Grabbing for relevance: TwinStars and the MASL.

The Minnesota Amateur Soccer League (MASL) was founded in 1953 and, up until the NPSL North roped in a critical mass of teams, was the undisputed top competitive league in the state.

The MASL season is a May – early August sprint that fits 18 league games in no more than 14 weeks with the Minnesota Cup wedged in there in June.

It used to be that the winner of the Minnesota Cup had Minnesota’s entry into the regional qualifiers for the U.S. Open Cup, but with the qualifying rules change a few years back the cup now exists as the top knockout competition in Minnesota.

A number of famous players have plied their trade in the league over the years, including Tony Sanneh, Amos Magee, Joe Warren, Greg Wheaton, Jeremiah Bass and Sergey Gotsmanov.

Further, there is a lot of history with the clubs in the MASL as well, though neither they nor the league do a very good job of highlighting this, and it is only Stegman’s SC’s top division team that I can speak confidently about and that is because they, and their NPSL team Minneapolis City, actually talk about their history.

Founded in 1977 as FC Internationals, Stegman’s are 14-time MASL winners and 9-time Minnesota Cup champions and last season, the first after launching Minneapolis City, they did the league and cup double.

Today, FiftyFive.One confirmed that Fire SC, formerly TC Fire ’00, had linked up with Minnesota TwinStars.

Fire, under the leadership of former Dallas Burn goalkeeper Ryan Manning, also have a history of success and such is the residual strength of MASL and the name value of Manning that this looks like a coup for TwinStars, if rather less so for Fire.

Why is this such a good deal for TwinStars?

Competition for players is more intense than ever with Minneapolis City and VSLT in the mix, and both have started well. Minneapolis City have made aggressive moves to lock down their team from last season and add new faces like Brian Kallman and Dan O’Brien. And Whitney Browne and Miles Stockman-Willis. And Charlie Adams and Joey Gustafson. This is a season after they signed AJ Albers, Matt Elder and Nate Engel from TwinStars.

VSLT have been no less active. Juan Fiz is building from their core MASL team and has already added Rodrigo Galvan, Javi Alcantara and Peter Xiong, who played a few games for TwinStars last season.

Between the two sides, they have already plundered TwinStars and picked up the top players from Minnesota United Reserves. While TwinStars will have the Darbaki brothers and Sean Teske in net and will be looking for their rising Dallas Cup winning side to fill in, the reality is that they are well behind the eight ball to build a team this season.

Recruiting is not going to be easy. TwinStars do not have the best reputation among local players and the high price tag, rumored at $800-$1,000 per player, is a real stumbling block. Enter Fire to provide a pipeline and, in Manning, the goalkeeper coach at Anoka-Ramsey, someone who can refer junior college players into the now shared system.

This is a lifeline for TwinStars, a move that they simply had to make to be able to attract new blood into the club and stay relevant in the new division.

What’s in it for Fire?

With a short season, as much depends on reliability and cohesion as on talent though, as with any sport, all things being equal the better players will win the game and the MASL is no different.

That means that there is an offseason recruiting frenzy where team managers scour new MIAC players, cajole and beg returning out-of-state college players and monitor the internet boards for someone moving here with a great playing CV. Typically, top players get contacted by multiple teams and each make their pitch for why the guy should sign. No doubt Fire felt like they need to be able to say, like Stegman’s/Minneapolis City and VSLT, that they had an NPSL connection as well and in fact a source inside the club told me that the move was all about “staying relevant” as they looked to bring in the new players necessary to challenge for a league title.

What does this mean for the MASL?

It’s fair to assume a good level of overlap between NPSL and MASL sides, especially for VSLT. It will be interesting to see just how integrated Fire are with TwinStars, and just how well both maintain player commitment through the season. Stegman’s/Minneapolis City will be strong because they start as champions but perhaps their thoughts will drift off to NPSL playoffs and they’ll lose focus. That said, it’s not like the league was uncompetitive last year, with traditional powerhouse Cardinals finishing just a point off of champions Stegman’s and Cougars within fighting distance. A strong Fire will make the league more competitive and, of course VSLT joins the fray.

In other words, nothing really changes short term. In the long term it will be interesting to see if the NPSL connection really has value for MASL teams, and what it means for Division One teams that don’t have a formal partnership.

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