This is the fifth in a series of articles that take a look inside what it’s like to run one a lower division club. Because it’s topical, let’s talk scheduling.
With our season schedule announced—and season tickets available for purchase—it seems topical to dive into how we get games on our schedule.
The bulk of the schedule is easy. The stability of the NPSL North Conference, with only one change over three seasons, means that we know our opponents and our travel.
We play each team home and away so that’s 12 games this year.
Conference matches must be played between May 1 and July 13 and, as a group, we have agreed that matchdays are Saturdays and Wednesday. Each year, a member of the conference is tapped to make the schedule draft. Then, each clubs works with the other clubs to make adjustments as needed for stadium availability, local events, etc.
As a club, we work hard not to schedule home games when Minnesota United have a home game. That is why we have three Friday games this year. We’re nice neighbors.
As a club, we are looking to grow. That includes the schedule that we play and our particular focus is on playing games later in the summer.
People outside of Minnesota can’t quite figure out why having half of our games in May isn’t great from a weather perspective. I’ve stopped trying to explain it. Even deleted the picture of the 32 inches of snow we had on the ground the last week of April last year. Instead, I’ve been focused on getting us more July home games. And even an August one!
How did we choose which teams to play?
We really like and would like to play clubs like Kingston Stockade, Tulsa Athletic, and the like, but we have to be realistic about the travel.
We also have to navigate the politics of American soccer.
Politics are rife. For example, we’ve heard from a professional-ish team in a professional-ish league in a nearby state that despite their interest in a game they have been told not to accept friendlies against NPSL clubs.*
Typically, we start with our friends.
Sometimes it doesn’t work out because schedules are tough when dealing with the short summer season. Take Milwaukee Bavarians, a club we are close with. Between their USASA National Cup plans (and if you are into that competition check out Stegman’s SC, our affiliate club, as they will be competing in it with regional games starting in April**) and UPSL and Wisconsin Majors schedule we just haven’t been able to make a game work. The season is very short. We talk regularly though so maybe next year.
But sometimes, with enough lead time, proximity, politics, and scheduling does come together.
Then, the final screener—and why starting with friends is so important—is ensuring a match with the level of the opponent both organizationally and competitively.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to know the club that you’re going to play against.
While Twitter can make any team seem like a rising powerhouse, especially if they have a solid logo and a good social media voice, most teams aren’t.
That’s not elitism. There just aren’t that many powerhouse teams, rising or otherwise. There are, however, a plethora of mediocre to uncompetitive teams that are savvy on social media.
The UPSL seems to have exacerbated this issue by giving an imprimatur or “national” on teams that have poor competitive records in local amateur competitions.
Just recently, a UPSL side reached out to our Stegman’s 1977 team—a team that is packed with Minneapolis City players, has won the state league two out of the past three years, and has proven organization—asking if we wanted a game against their reserve team. Mind, this UPSL team played in the state league last year and finished something like 30 places below the 77s. And they wanted us to play their reserves.
Joining a new league doesn’t magically transform a team. Neither does a sweet Twitter game or the ability to pay a $2,500 entry fee in a “national” league. It has to be earned.***
The point is that we need to know that it will be a meaningful game. That we are playing a team that is a match on and off the field.
With our open dates in hand and our due diligence done on opponents with appropriate match and proximity, we start making calls.
In many cases, we have been working to pull a game together for a while. Take Union Dubuque. We have been speaking with them for almost two years now. We followed their results last season. We know that they are a like-minded club, working hard to build a competitive team on the field and a culture off of the field. They’re booked for August 3.
We care more about the competitive fit than the league the team plays in. That is why we will be facing Nebraska Bugeaters again this year despite them not being in an official league for 2019.
They have the quality of player, quality of organization, and financial backing to put out a good, competitive product. They’ve got great, engaged fans. They are the type of club that we want to build relationships with because they’re the type of club that our players and fans alike want to play.
Both of those clubs have a year under their belt, but that isn’t always necessary.
We are looking for an organization that can put out a team that our guys will look forward to facing and that our fans will look forward to watching.
That means that we are willing to take a shot on a new team, especially if they are trying to build something that we believe in.
Enter Des Moines Wanderers. This is a club on the rise, focused on providing competitive opportunities for local talent, and could grow into something very cool. We would like to see them grow into something cool. We have been speaking with them for about two years, too, sharing information, and watching their growth. Can a home-and-home with us help that? It would be cool if it did.
Scheduling is pretty discretionary outside of the league schedule, and, at our discretion, we make sure to play clubs that have something to offer competitively and off the field as well.
As we continue to grow, we want to expand our options. That typically requires financial support from us to the traveling club. And for the right opponent, we would do it.
But that’s for next season…
*I’m sure there’s nothing sinister there. Certainly not a reaction to the sort of league vs league wrangling that we are seeing in Chattanooga. Definitely not. I mean, I don’t know if it is or not, I just know it’s weird. And that I will surely get people texting me after they read this that I shouldn’t have said anything, that I have to play nice, that now they will never play us. Except they never will anyway. American soccer doesn’t help clubs like ours unless some rich f*cker buys the club and then they just try to co-opt it into a professional league where we give up our IP, our independence, and our purpose. Nope. Not interested in selling our soul so I can go to meetings with plush chairs and some minor league baseball team owners.
** On Twitter at @StegmansSC or www.stegmanssc.com
*** The top teams in the MASL are extremely good, just packed full of NPSL, Division 1, and former pro talent. The league has been around since the 50’s and many of the teams have a long, long pedigree. We used what we learned operating teams within that league, fighting for promotion, traveling to games, recruiting players, all of it, to give us the foundation to launch Minneapolis City. If you ask me, teams would be better off finding success in the MASL—proving their quality on the field—before thinking about the next step.
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