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NPSL North Recap: Week 8

Another week of NPSL action saw the playoff picture remain open for six teams and the grip on the top spot slip for Minneapolis City.

NPSL North Conference logos
NPSL North Conference teams

Wednesday:

Duluth FC vs. LC Aris FC

Earning their third straight clean sheet victory, Duluth kept themselves in a position to apply pressure to the top two by putting four past La Crosse Aris. Aris’ keeper, Alberto Centeno, stood out with a series of key saves which helped his side get to half time tied 0-0, but Duluth’s constant chances against the Wisconsin club proved too much as four different players scored, three for the first time. Duluth started the season by scoring eight goals in three games across two competitions, but now the BlueGreens have started to find their defensive stability. If they can tie that together with continued improvements on front line and have a little luck with other clubs’ results, the math is very much there for them to jump into the top two.

Sioux Falls Thunder FC vs. Med City FC

Sustained pressure on a rain-soaked field eventually paid off for the visiting Med City as they secured a 2-0 win against Sioux Falls. After a number of shots in the first half failed to breach the Thunder goal, the Mayhem eventually scored in the 52nd minute, with a cross to Francisco Neto easily slotted into the net. Neto added an assist on a set piece in the 67th when his corner was headed in by Alan Schembri Wismayer to double the lead. The Thunder were unable to muster enough to answer back, and finished the match with ten men following Seun Kolawole’s second yellow card in the final minutes.

VSLT FC vs. Dakota Fusion FC

This mismatch between a mid-table side and a playoff challenger was secured by Sikiru Kareem. Kareem scored in first half stoppage time. Mark Boquin scored in the 70th minute before Kareem scored again in the 72nd. Wilson Eduardo Alvarenga Guevara scored number 4 in the 75th minute and Kareem put the icing on the cake when he completed his hat trick in the 76th minute. The 4 goals in 6 minutes were too much for a full strength Fusion squad. The night was also notable for the return of Stephen Harris between the posts for the North Dakotans. Los Viejos finished the evening having reclaimed some of the momentum cost by their defeat by Duluth.

Minneapolis City SC vs. Minnesota TwinStars FC

The undefeated Crows seemed poised for a win over their new rivals in the Minnesota TwinStars. The chippiness of City’s 1-0 win last week remained, but there were goals to be had in this edition. The Crows got things started early with a converted penalty by Max Stiegwardt after Will Kidd was sandwiched in the box. Minneapolis City looked poised to score more, but it was TwinStars who equalized shortly after by way of David Kromah. Stiegwardt would strike again at the half-hour mark when his shot took a slight deflection into the opposition’s net. TwinStars would come back yet again just before halftime. They were awarded a penalty that seemed to confuse everyone but the center official, including his assistant and the TwinStars player who went down. Nonetheless, Darbaki converted to level the score, taking time to celebrate in front of an unexpected contingent of TwinStars fans.

The score would stay at 2-2, but the tail end of the second half was certainly exciting. Both City and TwinStars had opportunities to take all three points, as the Crows even hit the crossbar. In the culmination of the game’s testy atmosphere, Hawkim Sinneh from TwinStars was given a straight red for stomping on the groin of a City player. Amidst the expected flurry of discussion surrounding the referee, the ejected player then threw a flurry of punches at Minneapolis City’s Matt Elder, their goalkeeper and captain. The card drew a two-game suspension.

Saturday:

LC Aris FC vs. Minneapolis City SC

To say that Minneapolis City was expected to win against Aris is an understatement. Aris came into the match having only earned a single point in league play in the prior three seasons they competed in, a home draw against second-bottom Sioux Falls last season; City came in undefeated and in the top ten in points per game in the nationwide NPSL table. So when the word filtered from the away fans—the only reporting present—that both sides played to a tepid 0-0 draw, the shock waves reverberated throughout the league. Aris by all accounts were effective in bunkering, keeping attacks disjointed for the visitors. On the other side, the Crows played with a short side weakened by injuries and other absences. Whitney Browne joined the long injury list due to a hamstring pull sustained against TwinStars, while Max Stiegwardt, Juan Louis, and Martin Browne, Jr. were also left out of the traveling group.

Dakota Fusion FC vs. Minnesota TwinStars FC

Fusion and TwinStars faced each other in the WPSL the following night, and that game finished 4-4. The NPSL match had more in common with that, than with the previous match-up between the two mens sides - where TwinStars took the win after a 15 minute red card substitute appearance by Lawrenzo Toe (who has not played again since)

Fusion did not allow the absence of talisman Jade Johnson to a knee injury to stop their momentum and in the 8th minute, West Fargo’s Ben Prochniak drove down the right wing and drove a pass into the box, adroitly finished by George Gauld for a 1-0 lead. After a period of pressure, Akeem Smith - also a West Fargo Packer - finished off a neatly executed passing move and a pass through a busted TwinStars offside trap from Mohammed Bangura. The game saw chances for both sides before Smith added his second of the match on 38 minutes. That pattern continued all the way until the 68th minute when the visitors broke away on the counter and Chase Wright passed the ball under the sliding Habib Beljulji, who had taken over in goal. Crisp interplay by TwinStars was finished for their second goal of the game by Andrew Avram in the 80th minute and the pressure on Beljulji’s goal continued until the final whistle but Ethan Pitre’s goal in injury time was not enough to complete the comeback and the match finished 4-3 Fusion.

Duluth FC vs. Sioux Falls Thunder

On a night full of surprises, Duluth FC got just what they needed; the expected result. The BlueGreens avoided the slow start and lack of energy they showed against La Crosse in the first half and instead found the net twice in twenty minutes. Another two goals would come in the last fifteen, cementing their fourth clean sheet win in a row and of the season. Despite the scoreline, the game featured an intensity and intelligence of play on both sides that had been largely missing from the previous match, with both Duluth and Sioux Falls providing exciting runs of possession and chances. To get out of this game with a few goals and without conceding is a major testament to how much this squad has changed and grown since the early weeks of the season when they struggled not to concede on a regular basis.

With the top half of the table getting interesting, the best thing Duluth can do is keep their head down and do what they’ve been doing the last few weeks, hoping that the rest of the conference does what it needs to do to help hold them in the top two.

Med City FC vs. VSLT FC

The temptation with a 0-0 draw is to call it “honors even,” but a match with seven yellow cards and a straight red likely needs a different honorific. VSLT opened the match looking to defend with numbers, and their resolve to stay behind the ball was tested regularly with Med City controlling possession and getting the majority of chances. The task became more difficult in the 25th minute, with Kapaw Htoo getting marching orders after a dangerous studs-up challenge on Ignacio Garrido. Hard fouls continued throughout the first half with the visitors picking up two more yellows and the hosts joining in before the whistle blew. Unfortunately for Med City, their advantage didn’t change their now trademark wastefulness with scoring chances, with Francisco Neto and Niklas Roessler both missing golden chances wide.

NPSL North Standings - Week 8

Team Record Points
Team Record Points
Minneapolis City SC 7-0-4 25
Duluth FC 6-1-4 22
VSLT FC 6-2-2 20
Med City FC 4-3-4 16
Minnesota TwinStars FC 4-4-3 15
Dakota Fusion FC 4-4-3 15
Sioux Falls Thunder FC 1-9-1 4
LC Aris FC 0-9-1 1

Schedule for Week 9:

Wednesday:

LC Aris FC vs. Med City FC

Things can go one of two ways for Aris now that they’ve earned a point against the top team in the conference: either the world of possibilities has been opened, propelling them to greatness, or history can take hold and the single point will work as a ceiling that the club will fail to break. With Med City desperate for points to keep a glint of playoff hopes alive—and the shock result from the weekend forcing teams to take Aris seriously—expect a little bit less complacency from these Citizens, even if they’ll miss suspended regulars Iggy Milla and Finlay Bloodworth.

Duluth FC vs. Minnesota TwinStars FC

Following a string of positive results, Duluth FC will need to keep it up if they want to maintain their newly found second place standing and challenge for first. The TwinStars are coming off of two hard fought, but drastically different, results. Their 2-2 draw against Minneapolis City showed they still had it in them to challenge for points, but their 4-3 loss to the Dakota Fusion showed that despite their strengths there are weaknesses to be taken advantage of. Should TwinStars fail to pick up three points, they’ll be eliminated from playoff contention; a win by Duluth would also eliminate Dakota Fusion.

Minneapolis City SC vs. VSLT FC

The second installment of the Green Line Derby takes place in the shadow of City’s loss of Whitney Browne and a pair of games where the Crows have dropped points. With VSLT holding a 1-0 lead in a yet-to-finish game against Aris, Los Trapos will be looking to place themselves back in the playoff spots. For City, a win won’t clinch the playoffs, but will definitely help to reset the momentum. VSLT will be short Kapaw Htoo due to yellow card accumulation.

Sioux Falls Thunder FC vs. Dakota Fusion FC

Whilst not as woeful as Aris, Sioux Falls Thunder continue to under-perform and Fusion will be hoping that they can continue to pick up points. SF, on the other hand, will be hoping for some home cooking.

It has also been announced that the absence of Fargo South’s Jacob Weiler from the Fusion defence for the past few games is because he has secured a contract in the fifth tier of German soccer for SC Hauenstein.

Saturday:

Minnesota TwinStars FC v Aris SC

It’s entirely likely that both clubs come into the match eliminated from the playoffs, so the edge that TwinStars have become noted for this season might be dulled a bit. That could mean that the controlling style that has shown well for them all season could shred even the most organized of Aris defenses.

Med City FC v Dakota Fusion FC

Med City will be hoping for a sharper edge in front of goal than they showed in Moorhead, when the two midtable sides ground out a 0-0 draw. Wins and help from poor results for Duluth and VSLT will be the only way either team escape the weekend with a chance at the playoffs, and with the Fusion only having three road points on the season they’ll hope to take a better performance into Rochester, where the Medics have a 2-2-2 record on the year.

Minneapolis City SC v Duluth FC

Coming into the season, this derby match looked even more significant than usual given its placement on the penultimate weekend. Things have proven right, with both teams able to clinch playoff spots with a win in this game depending on other results. City will hope to see their offensive spark return against a defense that starts this week with four clean sheets in a row, while Duluth will know that any dropped points leave the door open for rival sides to catch the second playoff spot.

Sioux Falls Thunder FC v VSLT FC

VSLT will be buoyed a bit by the 1-0 scoreline in their early-season reverse fixture in what will be a must-win to keep the playoff race tight into the final weekend. The St. Paul club has been a two outcome team all season, with all but one game finishing on either a 1-0 scoreline or with one side scoring five goals. The Thunder will look to regain some pride in this match from a home result against a top conference team, having already held Minneapolis City to a draw earlier this year.

*For exact kickoff times, locations, and tickets, visit the websites of the home club, which can be found by clicking the bolded team