By Bobby Mohr
Upon my approach to downtown Minneapolis from the southwest suburb of Edina, I followed a snow plough down interstate 394 that, despite its best efforts to clear the roads, only pushed debris into the more central lanes and kicked powder up onto my windshield. From what I understand that’s Twin Cities life in December, though. But apart from overworking my wipers, the inconvenience was far from worrisome. The usually photogenic Minneapolis skyline had been curiously halved by an unusual blanket of smoky fog, and according to my clock, I was well ahead of schedule to meet Dan Hoedeman, one of Minneapolis City Soccer Club’s three founders. It’d been The Away End’s initial intention to link up with the Minneapolis City crew at the bar in which their idea to start a soccer team had first hatched, McMahon’s Irish Pub on East Lake Street. However, we were over five and a half years too late to make that rendezvous a reality. Tragically, the building that housed McMahon’s was lost to a fire in 2010. But that’s done little to thwart the blossoming idea of MCSC and its visionary group of members. As you’ll read in this article, very little does, in fact… even the looming presence of an MLS franchise set to kick off in their own backyard come 2018.
At half past one in the afternoon I met Dan at the Crooked Pint Ale House, a frequent haunt of the local American Outlaws chapter, for a midafternoon Premier League match. Dan now works for a local advertising agency with his childhood friend and co-founder of Minneapolis City, Jon Bisswurm, who would have loved to have joined us if it weren’t for the unpredictability of holiday travel. The third co-founder of the group, also unable to attend our last-minute meetup, is Nick Sindt, a buddy Jon knew from the neighboring Wisconsin soccer scene where both Nick and he attended college. The three of them are the architects behind Minneapolis City Soccer Club, a people’s club and family in its own right.
“Minneapolis City is a community,” Dan explains to me. The culture of MCSC is a family tradition, literally and figuratively. The founders’ vision is for the clubs’ members to say that they’ve played for the club at some level, that their kids now play for the club, that their friends play or have played for the club too, and so on. Furthermore, the structure of the club is already setup to make that dream a reality – five men’s teams competing at varying amateur levels and a women’s team starting up this year. There are over 100 players in the club’s system and a place for everyone to play. So ultimately the last piece of the puzzle must be a full senior team. But before we dive too deep into what the future has in store, to appreciate how far the club has come, we have to trace MCSC back to its roots: Stegman’s Old Boys.
Once upon a time, Jon and Dan played youth soccer together in Dayton, Ohio. Their then coach, Mr. Stegman, was a tube sock-sporting, classic Adidas Copa-wearing, magnificently mustachioed man with an overly-keen sense for fitness. So, many years later in 2010, a year after Jon moved to Minnesota, the pair decided during bingo night at McMahon’s that instead of having Jon join Dan’s men’s league team, why not start their own? And who better to name it after than Mr. Stegman, himself? Since then a lot has happened, though. Stegman’s Old Boys merged with FC Internationals in 2015, a traditional powerhouse in Minnesota’s top men’s leagues since 1977, to form Stegman’s Soccer Club – 13 MASL Division I titles and 8 Minnesota Cups. How’s that for a trophy cabinet?
Dan tells me that Minneapolis City SC is “powered” by the Stegman’s solid foundation. The purpose of the Stegman’s amateur sides is to give adults an enjoyable, competitive outlet to play a game they love. The title of Minneapolis City SC is the name of the club’s new full team. Why the name change? The full team is named after the city that has brought all of the Stegman’s club members together. Essentially, if it weren’t for the city of Minneapolis, Stegman’s nor Minneapolis City Soccer Club would exist.
Forming a men’s league team over a game of pub bingo is one thing, but creating a professional-ish club is a totally new ballgame. If the foundation of Stegman’s members is made up of recreational adult players, then where are they supposed to get the talent to perform on a semiprofessional level? Well, Dan has an answer for that too. Because there are no Division I men’s university soccer programs in the state of Minnesota, if you’re a local DI or even D2 quality player, chances are you’re not sticking around. Moreover, you probably aren’t coming back to Minnesota to play in the summer either; you don’t want to lose your edge when you could join a semi-pro team elsewhere. But what if there was a place for these players in the Twin Cities region to play and develop in a competitive semi-professional environment, particularly in the summer, without forfeiting their NCAA eligibility? Now you’re on to something. Dan shamelessly uses himself in this example. These guys, talented players from Big East schools or those on a similar plane, would otherwise be returning to play in the same men’s leagues in the summer as him – self-described as “a 35-year old with two kids who last did a beep test in 2002!” Going forward MCSC will be providing a level of soccer the Twin Cities were lacking.
Recently Dan, Jon, and Nick have been tasked with navigating the fractured American soccer pyramid in order to find the right fit for Minneapolis City, and they’ve come to a conclusion. MCSC will play in the Premier League of America (or PLA), formally Great Lakes Premier League, starting this spring. It’s a smart fit for the club. Because of the geographical proximity to the other teams in the league (Milwaukee Bavarians, Madison 56ers, RWB Adria Chicago, and more), rivalries will be quick to form. Perhaps most mouthwatering of which is a local derby against Minnesota United FC Reserves. And where there’s a rivalry, support will follow... even though some may have their doubts about starting a semi-pro soccer club in the shadow of an impending MLS franchise. Dan, well-traveled but originally from Minnesota, believes there’s a demand for soccer in the area no matter the level. His dad used to watch the old Minnesota Kickers back at the Met Stadium. He describes the venue as “packed.”
“In no way are we anti-Minnesota United,” Dan assures. He likes to use his Starbucks analogy to explain this phenomenon. “If you are a niche coffee shop that has good product and is run well, you don't fear Starbucks because Starbucks brings a ton more people into coffee. And more people getting into coffee is good for both the niche shop and Starbucks.” In other words, the more MLS does to promote soccer in the Twin Cities, the more fans might be inclined to see what’s going on with another club in the area, Minneapolis City. The more soccer, the more support to go around, right?
Then what does a fourth division side like Minneapolis City provide that a self-proclaimed division I MLS team does not? Tangibility. Stegman’s, and by extension MCSC, is a community members can interact with and be engulfed by. The opinions of its supporters or players, at any level, matter to the club hierarchy. It’s a soccer club, yes. But it’s a club in the more traditional sense of the word, unified by a soccer-loving city. The club has even taken on a humanitarian role in the community, donating money and manpower to The Sanneh Foundation and Second Harvest Heartland. The warm vibrancy that exudes from the way Dan portrays his club is appealing. The schematics to organize free clinics and supporter meetups before and after games are already in the works. The sense of MCSC’s solidarity with its members is ubiquitous. Even before our meeting at the Crooked Pint, tweeted from Minneapolis City Twitter handle was an offer to buy a beer from the local Summit Brewery for anyone else that felt like stopping in for a chat that foggy afternoon. In fact, the club even picked up the two pints of Guinness I sucked down in our two hours together. And then, to fall even more in line with the ‘Minnesota nice’ theme, Dan offered for me to come join in on a training session later that evening. That just seems to be the Stegman’s way, the Minneapolis City way of doing things.
Before we went our separate ways, we touched on one last subject, another benefit of a club in American soccer’s more meager echelons. If you personally felt like the players representing your club were part of your family, it wouldn’t be a chore for you to get out and watch them, even on a soggy, miserable afternoon. You may even be upbeat about it. The support would truly be authentic. Just like the way a local, niche coffee shop might remember your order and name as opposed to spelling it wrong on the side of your cup. Minneapolis City Soccer Club, the people’s club of the Twin Cities, will be looking to kick off its inaugural PLA season this spring, all the while bringing a new, palpable level of soccer to Minneapolis.