With both City and Duluth earning silverware in 2018, the North losing one of its stronger clubs for a year, and more USOC action on the way, it is sure to be an eventful 2019. Below are what we think you should keep an eye on for each club.
Minneapolis City SC
Coming off of what was easily the most dominant regular season in NPSL North history, City will surely be favorites for a playoff spot and the conference title. The offseason has seen a considerable amount of the club’s 2018 squad return, along with several new faces. Notably, the Crows picked up several players previously associated with other clubs in the area. These include Zuheer Al-Abase (VSLT and Dakota Fusion), Tyler Oliver and Kevin Andrews (Minnesota TwinStars). With an undefeated regular season in their pocket and a short lived playoff run in 2018 on their minds, the Crows will obviously be a club to watch.
Having overcome a mixed first half of the season which saw Duluth struggle to win and lose one of their two home games, the BlueGreens still proved dangerous, getting to the second round of the USOC, climbing back up to the playoffs, and becoming the first NPSL North club to win the NPSL Midwest Regional title. While the regular season proved tough throughout, including a tough second-to-last week 4-2 loss to City which decided the title, Duluth proved near impossible to beat in the playoffs. They’ll have a mountain to climb in the form of City’s ever improving squad, but if anyone is going to climb it, Duluth are likely your best bet.
TwinStars (web says MN, social media says MPB)
Finishing fifth in 2018, the TwinStars ended the year with a mixed record on the pitch and an unfortunately negative reputation off it. A freshly minted merger with MapleBrook Soccer Club could offer a breathe of fresh air in the latter regard.
The season was largely characterized by intensely physical play, cards of both colors, and a squad that had quality but didn't quite get over the edge. With VSLT out for a season, the TwinStars will have a big chance to push their way into the upper half of the table. Whether or not they take advantage of one of the conference’s stronger clubs being out will be up to time to tell.
Full of talent, Med City has yet to have a season equal to their potential. With that said, the club proved hard to beat and showed promise on the attack and defensively. After coming close to claiming the 2017 conference title, the Mayhem has spent much of its time as a tough club and a gatekeeper of sorts between the clubs challenging for the playoffs and those that are simply trying to pick up some points. Much like the TwinStars, Med City will have a chance to push their way into the playoff and “top three” conversation this season due to the absence of VSLT. If the Rochester-club can find make the magic happen, they may just prove a surprise playoff qualifier.
Sioux Falls Thunder
The strength of the Sioux Falls roster will face an early test, with a match against Duluth joined by two games against trailblazing independent Bugeaters from Nebraska. Roster details leaked show some returning players but a different duo in charge of the squad. Sioux Falls will surely be a tough team to play, though it’s unclear if they’ll be able finish higher than the second-to-last position they’ve claimed for the last two seasons.
There has been eery silence from Fargo but what few details have leaked out show enough returning players to fill a starting line up, and the few identifiable new names are mostly from the familiar home patch of North Dakota or South Dakota - either in their roots or their schooling. With a new coach, Jonahtan Melendez-Soloaga, the Chilean head coach of West Fargo Sheyenne High boy’s soccer, also in charge - if the leaks are accurate - predicting whether Fusion will contend or flounder is even more challenging than normal.
The fact is this is a club that has done well in the past, even if 2018 did not prove to be a good example of that success. With a second place finish in 2017 and a historic USOC appearance in 2018, only time will tell which version of the Fusion we see this summer.
La Crosse Aris
It should come as no surprise that Aris are widely expected to finish at the bottom of the table. With that said, the club showed it had some respectable players last season and every club should be careful to not fall victim to the club’s ability to sneak a point or two out of tough games. Aris showed they needed respect when they came close to derailing City’s title race in 2018 after drawing them 0-0. If the other struggling clubs don't keep an eye out, we may very well see the Aris Thessaloniki-inspired club make some interesting things happen this summer.
Duluth FC vs. Sioux Falls Thunder
Duluth will host Sioux Falls in both their home and season opener. The match, which will be the only face-off this weekend, will also be Duluth’s first at their new home. Duluth moved their matches to Duluth East High School after spending several years at Denfield High School, located in West Duluth. A new home will come with a new look squad, as the BlueGreens have brought in 15 new players in addition to several returning players. Duluth is the club with the stronger history and will surely look to start the year off with a strong home win, but Sioux Falls were frequently a tough club to play in 2018. Whatever the result, it will provide the NPSL North with an early preview of what to expect.