falls Thunder fans a need for management kept him on the sideline at times during the season. Med City’s deceptively-quick Jake Turnbull proved more than a handful for North Conference defenders and scored several key goals for the Mayhem. Center back Trey Benhart anchored Minneapolis City’s back line as the Crows equaled Med City in allowing just 16 goals on the season. Full back Charlie Adams received less notice than his teammate, Benhart, but was no less valuable to the Crows. Dakota Fusion winger Isaac Kehson‘s pace and athleticism helped keep opposing defenses from being able to focus solely on Johnson, and also produced a few impressive goals. Karim Darbaki was a handful to mark, and led the TwinStars in scoring while playing a free role that saw the attacker pop up all over the field.
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Tags: Ayuk Tambe, Best of 2017, Dakota Fusion FC, Duluth FC, Ignacio Milla, Jade Johnson, Kyle Farrar, Martin Browne, Med City FC, Minneapolis City SC, Minnesota TwinStars FC, NPSL, NPSL North, Sean Teske