The Young Crows Find A New Perch


Few clubs at the grassroots level can claim the kind of brand management success of Minneapolis club MPLS City. With a slick approach to social media, merchandise creation, and successful cross-promotional relationships, City has become one of the loudest and most-respected voices in lower league soccer. Their approach is inspiring many of the new faces in the game to rethink their approach to social media and embrace that method for connecting with their potential fanbases.

MPLS City was founded in 2016 and joined the NPSL the following year. Since founding, the club has stuck to a roster building approach that focuses only on Minnesotan players. And while that approach flies in the face of many other clubs’ style, it hasn’t cost the club points in the standings. In three seasons, the Crows have only lost 7 matches and been to the regional semifinals twice. Homegrown talent is paying off and the club took the next step last week.

The Crows announced their U23 side, would be rebranded as MPLS City 2 and would be joining the UPSL next year. We sat down with club co-founder and president, Dan Hoedeman, to discuss the big move into the UPSL and what else might be brewing up north.

UPSL has to be thrilled with the addition of such an established brand.

UPSL has to be thrilled with the addition of such an established brand.

So why the UPSL over other regional leagues?

The primary reason for putting our U23 team, now called Mpls City 2, into a league was because the players wanted it: they wanted competitive games, they wanted to fight for a trophy, and they wanted the structure and focus that a league brings. They also didn't want the level of travel we had been doing while playing an independent schedule.

The UPSL in this area provides a compact geographical footprint for competition, which is valuable to young players who don't want to spend all weekend on the road to small and midsized upper Midwestern towns (even though it builds character).

Also, more prosaically, there isn't an established regional league with a footprint near us. We worked with some of the clubs that were trying to set-up the Great Plains Premier League, and it's a great group of clubs, but it wasn't quite coming together on the timeline we needed. I do hope it works though, the regional league network idea is a strong one.

How much crossover in the roster will occur between the NPSL side and the UPSL side?

The idea is that every MC2 player will be rostered with the NPSL side so there is maximum ability to call players in to that team. We saw that work successfully, and critically, last season. Guys like Eli Goldman, Mike Riley, and Noah Senn were called in to the NPSL team and played really important roles in last season's conference title. We want even more of that.

Will the UPSL side have completely different coaching staff/support staff/branding?

From a coaching standpoint we consider it two branches of the same tree (what is it about sports that brings out the lame analogies?). MC2 will a head coach, Ryan Nichols, who has been with the club for the past two seasons as an assistant. He knows the club. He knows the players. He knows the other coaches, and has a great relationship with NPSL head coach Matt vanBenschoten as the two are Bethel University alums who have worked together at Fusion Soccer Club and other clubs before. They will each lead their team and each have their own set of assistants, but will work together. That will include how we structure training, with some combined time and some separate time as part of each week's training plan.

As for branding, we're all one club. The team will get its time in the limelight, have its section of the website, and have its own hashtags (#YouthMovement #MC2), but this is Minneapolis City #OneMurder.

Image courtesy of  Urbanpitch .

Image courtesy of Urbanpitch.

Any specific plans for a themed shirt or a different kit?

Because we are one, single club the idea is that we will wear the same kit and have the same gear.

However, we also can't help ourselves when it comes to kit design so...

Will the UPSL side be playing both seasons?

We will just be playing over the summer. It's Minnesota, so starting earlier than May is impossible and winter starts pretty early.

In theory could both of these men's sides make the Open Cup?

Theoretically, yes. The NPSL could qualify via the league while the UPSL side could qualify through regional qualifiers. However, given that our primary focus will be youth (college and high school-aged players) for the UPSL team it's hard to see how the fall qualifiers will be contestable.

And it's just double the teams to get kicked out anyway..

[if you’d like more information on the incident Dan referred to, we’d recommend 551’s article.]

Can you explain the thinking of including access for NPSL season holders?

We have some really passionate, really engaged supporters. We're better because of it. So the idea of adding on extra fees and pricing wasn't really something that seemed right.

Also, we want to make sure that we are executing well. This first year will be a learning experience for us--it's double the events we have to execute in some form or another and that's a strain on an all-volunteer organization. Better to be confident that we can nail it first.

The club’s branding includes the use of a brick and mortar store font for their merchandise.

The club’s branding includes the use of a brick and mortar store font for their merchandise.

Any future plans for a women's side?

We have been thinking hard about this for a while now.

The key for us is that we execute it as well as we do the men's side. That means that we need to get the budget, the facilities, the coaches--all of the elements together and at a high standard. The budget piece has so far been the toughest part. But we're not willing to operate a women's team as a second fiddle.

We have a woman leading the charge in framing up the women's side opportunity for the Front Office and Member Board to consider. A great player in her day, she worked with my mild mannered alter ego Dan the Ad Agency Guy for years, and is the right blend of knowledgeable and passionate about the sport and razor sharp and business minded. She'll be working with the broader team to see what a roadmap looks like to make it happen. No promises on timing, but we're going after it.

- Dan Vaughn