The Summer of Soccer has officially begun with the kickoff of the 2021 WPSL season. The global pandemic (among the bigger worldly impacts) meant delaying, or in the case of the WPSL, cancelling so many soccer leagues seasons last year. However, 2020’s loss is certainly 2021’s gain! We have a Women’s Olympic soccer tournament to look forward to, the Gold Cup, Copa America and Euros, not to mention the big increase in televised NWSL games.
For Minnesotans (and Fargoeans?), we are fortunate to have a high level women’s soccer competition right in our back yard. The Women's Premier Soccer League is the longest running Women’s Soccer League in the United States, starting in 1998 and now featuring an all time high of 141 clubs across the country in 17+ conferences.
In 2019 we saw an increased presence of Minnesota based clubs, to the point of now having 6 Minnesota (+1 from Fargo) based WPSL teams. These clubs play in WPSL Northern Conference from the end of May through July. We hope to get into a deeper roster dive when we get a better sense of how the teams come together -- and we did our annual check in with WPSL President Sean Jones to see what we could learn from 10,000 feet -- but for now let’s get to know your local team and how to watch this exciting summer league.
Mankato United SC
Mankato United played in the 2019 season of the WPSL and found some immediate success, going 6-3-1 with a large contingent of MSU-Mankato players. With many of the WPSL teams drawing players from many different places, Mankato drew on MSU chemistry along with a strong contingent of other NSIC performers and some D-I talent from the midwest.
Last weekend we were fortunate to attend Mankato United’s kickoff event at LocALE Brewery in Mankato. You can find some player interviews from that trip on our Twitter feed. Like in their inaugural season, Mankato United will largely rely on a core group of Mavericks from MSU. They will also feature many Minnesotans from D-II and D-III schools, as well as some regional D-I from schools like Nebraska-Omaha and the Dakotas.
Where to they play?
Mankato United will be playing at the Bethany Lutheran College Soccer Field. The club was very excited about the partnership that will see Bethany Lutheran students support video production, which should lead to a professional grade stream.
June 4 vs. Fire SC 98
Bethany Lutheran Soccer Field, New Ulm
Salvo played in the 2019 WPSL season and finished 6-2-3, winning the conference. Salvo are a successful youth club who will continue to draw heavily from their youth/alumni player pool. For Equal Time followers who root for the Gophers, you will also see some familiar faces here, with Megan Plashko, Emily Heslin, Molly Fiedler, Sadie Harper, Sophie Boman and others. When you combine the Gopher players at Salvo with their youth academy players and the chemistry that comes with that, you’d have to expect wins out of this team.
*Salvo are tied for my favorite crest in the Conference
Where do they play?
Salvo SC will play their home games at Reynolds Field, the Football and Soccer Stadium for Northwestern College in Roseville. As a Midway resident, I’m selfishly happy to be in bikeable distance from Salvo games!
Friday June 4 vs. Minnesota Thunder
Reynolds Field, Roseville
Don’t let the logo pulled from the WPSL website fool you, this club plays by the name “Minnesota Thunder” (no “academy”). This is the first team to play under the Thunder name since 2009 (enjoy the wikipedia deep dive http://bit.ly/MNTHUNDER). We are here for the Thunder nostalgia! Bring out your retro gear please.
Like Salvo SC, the Thunder figure to have a depth of high level academy talent to pull from. While we don’t know how many of their youth players will feature in the WPSL, we know from a few early tweets that the Thunder are stocked with some D-I heavy hitters. Alana Dresseley, Ariana Del Moral and Makenzie Langdok all come from the Gophers (as well as incoming transfer Christa Von Loon), with players also joining from Wisconsin, South Dakota State, Notre Dame and Boston University. We certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see the Thunder make some noise (bad wordplay barf) this summer.
Where do they play?
The Minnesota Thunder will play at the Stardome at Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield. The Thunder easily take the award for best pitch name and it isn’t even close. They will be the only club playing indoors in the conference, so if you’re looking for Metrodome nostalgia, this may be your best shot this summer.
Sunday June 6th vs. Mankato United SC
Stardome, Academy of Holy Angels, Richfield
Rochester United FC
Rochester United FC competed in the 2019 WPSL Season, finishing 2-7-1. They’ve announced much of this year’s roster on Instagram, and its the type of mix you’d expect from a summer league squad. You’ve got D-I talent (Minnesotans and otherwise) from Nebraska, Louisiana, UC Riverside, SDSU, Florida International, Ohio, Old Dominion and Evansville, Minnesotans playing D-II and D-III, and some random D-II and NAIA talent from across the country. Rochester is definitely getting creative with housing support!
In addition to the WPSL schedule, Rochester United will feature a reserve team that will play clubs from the metro, Wisconsin and Iowa.
Rochester United FC officially kicked off our conference schedule against Dakota Fusion FC last weekend with a 4-0 win. The game unfortunately wasn’t able to be streamed and there isn’t much information to be found on the match. We will watch out for future links to Rochester games!
*Rochester United FC are tied for my favorite crest in the Conference
Where do they play?
Rochester United plays at Spartan Field, the Mayo High School stadium. Fun fact: the Spartan Field turf is the LITERAL turf from the metrodome . If you are looking for heartbreaking nostalgia from Twins, Vikings and Gophers losses, this is your pitch.
Saturday, May 22 vs. Dakota Fusion FC (W 4-0)
Next home match: Wednesday, June 9 vs Mankato United
Spartan Field at Mayo High School, Rochester
Dakota Fusion FC
Dakota Fusion FC are the only non-Minnesotan team in the Northern Conference. In fairness though, they could likely kick a soccer ball to Minnesota from Fargo (say it in a MN accent). Dakota Fusion are also the only WPSL team with a male NPSL counterpart, and most importantly, the only team with a personalized bus…
No doubt that Dakota Fusion FC wins the Equal Time award for Best Team Transport. Any other challengers submit to @markprivratsky on twitter, bribes accepted.
Dakota Fusion finished the 2019 WPSL Season 2-8-0 to finish last in the Conference.
Where do they play?
Dakota Fusion plays at Jim Gotta Stadium at Moorhead Highschool (home of the Spuds!). So even while Dakota Fusion are based in Fargo, all of the Northern Conference games will be played in Minnesota this summer. We can hold out hope for a game in the Fargodome.
Saturday, May 29 vs. Maplebrook Fury (UPDATE: postponed)
Jim Gotta Stadium, Moorhead
Maplebrook Fury are affiliated with the Maplebrook Soccer Club out of Maple Grove. Maplebrook Fury finished 2nd in the Conference in the 2019 season, going 6-1-3 on the year. Like other teams in the WPSL, Maplebrook has a strong contingent of their youth players to fill out their roster, playing last season essentially a U-19 team -- benefitting from existing chemistry in a league that almost entirely assembles talent and starts the chemistry building process from scratch.
*Maplebrook Fury SC are tied for my favorite crest in the Conference
Where do they play?
Maplebrook Fury play at Maple Grove High School Stadium (home of the Crimson!)
Saturday, June 5 vs. Rochester United FC
Maple Grove High School Stadium
Fire SC 98
Fire SC 98 is a WPSL team affiliated with the Fire 98 Soccer Club. The team was created on the 20th anniversary of the youth club to honor the legacy of the Club’s creators. Fire SC finished the 2019 WPSL season 2-2-6 to end mid table. There isn’t much info regarding the 2021 roster at this time -- as with a few of the teams in the conference -- so we’ll be interested to see who suits up once the games start!
Where do they play?
Fire SC play at Seafoam Stadium on the campus of Concordia University in Saint Paul. Seafoam is definitely the most transit accessible stadium in the Conference, right off of the Green Line and I-94.
Friday, June 18 vs. Dakota Fusion FC
Seafoam Stadium, Concordia University, Saint Paul
Yesterday, the University of Minnesota announced that Gopher Soccer Head Coach Stefanie Golan had resigned her position to become only the second ever head coach at Mizzou, in Golan’s home state. Golan leaves as the longest tenured head coach in program history and, even with some rough spots like the 2019 season, an objectively great resume that includes multiple Big Ten Championships and NCAA Tournament wins. Players and coaches we spoke to in the program were understandably surprised and even shocked. But with training camp for the fall season essentially only two months away, there’s not much time to sit and process. The Athletics Department needs to start addressing some key questions quickly.
How good is the job
First, if you want to know how good your candidate pool is, you need to know what you’re offering them: how good of a job is this? The obvious and most simple answer is that there are only a few dozen Power Five DI head coaching jobs in the country and this program is at the very least average among that bunch. Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium is immaculate (and only missing a beer garden). Practice and training facilities seem to be at least on par with other Big Ten programs. So on the surface, you should probably be talking about a pool of candidates that includes almost literally all but the couple dozen head coaches at clearly superior programs.
Below the surface, it’s not necessarily as clear. Though the program is generally well resourced and treats its players well in terms of athletic, academic, and personal support, compensation for the staff was at times a challenge. Coaches across the industry talk to one another. So if peers are getting deals better than you, it’s not going to be much of a secret. Just during our era of covering the Gophers, there were times when coaches at less successful Big Ten programs were outstripping Golan in terms of raw dollars in contract extensions, and that, then, trickles down to the rest of the staff, as well. In a profession where you can be fired (or even have the entire program eliminated) at the drop of a hat, the level of guaranteed financial compensation is one of the only things a coach can lean on.
That said, even with some possible ceiling in terms of long term earnings, this job is the kind of opportunity nearly every coach hopes to find.
How good is the team
At this precise moment in time, given where we are in the calendar, this new coach will also have to come in and coach what is basically a set roster. So how good is the clay this coach will have to mold? The team went roughly 500 this spring. From that, you’re losing a stud centerback in Athena Kuehn and a do-it-all star midfielder in Katie Duong as well as a handful of solid rotation players in the attack.
If we pretend the Gophers were to play their traditional 4-3-3 and had to play a game tomorrow, you could either shift Alana Dressely to centerback next to Delany Stekr and keep Katie Koker and Patricia Ward at outside back in a sort of “make our outside backs cover a lot of territory for the whole back line” lineup. Or, maybe Ward shifts back up top to winger if Keziah Inniss comes in after a strong summer and claims an outside back spot. Or, keep Dressely at home at outside back because Paige Elliott busts her butt this summer and comes back in similar form to what she showed at centerback as a freshman. That back line -- in really any of those iterations mentioned above -- plus Megan Plaschko back in goal (locked in, in part, because Maddie Nielsen and Ana Aguado are both heading elsewhere) would be at least a solid defensive unit. It would have a fairly high floor and a decently high ceiling, depending largely on how the second (non-Stekr) centerback performs.
[UPDATE: within minutes of this story posting, Katie Koker officially announced on Instagram that she will no longer be playing soccer. She was an Equal Time favorite and just a blast to watch. But her leaving obviously either makes it a natural fit for Dressely and Ward to stick at outside or for one of them to shift and Kez/others to claim that remaining spot]
In midfield, Sophia Boman (above) has 90 minutes a game written in ink as your box to box number 8. Lauren Donovan was reportedly showing really well in training as an early enrollee this spring and could jump in as a holding mid. In a pinch you could start Megan Gray in the more attacking central mid role next to them. She and Sadie Harper saw some minutes there this spring but both probably do better up top on the wing. It’s possible a freshman or two really jumps out and claims major minutes as the third midfielder, as well (word is incoming freshman Elizabeth Overberg is a *beast*). If the team shifts to more of a diamond midfield with more traditional outside mids you could see Boman shift up to an attacking role (she showed more and more confidence working toward goal as the season went on) and then the outside mid spots would be tailor made for the Harper and Gray types, with lots of others backfilling those run-for-miles assignments.
If it’s three attackers up top again, you hope Maddie Baker can come back ready to rock in the center as a towering, creative presence. Izzy Brown, the transfer from UNC who had to sit out the spring season after suiting up for Tar Heels in the fall, should make an immediate impact in the center and likely starts. Kenna Buisman, freshman Khyah Harper, Abi Frandsen, Kenz Langdok, Meg Gray, Sadie Harper all serve as rotation quality options at the *very* least on the wings. Honestly, whichever of them shows the most potential in the midfield in training may want to just dive head first into that transition because it’s a bit crowded up top and slightly thinner in the middle.
Obviously all of this is a bit of an off the cuff projection and there are probably random players like Eva Bruer who are going to come in and just absolutely shine. But overall, the team is probably slightly less stout defensively, but still around average for the conference. They’ll have less ability to control the midfield as you lose Duong, but Boman and others keep you at least in the game there. You might have pretty strong improvement up top with what you assume is at least solid starter play -- if not way better -- from Brown [Short side bar: WE SEE THE TRAINING CONTENT ON INSTA, IZZY! WE SEE IT AND WE CAN’T WAIT FOR FALL], whatever you can get from Baker off the bench, and some new energy from Khyah Harper to go with quality returners like Buisman, Gray, Sadie Harper, etc.
Considering this spring’s squad lost a few games on silly mistakes, missed wide open chances, and a general lack of finishing, you’d have to expect them to capture some of that low hanging fruit-improvement. Or, if you want to boil it all the way down to just two numbers, it’s these: the 2021 Spring Gophers gave up .83 goals per game and scored .58 goals a game. If we had to guess right now, not even knowing who the coach is: expect both of those numbers to hover just above 1 per game, the Gophers to finish above 500 *AND* be super fun to watch due to more back and forth play.
Considering a certain amount of coaching openings occur when a coach needs to be let go for poor performance, that roster -- whether our projections are accurate or not -- is a pretty damn good starting point.
Who are the “incumbents” to beat out
As much as this will, and should, absolutely be a national search that brings candidates with no ties to the U or maybe even the Big Ten, some level of connection to Minnesota or the program itself is likely going to influence the candidate pool. Erin Chastain (then Erin Hussey) played for the Gophers and now coaches Depaul. She will get mentioned and, I assume, consider applying. Stephanie Foster has been on staff at Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, the Red Stars and was the Head Coach at Northwestern and follows Equal Time on twitter so she gets honorary Minnesotan status because we’re easy like that. Imagine how much we’d sing a candidate’s praises if they became a monthly supporter on Patreon. Just kidding. Probably. It’s never happened before so it’s hard to say.
[LONG SIDEBAR RANT: I guess at this point I should also quickly say that I am 100 percent of the belief that the coach should be a woman because even though “hire the best coach for the job” is the correct strategy, I usually hear it used (essentially as an excuse) after a man has been hired to coach a women’s team and I think it’s objectively true that being a woman -- in and of itself -- is actually a very valuable piece of leading a team of women -- or any kind of team -- and you would not believe the crappy stuff men in the women’s game say to me about women and women soccer players when we are speaking or messaging one on one because they assume we -- men -- all must think the same shitty stuff about women that they do and so in conclusion until we have anywhere near gender parity in the coaching ranks on the women’s side I will not move from this position in any possible way and ok thank you bye]
Of the most common names mentioned to me over the past 24 hours are Molly Rouse (departed as an assistant coach at the U to become head coach at Dixie State), Becky Maines (on staff now as assistant coach), and Krystle Seidel (former assistant and associate head coach for the U, now at Macalester).
In that order, we’ve heard that Rouse is comfortable sticking it out at Dixie and growing the program there. If you follow her on social media you can see her living it up in the southern Utah dessert like an adventurer like every week. It looks amazing. But keep her name bookmarked, long term, she was *beloved* by players and respected like crazy by fellow coaches. She is going places.
Maines is for sure going for the job. She was a long time friend of Golan’s who came on staff after Seidel left to become the head coach at Macalester a few years back. Maines has a really solid resume with stops at programs like Ole Miss and Auburn, and is currently raising maybe the most adorable baby of all time in her non-soccer time.
Seidel should also be a candidate and -- I apologize in advance for this hyperbole -- might honestly be the most universally praised/liked/well-regarded person (not just coach) I have ever encountered in my life. I don’t exactly know how to describe it other than to say I have talked to dozens of players, parents, coaches, etc about nearly every aspect of the Gopher Soccer program for a half decade and there is no person that people speak about the way they speak about Krystle. To put it another way, when you talk to someone about any individual thing that went right during this general era in Gopher soccer (what made the press work well in X season, how did Katie Duong choose Minnesota over Stanford, whatever) Krystle is -- by an honestly laughable margin -- the most common person or thing that comes up.
All of that being said, this job should get a wide and deep applicant pool. Remember, in the US, head coaches at Power Five programs are the highest paid coaches in the game -- making far more than head coaches in the NWSL. On compensation alone, it would be foolish for quality candidates not to apply. With a solid roster in place returning from a nice bounce back season, the position is even more appealing.
EXTRA TIME: And because every applicant will obviously be carefully reading this piece before finalizing their application and hitting send on the email to Mark Coyle, I’ll add some free early advice: current Assistant Coach Maya Hayes is a little too early in her coaching career to make a leap to head coach of the program of this size but she’s kind of the perfect fit for a new coach to keep on staff after the transition. Ditto for Director of Operations Sarah Johnson (SJ). No one knows the program as well as SJ and she could really make the ramp up process a long smoother for a new coach.
Matt does his last annual show with WPSL President Sean Jones as he hands off the beat to Mark, moving forward. Mark and Matt ask him about league growth, what made the MN Thunder Academy a good fit for the Minnesota market, rebounding from the year off during COVID, and more!
You can watch the show as a video embedded below or listen to it as a podcast on on Soundcloud, iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher.
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