For TEBs latest look at football in the USA, I wanted to dive into the lower divisions of the sport which is an area we have touched on before.
While there is no pyramid in the game, there are levels. By that I mean, in the sport, to have levels and a pyramid you have to have movement between them. USA Soccer does not believe in that and this is a hot topic which is debated so much on social networks.
Minneapolis City SC is from the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), one of the amateur leagues. It is also a club in a city that I lived in for a decade. They have a great online following and their podcast is wonderful, so I popped back to have a chat with the club.
Q. Minnesota has a great history in the sport, can you tell the audience about some if it?
The game in Minnesota goes back a long time. The first men’s league, the Minnesota Amateur Soccer League (MASL), started in the fifties, and it continues to this day. The Minnesota Kicks filled the old Metropolitan Stadium in the NASL’s seventies heyday.
The more modern game began in 1990 with the founding of the Minnesota Thunder. They flipped in and out of different leagues and morphed into NSC Minnesota, then Minnesota Stars, then Minnesota United and now they are in Major League Soccer (MLS).
The old Thunder days were great. Especially at the beginning, it was a platform for Minnesota’s best players and, arguably, in the late nineties they were the best team in the country.
Minneapolis City began as an offshoot of an MASL club, because we saw that as Minnesota United moved up the leagues they were less able to be that platform for local talent. There was a vacuum in terms of player opportunity and an awful lot of nostalgia for the old, grassroots, authentic days of cheering on the local team. Remembering just how great that all was and having the player point of view, we started Minneapolis City for the 2016 season.
Q. Every club has a reason it is in existence so what is the story about Minneapolis City ?
We believe in people power. We call what we’re doing with Minneapolis City “DIY soccer” because, instead of reliance on one or a few rich people to set up a team, we got a group of regular folks together and built the club we wanted.
We made the club non-profit because no equity means no benefits to sell. We made it a member organisation because we wanted people involved, to truly be able to say that we were their club and mean it beyond us being the club whose merchandise they bought. We have a member board that sees every little detail and they are voted in by the members every year, for example.
We’re locally and community focused because we want to fill that old Thunder role. If a player is in Minnesota because this is where they’re from, where they went to college, where they got an internship, basically, any reason other than ‘because we recruited them so we could win some games’, then they’re the type of player we want. Local kids. We want to give them a chance.
We also want to use soccer to do good in our community. We’re super active with groups like the YMCA, Big Brother Big Sisters and we’re brewing our own plan to get soccer into our neighborhoods authentically. That’s what I’m most proud of.
Q. The league you are in, it’ i one of the lower leagues that we do not hear about much, what can you say about your league?
The National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) is one of US Soccer’s “division 4” leagues. It’s a national league with approximately a hundred teams split into four regions, and it has some ‘big’ teams.
Detroit City regularly draw over 7,000, Chattanooga are right there with them, and others like Asheville, Little Rock, Tulsa, Kingston, and New Orleans are consistently drawing 1,000 – 2,500 fans/game. We have seen big jumps in attendance every year and we are hoping to push that 1,000 fans/game mark this season and even if we don’t quite hit that, our attendance growth is really encouraging. Also, we only report people who redeemed a paid ticket at the gate when we say attendance, so in MLS accounting we’re well past 1,000/game already.
The level is very good, largely college players or immediately post-college. In our case, this past year we have seen one of our players go to MLS’ New England Revolution, one go to Sweden, and we have another on trial in Estonia right now. There is quality in the ranks!
Q. What is the goal of the club as far as the mission statement?
We exist to make a positive impact in our community through soccer. We do that by giving local players a platform to get to the next level. We do that by being active in our community and in community organisations. We do that by financially and otherwise supporting players, and going out of our way to find players who aren’t in the “system”, as it were.
Q. You guys already have a fun following, and a great podcast, what is it like to have that great of a supporter culture?
We are so lucky that we have the supporters that we do. When we started this, we were just a small group of people who were passionate about this local, DIY soccer idea. We weren’t sure if we were alone.
We aren’t alone, and as people have found out about City they’ve jumped right in to make it the club they want. Our Business Director, she found us on Twitter. The founder of our supporters group did too. So did our other Board Members, so did our volunteer who is doing our Facebook and Instagram. I could go on and on, but the point is that we’re a group of volunteers who have rallied around a cause and are putting a ton of time and sweat into building this, and it’s soccer that brought us together. We didn’t know each other before this. And the strength of the idea is that we keep meeting people and keep having them take over, grow and enhance what we’re doing. We couldn’t have done it without them.
Then, on gameday, when they’re singing, when the tifo and banners are waving, the drums going…our players wouldn’t play anywhere else. In fact, the opposition players wouldn’t either. They score against us and celebrate with our fans! That’s what passionate support does though, and that atmosphere makes it really easy to attract players. Who wouldn’t want to play in front of our fans?
Q. Does social media help small clubs and clubs starting up, more than we would expect?
It certainly helped us. We had a clear idea of who we were and a point of view on soccer, the local DIY thing, that we weren’t shy about sharing. As our ideas starting getting traction, having social media’s amplification power helped us immensely in getting the word out, connecting with and conversing with like-minded individuals.
Importantly, we used social media to be us. To talk about what mattered to us. To have fun and all that. Too often, smaller and start-up clubs see the success that other clubs have and they try to copy it. But it’s not about ‘best practices’, it’s about finding an authentic voice. If it’s authentic, it will find traction. If it’s a knock-off of someone else’s style or idea, it won’t.
In other words, social media is great and hugely helpful but only if you’re yourself.
Q. What is the most positive thing you’ve taken away from being in the sport?
Soccer is great at connecting people. For all sorts of reasons, it’s easy to separate into groups of similar people. It can be difficult then to truly connect with people who aren’t like you. But with a positive shared interest like soccer, those barriers, real or imagined, come down. When that happens, everything is better.
Q. Media in Minnesota has taken to the game, has it trickled down to your level?
We are so lucky to have great writers who are passionate about the game. The crew at FiftyFive.one, and especially Kyle Eliason and his photographer extraordinaire Daniel Mick, have been fantastic in their coverage of us and the other NPSL teams in our area.
We also have some great blogs, from the NPSL Northerner to more national blogs that will cover us from time to time like American Pyramid, Midfield Press, and others. We get a lot more coverage than others in as big a city with an MLS franchise in town.
Q. What are you looking forward to accomplishing for the year?
We would like to continue to grow, and in fact our early season ticket sales numbers indicate that we will. We would like to continue to make a difference in the community, and I believe that we will be able to do even more this year than we did last year.
We would like to continue to be a platform for talented players and, while we can’t expect a player to head to MLS after every season, I hope to see the continued movement of our players from NPSL to higher leagues. We want to find success on the field. While we finished third in our conference, only three points from the title, it represented a disappointing finish for us. I hope that we don’t get disappointed this year!
Q. What is your view of the new United States Soccer Federation (USSF) Presdient?
New USSF President, same as the old USSF President.