Making the Leap – Vlora City and Stepping into the UPSL
Based in Minneapolis, a club with several years of experience will soon find itself part of a nationwide league for the first time when Vlora City Football Club joins the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) in 2019.
Found in 2012 when it was created by Adi Bilani, Vlora’s expansion to the UPSL is a long time coming and the result of a process which has seen the club play in many forms. Bilani explained that the club has found its way up the ladder in Minnesota, “When the club was founded, it primarily competed in local tournaments in the Twin Cities metro area. After having success competing in local tournaments the decision was made to join the Minnesota Amateur Soccer League.”
Despite the Minnesota Amateur Soccer League’s (MASL) status as a beloved league within Minnesota, Vlora City knew it had the potential to take the next step. “After a few years of competing in the MASL the club was able to work its way up to the league’s top division… During this time the club began setting up friendlies against some of Minnesota’s semi pro teams and after having good showings in theses matches, the club decided it was ready for a higher level of competition.”
Vlora City FC will be joining the UPSL’s Midwest-North Division in the spring of 2019. The division is best known for its Wisconsin clubs, which include the Madison 56ers, Milwaukee Bavarians, and Hrvatski Orlovi (Croatian Eagles), but is also home to two Minnesota clubs; Granite City and FC Minneapolis. Both Minnesota clubs had tough first seasons in the UPSL, with Granite City earning a record of 2-0-8 and FC Minneapolis finishing last on the table with a record of 0-1-9. But all three clubs- along with the newly announced Rochester FC -will be hoping to change the narrative in 2019.
Despite the massive endeavor ahead, Vlora made it clear it has no plans to end its time in the MASL and will continue to field both its first and second MASL teams. “Yes, we will be maintaining both MASL teams. The teams will compete in DI and DIII of the MASL because we want to still provide opportunities for players to develop their skills and play at higher levels.”
Vlora City FC finished the 2018 MASL season in seventh place out of ten with a 6-2-10 record in Division 1, while Vlora City II finished second in the MASL’s Division 4 and earned promotion to the third division with a 13-0-3 record. With its presence in the MASL confirmed for 2019, Vlora City finds itself on the brink of a ladder of playing opportunities that, if executed well, could leave it a powerful entity. While Minnesota’s footprint in the UPSL is very much at an early stage, Vlora City and its growing network seem determined to enter the fray with some of the upper Midwest’s top organizations.
Vlora City’s notability doesn’t end at its growing network or recent promotions. The club earned attention and admiration recently after posting on social media that it currently had thirty nationalities or ethnicities present on its rosters. Those nationalities are: Albanian, Bosnian, Mexican, Somalian, Kenyan, American (US), Jamaican, Congolese, Liberian, Nicaraguan, Ecuadorian, Zambian, Mauritian, Brazilian, Spanish, Guinean, Ghanaian, Honduran, Sierra Leonean, Thai, Ivorian, Ukiranian, Hmong, South Sudanese, Guatamalan, Italian, Togolese, Ethiopian, Czech, and Djiboutian.
With players representing four continents, Vlora City finds itself representing, in quite a big way, a common theme in the United States when it comes to sports and most certainly the beautiful game. The fact that an organization containing people and ideas from every corner of the world finds itself growing positively in just about every way is perhaps the best testament to how soccer can provide bridges across ways of life.
Vlora City maintains that the sense of community and diversity that persists around the club is not just a positive, but a core value. “We believe that our diversity as a club is our strength. We want our club to be a model for other clubs by being a club that fully embraces all players for their love of the game. We believe everyone deserves opportunities regardless of their race, skin color, or ethnicity.”
The club expands on its diversity on its website’s “About Us” page, featured on vloracityfc.com: “The club aims to use its diverse makeup and experiences to develop players who have strong character and integrity in order to pursue their dream and be change agents within the community.”
If there is one lesson to be learned from Vlora City’s story- a story that starts in local tournaments and now finds it a new member of the UPSL -it is that clubs should pursue diversity as a point of strength. As Bilani puts it, “Everyone is welcome at Vlora City FC.”