Each Minnesota professional sports team proudly boasts at least one native on their roster. Joe Mauer didn’t go far from home to sign for the Twins and Adam Thielen suits up on any given Sunday for the Vikings. The Wild, Wolves, and Lynx all have their own home town heroes as well. The Loons were the latest professional team to join their brothers and sisters in the Twin Cities and wasted to time getting some Minnesotan blood on the roster.
Minnesota isn’t exactly known for being a hotbed for soccer talent, but that doesn’t mean we can’t produce some stars. The Loons have academy players in the pipeline and will be adding more in the next several years, but that’s still a few years away. Minnesota United are already taking advantage of players who grew up in Minnesota in Duluth native Ethan Finlay and Woodbury raised Brent Kallman. If the Loons continue to grow their presence in Minnesota, they can provide an outlet for the thousands of kids playing soccer all across the state, and be able to show off their hopefully soon-to-be-impressive ranks of homegrown players. For the time being, Minnesota United has spent zero minutes on their non-existent DPs and zero minutes on their currently 15 year old academy players.
How MLS Clubs are giving minutes to their academy players versus designated players through week 3.— Tutul Rahman (@tutulismyname) March 21, 2018
Still early goings where injuries can affect numbers but definitely seeing strategies play out here pic.twitter.com/hdyQTYEREW
So what kind of a team could we put together with soccer players from The State of Hockey? The eleven players below are selected from currently active players that were born or raised in Minnesota.
Goalkeeper is the position where this Minnesota XI has the most depth. In third place on the depth chart is Duncan Werling. The Minnesota Thunder Academy graduate just transferred from UCLA to Creighton for the upcoming college season. Two former Creighton University goalkeepers have come to MLS in the past few years in Connor Sparrow and Alex Kapp, so Duncan may be one to watch for the future. Second place on the depth chart belongs to 20-year-old Phillip Ejimadu. Phillip was born in Minneapolis to Brazilian and Nijerian parents and currently plies his trade in Brazil. He was called up to the most recent U-20 squad for this round of international friendlies, but as of writing has not gotten any game time. The starter in this team in Cody Cropper, a 25 year-old that’s spent time in England’s first and second tiers with several clubs, but now plays for the New England Revolution. Cropper moved from Atlanta to Minnesota when he was twelve and spent his high school years in Maple Grove before moving abroad. FiftyFive.one caught up with him three years ago and he shared a little about his friendship with Miguel Ibarra.
The right half of the back four is occupied by two former teammates. Eric Miller, who has three caps for the U-23 US National Team is well on his way to 100 appearances for the Colorado Rapids. Next to him is current Loon Brent Kallman. Kallman and Miller played together in the 2012/13 season for the Creighton Bluejays, anchoring the backline that would eventually lose 1-0 in the semifinals of the College Cup. Alongside Kallman is Andrew Kendall-Moullin. The 23 year-old Faribault native has played for a handful of teams between the USL and PDL, and has just recently signed for Atlanta United 2 for the upcoming season. Lining up on the left side of defense is former Loon Ismaila Jome. Jome was born in Gambia, but was raised in Minnesota and attended Prairie Seeds Academy. While generally regarded as an attacking player in his high school and college days, he filled in at left back last season and that’s where he makes his way into this lineup.
Anchoring the midfield is 6’2” Scottish holding midfielder Callum Mallace. Mallace attended Henry Sibley High School before going to college at Marquette University. He currently is under contract at LAFC, but sidelined through a knee injury. Just ahead of Mallace in the box-to-box role is another former Minnesota Thunder Academy player out of Lakeville. Tyler David headed straight south to play his college soccer at Saint Louis University and was drafted by the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2016, but signed with St. Louis FC after not being offered a contract out of training camp. Capping off the midfield in the ‘#10’ role is 21 year-old Jackson Yueill. Yueill was born in Saint Paul before attending college at UCLA and being drafted by San Jose. He has spent the majority of his time with the Earthquakes rather than with their USL affiliate and has been steadily accumulating minutes over the past year. If there is such a thing as “the one that got away” in terms of youth development, this is where it would apply for Minnesota United.
The right side of the attack is occupied by someone familiar to Loons and MLS fans alike. Ethan Finlay was born in Duluth, but would go on to play his college soccer at Creighton, becoming the third Bluejay to make it into this team. After being drafted by Columbus and earning few USMNT Caps(and being wrongly denied a goal), he began to slump. A trade back to his home state helped him to regain his form at the end of last season. On the left is 21 year-old Mukwelle Akale. Despite being born in Minneapolis and playing for Minnesota Thunder Academy, Akale decided to take a different route to playing professional soccer. At the age of 17 he left to join Villareal in Spain. Information on youth leagues in Spain is hard to come by, but he is currently playing for their C team and has scored a goal in the UEFA Youth Champions League. Leading the line for the Could Have Been a Loon XI is New England Revolution Striker Teal Bunbury. Canadian by birth, Bunbury grew up near Prior Lake and played in and around the Twin Cities before heading off to college. While playing for the University of Akron, he came home during the offseason to play for the Rochester Thunder in the PDL. He then signed a Generation Adidas Contract and was drafted by the Sporting KC and traded to New England four years later.
Minnesota Soccer Honorable Mentions:
Not everyone can make the starting XI, but here are a few people who deserve credit for what they’ve done for soccer, either as players or individuals.
Briana Scurry: No list of Minnesotan soccer players would be complete without one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. Two Olympic Gold Medals, one World Cup title, two Third Place World Cup medals. All that speaks for itself in terms of her playing ability, but she was made her mark off the field as well. Scurry was a founding member of WUSA, the first league where women were paid, and now is a coach in the NWSL. Legend.
Mark Abboud: As the twilight of his playing career ended, the Rochester native began to take a greater role in player development. He became the Director of Player Development for the Minnesota Thunder in 1996, despite still being on the roster as a player. After over a decade of working with clubs and players on development, he helped form the Minnesota Thunder Academy, which has produced several of the players in the starting XI.
Manny Lagos: Manny was born in St. Paul and has had a hand in Minnesota soccer for the better part of 20 years. His play for the Thunder in the early 90’s earned him a spot on the US Olympic team and a shot in MLS. He would go on to earn three caps with the full USMNT and is now the Sporting Director for Minnesota United.
Kyndra de St Aubin: The White Bear Lake native played soccer at the collegiate level for the University of Wisconsin and University of Minnesota. Following her college career she went on to begin a successful broadcasting career that includes college, USMNT, Womens’ World Cup, NWSL, and more. In 2017 she became one of the first female color commentators in MLS.
Is there anyone I missed? Anyone who deserves a spot on the Minnesota XI roster or as an Honorable Mention? Let me know down in the comments or on Twitter.