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After strong second season, is it time for the NPSL North to expand?

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Duluth FC and Minneapolis City SC have both demonstrated positive models for success.

June 30, 2018 - Osseo, Minnesota, United States -  Duluth FC defender Sora Wakabayashi (26) passes the ball past Minneapolis City SC forward Will Kidd (12) during the Minneapolis City SC vs Duluth FC match at John Hansen Stadium. 

(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)
June 30, 2018 - Osseo, Minnesota, United States - Duluth FC defender Sora Wakabayashi (26) passes the ball past Minneapolis City SC forward Will Kidd (12) during the Minneapolis City SC vs Duluth FC match at John Hansen Stadium. (Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

You might not know it, but Minnesota is the home of one of the nation’s top amateur soccer teams.

Duluth FC, a member of the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL)’s North Conference, has advanced to the final four of the league’s nation-wide playoffs. The Blue Greens will travel to Florida to face The Miami FC’s second team in the semifinals. If Duluth wins, and the result of the other semifinal goes the right way, the national championship game could be coming to Minnesota.

This year was only the second season for the NPSL North, but the conference is already burgeoning with talent both on and off the pitch.

Dultuh FC have made the playoffs (last year as champions, this year as runners-up) in both seasons. And this year, champions Minneapolis City SC went undefeated during league play, eventually losing in the Midwest Region playoffs.

June 30, 2018 - Osseo, Minnesota, United States - Minneapolis City SC sing with their supporters after they defeat Duluth FC 4-2 and are crowned champions of the NPSL North at John Hansen Stadium. 

(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)
June 30, 2018 - Osseo, Minnesota, United States - Minneapolis City SC sing with their supporters after they defeat Duluth FC 4-2 and are crowned champions of the NPSL North at John Hansen Stadium. (Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

The Crows featured some of the top players from area colleges and many other talented players, as demonstrated in having their head coach, a defender, midfielder and forward all selected to the conference XI.

It’s not just City and Duluth at the top, though. Dakota Fusion faced some second-year struggles, but still have quality players. VSLT FC kept pace with the league leaders for most of the campaign but fell off toward the end. Minnesota TwinStars, Sioux Falls Thunder and Med City FC both had their moments, as did even LC Aris.

But Duluth and City have also demonstrated tremendous levels of organization off the pitch. Though the rivalry between them is at times hostile on social media, the two teams are both well-run, and that shows on the field for them.

May 9, 2018 - Duluth, Minnesota, United States - Duluth FC Goalkeeper, Alberto Ciroi (2) shouts for joy after beating Dakota Fusion FC in a penalty shootout at James S. Malosky Stadium. 

(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)
May 9, 2018 - Duluth, Minnesota, United States - Duluth FC Goalkeeper, Alberto Ciroi (2) shouts for joy after beating Dakota Fusion FC in a penalty shootout at James S. Malosky Stadium. (Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)
Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography

After another successful season, one that was even better than the first, there’s a question for the NPSL North to consider this offseason: is it time to expand the conference?

The process isn’t the same as MLS, but it might be time to bump the total to ten teams. Though the current set-up covers Minnesota fairly comprehensively, there are two St. Cloud- and Mankato-sizes holes.

St. Cloud currently features a UPSL team and a strong MASL side that has told us of future NPSL aspirations. And if the conference wanted to push the boundaries further, Madison and Milwaukee (Bavarians) are both good options, and Des Moines if the Menace could be lured away from the PDL.

May 22, 2018 - Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States -  Dynamo FC Saint Cloud defeated River City FC 1-0 in a match played at McMurray Fields. 

(Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)
May 22, 2018 - Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States - Dynamo FC Saint Cloud defeated River City FC 1-0 in a match played at McMurray Fields. (Photo by Seth Steffenhagen/Steffenhagen Photography)

It may well be time for the NPSL to bolster its coverage of the North and bring the fun to other cities around the region through expansion.