Salvo and Maplebrook looked to have narrowed the Northern Conference championship down to a two team race, but Mankato has absolutely refused to let that door close. Now, entering the final weekend of the regular season, Mankato still has at least a slim mathematical chance to force a three way tie where head to head records may land them in the playoffs.
How we got here
Last Friday, Salvo had the chance to essentially lock in their first place finish a whole week early. But the Fire worked hard for the full 90 minutes and managed a tie on Salvo’s home turf, keeping both Maplebrook and Mankato in the playoff picture at least through their matchup this Friday. The two tied in their first matchup earlier this year and Mankato has come on strong their last few games. But both would essentially need to win both of their final two games in order to have a chance at unseating Salvo. And if Salvo eventually wins their final match, at home, against Mankato on Sunday, they can render all the lead up moot.
Believe it or not, if Salvo plays its cards right, it can have home field advantage now, all the way through to the national championship. The WPSL has confirmed that the Central Region Playoffs will be hosted by the Northern Conference (Minnesota + Fargo). So, if Salvo wins on Sunday, they will then host a four team playoff (matchups by blind draw) between the Northern, Mountain, Heartland, and Red River Conferences within the Central Region. The four regional champions then head to Oklahoma for the WPSL Championship the following weekend.
We’ll plan on live tweeting at least one of the Friday/Sunday games this weekend and we’ll absolutely be covering the Central Region Playoffs, likely with some extra help for pregame/halftime/postgame analysis on Twitter.
Well. We’re finally here. The WPSL season is underway and there is plenty to catch up on. This is the first in our regular WPSL roundup where we’ll hop around the league for updates and embed and interviews or content along the way.
It’s still early and two teams haven’t even played yet, but the standings do give us a bit of information to work with. Salvo and Maplebrook have yet to lose in multiple games and Dakota looks to be in rough shape after only two games. You might think writing teams off before June is a little premature, but you essentially have to win the conference to qualify for the postseason and some of these teams are already 20 percent through their schedule.
We took our first road trip of the season (don’t worry, Mankato, we’ll still take a trip for an actual match) for Mankato’s kickoff party at Mankato Brewery. They’re looking to play an aggressive style of soccer and it seems like they might have the squad to pull it off. They drew a much-hyped Maplebrook squad 1-1 on the road and they’re Mankato State heavy roster has an interested mix of D1 talent from the North and South Dakota schools.
Maplebrook opened with a tie against Salvo in maybe the worst weather you could hope for: 38 degrees and raining. It went about as well as you’d expect. In pretty brutal conditions, each team looked fairly composed. But it was also the first match of the season and gave the teams almost no time at all to practice or build chemistry. They followed it up with a decisive win again the Fusion and another draw. They might need to step it up if they’re going to leapfrog Salvo in the standings but they’ve also shown some grit getting points in all three matches so far.
They looked solid against Maplebrook to kickoff the season and absolutely shallacked the Fusion to the tune of a 7-0 win. You can rewatch the whole match or the highlights on mycujoo (the new streaming service for the entire WPSL) to get a taste of their build up play. They looked crisp and connected - and that can be tough to accomplish with such little practice time and a roster assembled from numerous places. They’ve shown that, so far, they are likely the team to beat in the North.
Fire and Rochester
After getting the chance to meet the people behind upstart Mankato United, we’re excited to see what Rochester brings to the table. They’ve gotten the least attention from us so far, but their roster might have the most interesting mix in the conference. Brazil, Spain, Botswana, Columbia, and England are all represented. To say nothing of the other domestic states like California and Texas. Plus, they’ve had a little more training time prior to their opening game this weekend so maybe they’ll have some magic against Mankato.
The Fire are a different story. After bursting onto the scene last year and recruiting a star-studded roster, internal club drama has meant an exodus of as many as 15-20 top players. They have yet to play their home opener, but chances are the starting 11, or even the full roster, will look quite a bit different than their promotion materials would suggest.
Prepping for pros
As part of our Going Pro series, we’re following three Gopher Soccer seniors who are looking to go from college to the pros. And, it just so happens, that two of them will be suiting up in the WPSL this summer as they wait for the summer transfer window to open. Emily Heslin has looked commanding in the midfield for Salvo and Molly Fielder took the long drive out to Utah to play for the Royals Reserves where she’ll be coached by members of the Royals NWSL staff. They don’t seem to stream any of their games, but we’re going to watch her suit up by watching the stream of other teams in the conference (like Colorado Rapids Women) on MyCuJoo.
The Women’s Professional Soccer League has expanded so rapidly in the area that Minnesota and its border communities now have their own conference. This summer, to celebrate that growth, we’re going to take a road trip to every single home field to do pre and post game interviews, live tweets, and a full game recap.
With the season still weeks away, we’re releasing a framework for each road trip with two key assumptions built in:
When are we going?
Pick a day using our handy google sheet with all WPSL games for the Minnesota + Fargo squads.
One thing the WPSL does, like many college leagues, is to schedule in pairs. For example, the Dakota Fusion may play Mankato one day and the Fire the next day because the teams are fairly close together. Because it’s a small conference, and there are so many staggered match-ups, multiple conference games rarely take place on the same day - **EXCEPT** on June 8th. Rochester hosts Dakota Fusion at 2PM. Mankato hosts Fire SC at 7PM. And that means we’re doing a double header road trip! (full disclosure: many of our road trip plans will be hypothetical. But this one seems so fun that we might actually do it…)
First leg: St Paul to Rochester
For this double header, the travel will have to be by car. St Paul to Rochester to Mankato to St Paul is basically a triangle. Each leg takes about 90 minutes. Here’s how it breaks down.
Leave the Midway neighborhood around 10:15 so we can make it to Med City by noon for lunch at Trip Advisor’s top recommendation: Chester’s, where the “Contemporary vibe is felt through service and food preparation.” We’re nothing if not contemporary. Then it’s off to Mayo High School for the first match. We’ll assume it wraps up at 4PM. Add in some post game interviews and we’re on the road by 4:30PM.
Second leg: Rochester to Mankato
Taking off at 4:30PM should land us at Mankato’s top Yelp rated happy hour spot, 7West Taphouse, by 6PM for a quick pregame beer. The top review says: “Date night with the hubby and friends. Great atmosphere. It is lively with music but we still could have a conversation with our friends.” Sounds good. We’ll have a chance to converse about match kicking off at 7PM.
Third leg: Mankato to St Paul
The game should wrap around 9PM. After we post some final thoughts and players interviews, we should be on the road by 9:30 and home around 11PM. Just in time to let these sleepy pups out before going to bed and writing the game stories the next morning.
Supporters giving $10/month and up
Chad Flynn & Mary Lahammer
Salvo Soccer Club
Jim & Kristen Gray