FC Minnesota: Blending Trendy and Substance
With its seventh season under its belt, FC Minnesota has had an immensely eventful 2018. First, the club achieved a first place finish in the Minnesota Amateur Soccer League’s (MASL) Division 1. MASL is a state league based in Minnesota’s Twin Cities metropolitan area and a major source of lower league soccer culture within the state. FC Minnesota’s winning season came in its first year following a rebranding move which saw it cease to be known as the Trendy Lions, a moniker the players still hold dear today. The other huge announcement was the club’s entrance into the 2019 U.S. Open Cup qualifiers. Receiving a first round bye, the club will play its first USOC match on October 20th against Saint Louis Maritsa of the UPSL. As FC Minnesota’s profile expands day to day and week to week, we decided to talk to Matthew Cross about the club’s growth, attitude, and goals looking forward.
Based and associated with the Blaine Soccer Club program, which provides opportunities for people of many ages from children to adults, FC Minnesota’s goal above all has been to stick to its positive ideals and message. “As we made the switch to FC Minnesota and brought the team under the Blaine Soccer Club we have also built this season around the phrase ‘Great People, Great Players, Great Club.’ The power of letting quality soccer players play with their friends in an environment where they are free to play as they please is something special.”
That community-focused attitude has been vital for FC Minnesota, which works with local businesses and programs like Blaine Soccer Club and Invictus Brewing Co. to both keep the engine running and expand its reach. “It’s huge from our perspective… the key is to continue to be active in the surrounding community. Invictus Brewing Co. has been a key sponsor… and has gone above and beyond our expectations and we appreciate all they have done so far with us. We don't want to stop with just Blaine Soccer Club as we also have ties with St. Croix Academy and now Maplebrook. As a youth player in the state of Minnesota there is a bit of unknown as you make the jump from club soccer to college soccer and FC Minnesota wants to fill that void.” Through a common aim of building local soccer, FC Minnesota walks the walk when it comes to combining community ties with strong effort and coordination on the pitch.
Cross also made it clear that FC Minnesota isn’t afraid to use the experiences of other ambitious soccer clubs in the area, like Minneapolis City SC, as a guide on what to do and not do. “Minneapolis City has done a great job at doing that over the past couple seasons with the NPSL team and now the U23 team. They have a model that is working and putting a great product on the field.”
With October 20th looming ever closer, the topic of conversation quickly shifted to the U.S. Open Cup and FC Minnesota’s nearing debut in the 106th year of the competition. The club will be facing Saint Louis Maritsa of the UPSL’s Midwest Conference - West Division. Maritsa earned a 3-4-1 (WDL) record last spring and is not taking part in the UPSL’s fall season. Cross and the club are not blind to the fact that the challenge will be one of their biggest, “I think we are taking things step by step... We have watched video of the team we are playing, however we just want to come out and compete.” Cross does, however, see a silver lining to the cliff ahead and reason to believe that the Blaine club could very well make the trip to Saint Louis one to remember. “With the top three teams in the MASL having multiple NPSL players on their rosters and half of our roster playing in the NPSL themselves I think that we have the quality to compete regionally anywhere.”
FC Minnesota’s roster is a strong one, featuring standout NPSL North players like Tyler Oliver and Karim Darbaki of the Minnesota TwinStars, Justin Oliver of the Minneapolis City side that won its conference undefeated in 2018, and former pro Brian Kallman, best known in Minnesota for his play with Minnesota United in the NASL days. Asked about what it means to be able to carry around such a strong roster, Cross kept himself humble but also highlighted just how much talent the club has at its disposal. “We are going to bring a light roster to St. Louis, as we are going with the quality over quantity method for our first away game. Of the twelve players traveling to St. Louis, six of them played DI Soccer and five played with the University of St. Thomas when they went to the NCAA DIII Final Four. It's a very close group that is going who have tons of confidence already and we are still two weeks away.”
On September 3rd a rumor was reported on by soccer media outlet 9 Cities Soccer. The group reported that it had evidence that the Minnesota TwinStars and FC Minnesota would merge at the NPSL level following a separate merging by the Minnesota TwinStars in the Blaine area at the academy level. These reports eventually ran dry and there have not been any developments since the initial report, but the situation did lead to some interesting interactions on social media between FC Minnesota and various lower league soccer journalists based in Minnesota. With that in mind, I asked Cross if he could comment on any updates in regards to the side’s hopes of playing in the NPSL or UPSL in the near future. His reply may very well be the most interesting sentence in this article. “I know we are very active on Twitter and in the next couple months I would look out for some news regarding NPSL and WPSL.”
FC Minnesota will play its first USOC qualifier in the second round on October 20th and will potentially be one of four Minnesota clubs in the competition proper next year. Regardless of how the qualifiers go, FC Minnesota is a club worth keeping your eye on as it seeks to expand its brand, community, and ability on and off the pitch. With many questions left waiting for answers, we can only put our trust in the fact that FC Minnesota will keep to its word and follow its old but not outdated catchphrase: “Stay Trendy Minnesota.”