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New Northern Clubs Aim To Impress in the UPSL

Vlora City, Rochester FC, and the Dakota Young Stars have been announced as a new wave of clubs in the UPSL

Vlora City FC’s MASL line up from the Summer of 2018
Vlora City FC

Three new clubs based in the north, two in Minnesota and one in South Dakota, have been announced as joining the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) for the 2019 Spring season. While not all clubs have been officially announced as part of the league’s Midwest-North division, all three are expected to take part in this division due to geography.

While Minnesota’s lower league foot print has been explosive through the achievements of clubs like Minneapolis City and Duluth FC in the NPSL, the state’s involvement in the UPSL has been minimal and largely characterized by constant struggles. Granite City FC and FC Minneapolis were the two Minnesotan clubs to take part in the UPSL last Spring. Surrounded in their division by historied Wisconsin clubs like Milwaukee Bavarians, Croatian Eagles, and the Madison 56ers, both clubs struggled with Granite City finishing with a 2-0-8 record and FCM finishing with a 0-1-9 record.

The UPSL Midwest-North table as of the completion of the Spring 2018 Season
UPSL

Both Granite City and FCM scored eleven goals in their debut seasons but conceded 37 and 27 goals respectively. Both of Granite City’s wins were against FC Minneapolis and FC Minneapolis’ one point came in a 3-3 draw with Green Bay United. These results, combined with reports, particularly one featured in fellow Minnesotan soccer site Fiftyfive.one, that showed questionable actions by FC Minneapolis, left Minnesota’s first attempt at success in the UPSL seeming to be anything but accomplished.

While the three new clubs are by no means tied to 2018’s faults, their entrance into the league represents a new opportunity for clubs from outside Wisconsin to provide a challenge for some of the league’s giants and perhaps bring new life to the region’s presence in the league. With this in mind, we at E Pluribus Loonum wanted to break down each of the three clubs to provide a clearer picture of what to expect from them and the north in the upcoming UPSL Spring season.

Vlora City FC

Based in Minneapolis, Vlora City are easily the most historied of the three new arrivals. Founded in 2012 by Adi Bilani, the club has made its mark via two teams playing in the Minnesota Amateur Soccer League (MASL), where most recently its first team finished with a 6-2-10 record in Division 1 and its second team finished with a 13-0-3 record in Division 4, earning promotion to Division 3 for 2019.

Vlora City have a strong sense of diversity to pair with their somewhat historied resume. The club recently promoted the fact that it currently has thirty nationalities featured on its roster. Those nationalities include: Albanian, Bosnian, Mexican, Somalian, Kenyan, American (US), Jamaican, Congolese, Liberian, Nicaraguan, Ecuadorian, Zambian, Mauritian, Brazilian, Spanish, Guinean, Ghanaian, Honduran, Sierra Leonean, Thai, Ivorian, Ukiranian, Hmong, South Sudanese, Guatamalan, Italian, Togolese, Ethiopian, Czech, and Djiboutian.

Vlora City explain their diversity as a branch of their goal to succeed and build much more than just a soccer team. “The club aims to use its diverse makeup and experiences to develop players who have strong character and integrity in order to pursue their dream and be change agents within the community.”

Vlora City, like FC Minneapolis, will be competing with three NPSL teams for the Twin Cities lower league market. That competition, which is currently dominated by far by Minneapolis City SC, would and will be a tough one for any challenger. With that in mind, Vlora City are bringing a stronger network of playing experience and resources than any other Minnesotan team in the UPSL and they’ll surely be a club to watch out for.

Rochester FC

Rochester Football Club’s origins are perhaps the most eyebrow raising of the bunch, and in recent lower league history within Minnesota, as they represent much more than a simple market competitor to fellow Rochester, MN side Med City.

The club was founded this year by Midhat Mujic and Muharem Dedic. Mujic, the more attention NPSL North viewer may notice, played for Med City in both of its NPSL seasons. Mujic, interviewed for the Post Bulletin, stated this on the topic of Med City already bringing soccer to Rochester, “for us it is not a Rochester team.” Both founders, both on social media and in interviews, have continued to emphasis that their goal is to make this a team that is highly focused on the local element both on and off the pitch. With plans to feature top talents from soon-to-be high school graduates and college players in the area, the club will also be operating U-14 and U-16 teams in order to provide a development ladder for talent in the area and in theory lead them to action with the first team.

Rochester FC have also portrayed this approach in their mission statement as shown on their website. It includes this statement, “Objectives of the club include: diversity and inclusion; support of Rochester, Minnesota and surrounding communities; and building local talent through the club system for exposure to collegiate and professional opportunities.” The club, though about as young as one can be, has clearly made an effort to make itself present on social media (specifically Facebook, as they have yet to make a Twitter account) and through media coverage.

While Med City’s approach, not uncommon in the NPSL, to bring in out of area college talents to bolster their squad has certainly helped keep them one of the north’s top teams, it seems to have create a rift which now leaves us on the edge of a very interesting rivalry. Though it is unlikely the two will play outside of a friendly format, such a game would surely be fun to watch. In the short term we can expect both clubs to battle it out on the market place, where they will be fighting to win over as much of the Rochester soccer audience as possible.

Dakota Young Stars FC

Until now, there has yet to be UPSL club in South Dakota. That will change when the Dakota Young Stars kick off in 2019 as the second lower league team to call Sioux Falls, SD home, second only to the Sioux Falls Thunder of the NPSL North. The Young Stars are a largely unknown element, lacking the well-documented history of Vlora City or the powerful online presence of Rochester FC, but this does not put them at odds with many successful UPSL sides that are similar in their off-pitch presence.

I contacted the club to discuss their targets for their first season in a national league. Tarlue Zulu made it clear that the club has realistic goals but also wants to push the limits of everyone’s expectations, “Our goal for the first season is to not finish last in our division but we hope that we make it to the playoffs.”

The Young Stars have made some pre-season announcements as of the writing of this article, naming Azzaro Suehne as their head coach and Richard Waylee as their assistant coach. Suehne is an interesting signing, having coached the Sioux Falls Thunder during their 2017 season, the first season for the NPSL North. The Thunder ended that year second to last with a 3-4-7 record.

Both Dakotas are tightly strapped when it comes to soccer clubs of any kind and if the Young Stars can make their first year a memorable one, they may very well help change that pattern. The big question on many minds as they see this news, however, will be how both them and the Thunder will manage to both get what they need out of a traditionally not-soccer focused Sioux Falls sports fanbase.