Nobody else was doing it, so I decided to. Here we go.
None of these clubs in their current form have played each other before, so power rankings before a ball is kicked in anger are going to be speculative based on what each club reports. Of course, that is limited to what each club reports.
Some are better than others:
This does promise to be an exciting season, particularly because so much is unknown.
1. Minneapolis City SC
2016 record (W-L-D): 6-3-4 (3-3-4 Premier League of America)
After a number of brilliant roster moves to supplement a settled core and a home field with a consistent surface, it is clear why City are top now but it takes more than strength on paper to win games.
Still, what strength on paper!
Brian Kallman and Dan O’Brien, both with NASL experience, are the players with the best playing CV in the entire conference. If they come to play, well, they can play. On top of that, City have announced that PLA Team of the Year goalkeeper Matt Elder and midfielder Ben Wexler have returned. Oh, and they signed Whitney Browne, arguably Minnesota United Reserves’ best player. In fact, they have enough players signed as of today to make an extremely strong team.
From the players announced, this is the conference-winning side I would create:
Also, for the record, I would definitely buy a replica shirt that looked like that.
Also, yes, with this lineup I have a guy who played for Tampa Bay Rowdies on the bench. Though he isn’t in my team because I have never seen him play it is also an indication of how good this team could be.
So, let’s be honest, the big challenge is expectations. Not even the best team blows out all of its opposition so what happens when the opposing sides are tougher than that internet thinks? What do they do when it’s 0-0 at 70 minutes or, God forbid, City goes down a goal? Are they taking this seriously or do they not have the stomach for the fight? How hard they work is the question that will decide this conference. If they are up for it, they’re the favorites. Because they are the favorites we might just see them stumble. They might even stumble a lot.
In other words, prove it.
2. VSLT FC
2016 record (W-L-D): 14-4-2 (13-3-2 MASL Division 2)
Despite the need caveat that these are power rankings and not a prediction on where the teams will finish the season, VSLT have had an impressive month as they look to upgrade their roster for their first season in NPSL.
Nothing is official, but the word in Twin Cities men’s league circles is that Juan Fiz has successfully raided Minnesota United Reserves for Javi Alcantara and Rodrigo Galvan and that he may be close to signing a few others.
Alcantara is a particular talent, one of the most technically gifted midfielders in Minnesota, and his laconic, possession-oriented style of play should help VSLT retain the ball with the potential for a killer pass here or there.
It is very early and none of this is official yet, but it seems like VSLT have the wind at their backs.
3. Minnesota TwinStars
2016 record (W-L-D): 3-3-0 (3-3-0 NPSL Midwest Central)
While the recent record of TwinStars in NPSL has been poor, to put it charitably, there are signs of life in the organization. They have brought on Tim Singleton, once of FC Fargo, as General Manager and, miraculously in tandem with his hire, have found themselves with an ‘independent’ supporters group. The latter may not be real, but at least it’s an indication of effort.
Effort, at least in how it translates to organization, all too often has been what is missing from this club and it has impacted their record. A legit Milwaukee Torrent side needed a 90th minute free kick to beat a full-strength TwinStars team early last season, but by the end of the year Torrent rolled what remained of that TwinStars team 5-0. Organization and consistency are critical for this side to be a meaningful contributor to the title race.
The Darbaki brothers are excellent players, particularly Karim. In Sean Teske they have one of the best goalkeepers in the conference. A few smart additions and a renewed focus on organization and the Dragons could be dangerous.
4. Duluth FC
2016 record (W-L-D): 3-0-4 (3-0-4 American Premier League)
Duluth finished second in the APL behind FC Fargo and ahead of TwinStars Reserves, but given the paucity of information on the APL it is hard to judge the quality of the league and get an idea of how the Bluegreens will fare in the NPSL North.
My take is that it will be harder than they think. This isn’t a reserve league.
On the plus side for Duluth, Joey Gustafson and Tom Corcoran turned out for Minneapolis City in the U.S. Open Cup second qualifying round and that speaks to their ability. On the minus side, City announced that Gustafson would be playing for them this season. Losing talent this early is a real issue. Hopefully Duluth is starting to lock down players more formally. If it were me, and he were available, I would start with Tom Corcoran.
There should be talent in the area with St Scholastica and UW-Superior to pull from and a significant foreign contingent headlined by poacher extraordinaire Kyle Farrar. If he is as good as his reputation, the Englishman is a golden boot contender.
There is hope then because, as Kevin Keegan always says, “[unintelligible] if you can score more than they do [unintelligible].”
5. Dakota Fusion
2016 record (W-L-D): 4-2-0
Here we enter the realm of pure speculation. Fusion played an exhibition season in 2016 but faced only one opponent that could be considered meaningful, losing 4-2 at Duluth FC in their first ever game.
With the demise of FC Fargo, who did win the APL in 2016, the expectation is that Fusion will have their pick of players from the area. However, an understrength Fargo team was beaten 6-0 by the Minneapolis City second team so the pick of the players from Fargo-Moorhead may not be enough to make a meaningful impression in the league.
Still, FC Fargo profited from their Mourinho-esque low block and counter tactics and perhaps Fusion will do the same. The early season will give us some insight into Fusion’s approach.
Sources, aka the internet, tell me that the club owner is quite well off and there is speculation from me that they may look to import and house players to make themselves more competitive. It’s hard to know until they start announcing players, however, and hopefully that is soon after their mid-February open tryouts but the potential is there for Dakota to be a playoff contender.
6. Med City FC
2016 record (W-L-D): Did Not Compete
Given the talent level in Rochester and nearby areas and the front office experience with the former Rochester PDL team, Med City is a fair pick as a dark horse contender.
One big warning sign stands out. Holding a joint open tryout with La Crosse Aris is like the Timberwolves holding a joint open tryout with my Lifetime Wednesday morning pick-up group. That is a small thing, however, and their appointment of Luke Corey, who has collegiate coaching experience, as head coach could be a prudent one.
Beyond that, like with Dakota, it’s best to wait for them to announce some player signings to get an idea of how competitive they will be. I wish they would hurry up.
7. Sioux Falls Thunder
2016 record (W-L-D): Did Not Compete
I am trying not to judge them on the quality of their logo. I am trying not to judge them on the quality of their logo. I am trying not to judge them on the quality of their logo.
Sioux Falls used to have a PDL team, but their last season was 10 years ago and they spent most of their history in the standings cellar. Still, the PDL club averaged over 1,000 people per game and it’s not too farfetched for this Thunder club to get similar support and, with Sioux Falls being among the farther trips for most teams in the league, being a hard place to visit. That could easily translate into points.
Talent will be an issue for Sioux Falls given its size and geographic isolation, but, to continue to put an almost implausibly positive spin on things, in a short season anything can happen.
8. La Crosse Aris
2016 record (W-L-D): 0-6-0 (0-6-0 NPSL Midwest Central)
Unlike most of the teams on this list, Aris have players officially signed. Not bad ones either, apparently, with signees Aaron Wagner and Erik Altenburg both chosen to represent the Midwest Region at the NPSL Player Showcase.
So how are they bottom of the power rankings?
Because the only think worse than their logo, which includes an image stolen from a video game slapped onto some disjoint illustrations, is their history.
The following is so bad I feel like I should include a trigger warning.
If you are brave enough, read on:
They have not won a game since 2013.
They have an almost -200 goal difference in 69 games.
They move up on the power rankings when they gain a point in a competitive game and no sooner.