Every Monday and Tuesday from 9 to 11 p.m., a supply chain planner, a Division I athlete, a salesman, a nanny, a Minnesota United goalkeeper coach and a slew of other footballers meet at a sports and fitness center in Eden Prairie.
Some are there to remember their glory days. A few are keeping themselves in shape ahead of the college season. Many are simply searching for high-level soccer.
Regardless of the why, the group congregates with one goal in mind: to win a soccer championship. The motivation is what keeps the Minneapolis City SC Crows together and has players practicing at odd hours of the day, long after everyone involved is finished with their day jobs.
Life for Minneapolis City, a fourth-tier soccer team playing in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), is successful. The team’s practice and match schedules are packed from April to August, but it translates to victories.
“It’s attainable high-level soccer,” said Jon Bisswurm, who founded the team with childhood friend Dan Hoedeman. “It’s a fun atmosphere. Just because it’s ‘lower level,’ it’s not bad soccer.”
Gap between college, pros
The Crows, founded in 2016, play home games at Edor Nelson Field on the campus of Augsburg College. In recent years, sellouts have become more frequent for City, occasionally surpassing 1,000 fans.
None of the players is paid, meaning everybody is an amateur athlete. Though Bisswurm prefers “professionally amateur,” a term he and Hoedeman coined.
The duo, who grew up together in Dayton, Ohio, created City when they realized there was a vacuum between the college and pro levels in the Twin Cities. Bisswurm, who moved to Minneapolis from Milwaukee in 2010, was used to having highly organized, high-quality amateurs playing within a professionally run club.
So the two created Stegman’s, a soccer club that competes in local Minnesota leagues. Eventually, Minneapolis City came about when they expanded on their playing footprint opportunities. The club was named Stegman’s after their youth soccer coach.
“When Minnesota United was making the move to MLS, that opened a gap from a playing standpoint,” Hoedeman said. “At MLS, you just can’t have a team full of Minnesota players, we’re not a big enough state.”
City also has a U-23 team that plays an exhibition schedule instead of the NPSL league schedule. The two teams combined have 50 to 55 people.
Road trips with atmosphere
As part of the North Conference of the NPSL, the Crows primarily play against teams from Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. They’re currently in first place in their conference with an 8-1-1 record.
The team drives to road matches, with players and coaches piling into vans to make multi-hour treks. The shorter ones go to cities such as Duluth or Rochester. Further hikes have them going to Sioux Falls and Fargo.
Once they play their matches, usually on Wednesday night or the weekend, they make the drive back to the Minneapolis the same day. On the odd chance it’s too late or too far to drive back, they will grab a hotel. But that’s rare, as Mark Heydt, the supply chain planner, put it.
“We understand that the team is trying to function as a business,” Heydt said. “In order to do that, you need to save costs if you can. It’s not like it’s uncomfortable or unprofessional. Honestly, it really cultivates that team atmosphere.”
Heydt’s background is similar to most of his teammates. He played in college for St. Thomas, then turned to City when he wanted real, competitive soccer. Others such as Jacob Swallen, a rising sophomore for Wake Forest, are staying in shape for their upcoming college season. The age range includes the teenage Swallen all the way to Ben Wexler, the oldest member of the Crows at 33.
For Jeremy Clark, the academy goalkeeper coach for Minnesota United, playing with City helps with his coaching. The Michigan State product also gets to boot up and play for the first time in roughly six years.
“It’s competitive day in and day out,” Clark said. “It’s not men’s league where you just come out and play. You actually have to come out and put some muscle and effort into it a little bit more.”
Minnesotan time and again
The primary draw of Minneapolis City SC — whether it be owners, coaches, players or fans — is the local aspect. No matter how great you are at soccer, you must be a Minnesotan to play on either the NPSL or U-23 team.
By the team’s own admission, the definition of Minnesotan is loose. Essentially, you need a place to live while playing for the Crows. The primary reason, Bisswurm explained, is they don’t import any players to City like some of their rivals do.
That preserves the deeply rooted local ties to the team, which is a big plus to players and, more important, their fans.
“On other teams in the NPSL North, and across the country, they have to recruit guys and house guys from overseas,” Heydt said. “It’s very organic here at City. They do their best to cultivate local talent.”
Those local ties are seen best with “The Citizens,” City’s loud, cheery supporter section. A majority are also season-ticket holders for Minnesota United. But there’s a certain grassroots feel to City that keeps them coming back, a nostalgic nod to the heyday of the Minnesota Thunder of the 2000s.
Season ticket members even get a board vote on certain team matters, like where home games will be played should Augsburg be unavailable. That’s what keeps bringing back City fans like Matthew “MJ” Johnson, Doreen Hartzell and the rest of their heckling section.
“The beautiful thing about soccer is that it has a little bit more established tradition of singing and bonding together,” Johnson said.
The local ties to the team keep the fans involved, keeping them that much more “approachable,” as Johnson put it. City plays host to end-of-season banquets and events, getting more input from the supporters who help keep them afloat.
Fans said they also love getting to actually meet and interact with the players, no guarantee at the highest levels of soccer in the U.S. or overseas.
If they want to get even more involved, they can also give back a little more through volunteering.
“The truth is, because we have that real local commitment, because we have this mission of opportunities for our players, we get people to volunteer their time and talent I’m not sure other clubs get,” Hoedeman said.