Minneapolis City SC is a new high-level amateur team that’s beginning play this summer. In some ways, the club — small-time and fan-directed — hopes to fill the gap that’s been left by Minnesota United, which is moving on up to the big time and growing out of pro soccer’s roots as the Minnesota Thunder.
St. Paul coaching legend Buzz Lagos started the Thunder in 1990 as an amateur all-star team for local players, eventually building the team into an all-conquering second-division professional team. Mismanagement by a new owner caused the Thunder to fold in 2009, and only the efforts of a few — including the team’s motivated, involved fan base — kept professional soccer alive in Minnesota.
Minneapolis City is very much trying to tap into that same fan-directed, do-it-yourself spirit. Much like the original version of the Thunder, the team will be all-amateur. The team, which is set up as a nonprofit, is offering fans a chance to become “members,” giving them a vote on everything from the team’s jersey colors, to fan scarf designs, to the team budget.
The brain trust behind the new squad came from a partnership between two local amateur clubs — Internationals, a longtime powerhouse, and Stegman’s Old Boys, a more recent Minnesota Amateur Soccer League entrant. Dan Hoedeman, one of the founders of Stegman’s Old Boys, is serving as the team president for the new side and is excited about filling what he sees as a niche that United can no longer fill.
“United’s done a great job of raising the profile and the interest level in soccer,” he said. “But they can’t really act like the old Thunder days. I loved those days; you knew the fans, you knew the coaches, you knew the players. It felt like you were really part of something.”
The team is planning to recruit college players who want to retain their NCAA eligibility, as well as high-level amateur players from around the area. Rather than join a nationwide league, which would have been cost-prohibitive from a travel standpoint, the team will be part of the fledgling Premier League of America, which includes 10 other Great Lakes-area amateur clubs in similar situations.
City will play a nine-game schedule this year, including five home games at a yet-to-be-determined site in Minneapolis — and a home-and-home matchup with Milwaukee, a long-dormant Minnesota soccer rival.
More than 80 people turned out to the Local in Minneapolis for the team’s logo-unveiling event, so the interest level is clearly there. There’s no doubt a few of the team’s new voting members will be, like Hoedeman, longtime Minnesota United season-ticket holders that are thrilled to see MLS arrive in Minnesota. The plan for City, though, is aimed at those with nostalgia for the old days, when Lagos could start a local all-star team and defeat all comers.
SOCCER SHORT TAKES
• Local soccer journalist Brian Quarstad confirmed with MLS this week that Minnesota United FC will be allowed to bring its current players to its MLS squad, without having those players pass through the league’s arcane player-allocation mechanisms. This should make joining United this year much more attractive to MLS-quality players who are looking for playing time. Four-year MLS veteran Ben Speas, an attacking midfielder who officially joined the team Friday, is a perfect example.
• Futsal — the FIFA-approved, five-a-side version of soccer that’s played on a basketball-size court — has never really had a North American league, but that appears set to change. NBA owners Mark Cuban and Mikhail Prokhorov have purchased franchises in the 16-team Professional Futsal League, which is set to begin play in 2017. It’s an intriguing throwback to the days when indoor soccer was (mildly) popular in the U.S.
• Liverpool fans staged a high-profile walkout last weekend over the team raising season-ticket prices. The club itself is in a bind; TV revenue has skyrocketed, but every other club in England has reaped the same windfall, making Liverpool no richer on a relative basis.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
Serie A: Napoli at Juventus, 1:45 p.m. Saturday, beIN Sports. Juventus has won a club-record 14 consecutive Serie A games but is still two points back of Napoli, which has itself won eight in a row. This game will have the feel of a championship match; the winner will have the inside track on the title, while the loser will have to hope for the winner’s impossibly good form to end.
Premier League: Leicester City at Arsenal, 6 a.m. Sunday, NBC Sports. Leicester is no longer an underdog, not after stomping Manchester City 3-1 away from home last week. Arsenal, now five points back, desperately needs a win to stay in the title race. The Gunners are the only team to take Leicester apart all season, winning 5-2 in September. They must do it again to keep hope alive.
Premier League: Tottenham at Manchester City, 10:15 a.m. Sunday, NBC Sports. City is reeling after its destruction at Leicester’s hands last week, but Tottenham is quietly sitting in second place. Manger Mauricio Pochettino has Spurs closer to a title than they have been for a half-century. If the team’s low-key title challenge is to continue, it needs to keep City reeling.
La Liga: Celta Vigo at Barcelona, 1:30 p.m. Sunday, beIN Sports. Celta Vigo’s all-out style has won it a cult following and led to a few offense-minded clashes with Barcelona, one of Europe’s best attacking teams – including a 4-1 win for Celta in September. The visitors are dealing with a ton of injuries, though, including influential forward Nolito, and have won just one of seven La Liga games.