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USOC Match Preview: Duluth FC vs. Dakota Fusion

Cup glory awaits for two amateur clubs competing in the USOC for the first time

May 9th’s game between Dakota Fusion and Duluth FC is a historic marker for Minnesota in the 100+ years that the US Open Cup has existed. Dakota Fusion play their home games in Moorhead, MN, but don’t be mistaken the BlueGreens are the first amateur side to ever successfully qualify from Minnesota for the USOC. Fusion are the first club of any kind from North Dakota, to qualify for the USOC. They play in Minnesota, you say? North Dakota is two miles away from their stadium, and the Fusion front office is in Downtown Fargo.

Who doesn’t enjoy a border battle, eh?

The match will see the top two sides in the NPSL North conference last season square off at James S. Malosky Stadium in Duluth for an early chance to claim the trump card in bragging rights that a spot in the second round, hosting the USL’s Saint Louis FC, will surely represent. If the Open Cup is about minnows and whales, then the first round is where the best minnows go to prove their worth. Let’s hope the Northland weather plays ball.

The two clubs had a mixed record against one another in 2017 with both games proving disappointing for the home side. The BlueGreens grabbed a high-scoring road win early in the season with a 0-6 rout at Moorhead, but the Fusion reaped their revenge when they won 1-2 at Public Schools Stadium in June. The coming match will be hosted at UMD’s James S. Malosky Stadium, which Duluth will be hoping allows them to break the cycle of road wins.

This match will also illustrate the difference between qualifying through league position (as Duluth and Fusion did) rather than play-in games (as Mpls City/Stegmans SC tried to last year). After the Crows were sent to Rochester (NY, that is) for their final play in game, the rules were changed and this year a restriction on amateur teams from the same league playing each other was altered, so that if travel would otherwise be onerous - teams such as Dakota Fusion and Duluth FC can play each other.

Different roster rules also apply. Most intriguingly professionals who might want a preseason challenge can play, if they want to, alongside the usual high school kids, college students and journeymen. Many of the school and college kids may still be fulfilling duties to their scholarships and unable to play. Any player who does play for either side cannot play again for another side in the cup this season, even if they turn pro to do so.

Things to look for: Dakota Fusion

Oh...just the league’s leading scorer, 2017 Golden Ball winner (and West Fargo’s own) Jade Johnson, will be back for Fusion. He ran the Fargo Marathon before a game last season. I mean that literally.

It’s also a fair bet that the inventive trio of Beljulji brothers will be on the roster, since US Soccer ran a piece about them in their Cup coverage.

On the flip-side, no-one is absolutely certain who will line up alongside them, or much else, since the Fusion front office has sacked the coaches and locked the doors other than for the tryout, despite reaching the playoffs. In place are new head coach - Nick Becker, and assistant - Travis Ward, who have overseen wins by this phantom roster against U Mary (NCAA D2) and U Jamestown (NAIA).

Will the ownership and coaches use more local guys to prove that 701 > 218 is more than just math? We’ll see. For a squad that’s only played in empty stadia so far, Duluth has a fan-base which could challenge any communication if they aren’t drilled.

Whatever happens, Fusion host their next match only three days later on Saturday, May 12th against VSLT FC in the NPSL. Whoever wins will add another layer into the notoriously complex NPSL scheduling, with the 2nd round scheduled for the very date that the Northern sides were supposed to be playing each other in league play.

Things to look for: Duluth FC

For Duluth there’s two things on the mind. First comes the squad. We know that many of the standouts from 2017 will be involved this year, but we also know that new names are coming in and that May 9th puts this match only three days away from Duluth’s first regular season game against the Twinstars. All of this to say that it’ll be interesting to see what the line up looks like Wednesday night and how many new faces will be given a chance to impress.

The other topic of notice is simply the home factor, not just because of the bad luck both sides had hosting last year, but because Duluth don’t really have any home games for the first third of the season. Unless they win the first round and host the second, they won't play another home game until May 26th, when they host Minneapolis City. This match may end up being key not just for how it affects their cup run, but how it sets the tone for the entire season.

Atop all of this of course sits the opportunity to play a professional club in the second round. Though I would be amiss if I didn't admit that Duluth always love the idea of playing teams who wear the colors blue and green, an opportunity we hope will develop into a rarely played, scheme-based derby.