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Technical Difficulties: An NPSL North Drama

The saga of the rescheduled NPSL North clash between local rivals Minnesota TwinStars and Minneapolis City took a bizarre turn (updated with league comment).

NPSL North Conference logos

Technical difficulties.

That’s the meme generated by a tweet from Minnesota TwinStars FC on Monday, in which the club announced that their match against crosstown rivals Minneapolis City SC set for May 16 would be postponed. It led to merciless mocking from NPSL fans around the North Conference—as well as from Minneapolis City itself—and stoked questions as to why exactly TwinStars would be unable to fulfill a fixture with 48 hours notice. Of yet, TwinStars haven’t given explanation as to why the game was postponed.

Coming into the start of the season, TwinStars FC had two fixtures—May 16 hosting Minneapolis City and May 23 hosting VSLT FC—listed on the NPSL website as having a venue to be determined, both due to conflicting events at their usual home, Minnetonka High School. E Pluribus Loonum reached out to the club in late April to see if more info was available on where the games would take place and received no response. During their game against Duluth FC on May 12, the PA announcer noted that both of those games would be held at Prairie Seeds Academy in Brooklyn Park; after Minneapolis City’s match, players and staff were universally unaware of any venue announcement. Two days later, the announcement came out that the game would not happen, with Minneapolis City saying TwinStars notified them that no venue was secured for the game.

Minneapolis City SC Managing Director Dan Hoedeman confirmed in an email on Friday, May 18, that prior to the Twitter announcement, Minnesota TwinStars had not cleared the cancellation with them nor NPSL operations officials. “The TwinStars organization announced the unilateral cancellation of a scheduled league match via Twitter on Monday [May 14],” the email reads. “We were informed via email slightly afterward. Since then, we have been working with the league to resolve this unprecedented situation. Once we have that resolution we will communicate it without such maddeningly pregnant understatement.” Additional conversations with NPSL media and PR director Gary Moody confirmed only that league operations officials were working to confirm a replacement date.

As for there not being a stadium secured for the match, E Pluribus Loonum checked into this claim on May 16 by dropping by Prairie Seeds Academy, where Minnesota TwinStars was holding practice on the field with around two dozen players and at least two coaches, including head coach Youssef Darbaki. The practice occurred during the time window that TwinStars were supposed to play against Minneapolis City. EPL confirmed with sources close to the discussions that word of the practice reached NPSL officials. Minneapolis City SC has since included photos of the practice in a supporters newsletter and on Twitter.

Requests for comment from Minnesota TwinStars, who were given an adequate amount of time to respond, were not returned.

A quick glance at the rules available on the league’s website notes the procedure allowed for cancellations of matches. It reads:

(a) No game may be canceled prior to the scheduled date unless both teams have agreed on a rescheduled playing date and the Regional Commissioner has authorized the change.

(b) If a stadium is closed (due to “Acts of God” or circumstances beyond control) the league must receive notice in writing, in a statement of closure from the facility owner immediately after closure.

(c) The League Board of Directors shall establish a written policy for rainouts and all other cancellations including games in progress.

(d) Cancelled games should be rescheduled and played as soon as feasibly possible.

By the timeline confirmed by contemporaneous tweets and additional reporting, Minnesota TwinStars failed to contact both the league and Minneapolis City officials of the need to reschedule under articles A and B. Moreover, the league’s policy on back-up sites when a typical ground isn’t available (rule 6.06) allow for teams to mutually agree to waive certain minimum standards, i.e. on-site locker rooms and venue capacity, as well as for the league to unilaterally make concessions in favor of hosting matches as scheduled. While there was concern regarding Prairie Seeds Academy’s ability to meet the full minimum standard to host NPSL matches, officials with knowledge of the discussions believed it would be acceptable, a stance held by Minneapolis City and, by all accounts, confirmed in TwinStars’ ability to host VSLT FC at Prairie Seeds on Wednesday, May 23rd.

Because a unilateral cancellation isn’t allowed in league rules, Minneapolis City contended in a statement released this morning via both Twitter and their newsletter that Minnesota TwinStars should be subject to the rules governing forfeited matches. Under rule 1.15, NPSL teams who willfully fail to appear at a game without league agreement are subject to the following penalties:

(a) Loss of three (3) points from their standings and a League fine of two thousand, five hundred dollars ($2,500.00) and the forfeiture of all or part of a five thousand dollar ($5,000.00) performance bond by the canceling team. This may include travel costs, venue costs, other necessary costs, proven by paid receipts and referee fees. The gate will be paid at five hundred dollars ($500.00) [ed. note: this refers to if an away team fails to appear].

(b) The League Board of Directors will determine the compensation to the affected team to cover expenses as defined above.

(c)All fines and fees must be paid within seven (7) days.

(d)A team may be expelled from the league if it accumulates two No-Shows within one season.

(e)The score will be recorded as a 0-3 loss.

However, Minneapolis City announced that, after discussions with the league, no penalty will be enforced, and that the game will instead be rescheduled for June 14. In the team’s statement, they note, “We are disappointed that the league won’t enforce its own rules and think gamesmanship like this is unseemly, but we are here to play soccer games.”

League rules and bylaws don’t specify penalties related to misrepresented cancellations, which are certainly extreme circumstances, but under the rules it appears there were enough missteps in communication alone to force a forfeit. Minnesota TwinStars cited issues related to field booking—issues that have since turned out to be either false or acceptable by the league—but then unilaterally rescheduled versus getting team approval first. By making the decision to allow the cancellation to go without a forfeit, the league appears to be endorsing a team’s ability to cancel without investigating cause. If, for instance, a team didn’t have enough players to field a full team or was missing key players, the TwinStars example would suggest that cancellation due to field issues would suffice to push the issue down the road.

What’s unclear still are a number of factors, chiefly twofold: What were the technical difficulties that led Minnesota TwinStars decide to cancel in the first place, and why did the league decide to allow the cancellation without penalty? E Pluribus Loonum has reached out to both TwinStars regarding the factors that led to the cancellation and will provide updates as they become available.

UPDATE: Responding to a request for additional comments in an email this afternoon, NPSL media and PR director Gary Moody said, “We won’t have further comment.”