Opportunity and loss in North Dakota.

A former intern for Minnesota Stars, Singleton dreamed of running a soccer team and damned if he didn’t make that dream happen. He dealt blackjack as a second job to earn the money to start his club, choosing Fargo at the urging of his Concordia alum wife who thought that it had the right size and appetite for summer sports to make it work.

Singleton’s plan was to play his first year as a barnstorming independent team and then join a league once he had a year of experience and momentum under his belt.

Three years later FC Fargo is no more, Singleton isn’t involved in soccer and there is an NPSL team in Fargo. So what happened?

Fargo is a small place, with an especially small soccer community. Everyone seems to know everyone and, though this story sprawls into the Twin Cities, it is very much a small town story.

What I outline below I learned from a number of wide-ranging conversations with people in the know in both Fargo and Minneapolis. Nobody was willing to go on record.

Fargo’s first-ever professional-ish soccer game was played between FC Fargo and FC Minneapolis, with FC Fargo winning the game with a very unprofessional-like 9-0 scoreline.

Fargo was unbeaten at home its first year, averaged around 300 per match, and finished the summer with a dramatic last-minute win. Singleton’s plan seemed to be working.

Behind the scenes, things were more challenging. The club lost nearly $30,000 its first year with salaries and thousand dollar mistakes and spending beyond revenue putting extreme pressure on the next year’s budget. There were issues with the staff, disagreements on club direction, exacerbated by Singleton not living in Fargo. It was proving difficult to connect with the community without living there full time as being known as “Twin Cities man” isn’t exactly a positive in the Red River Valley.

Any of those problems lurking beneath the surface could have been enough to kill FC Fargo in the future, though as the only game in town it’s not unreasonable to think that the club could have overcome them.
The looming issue was that they weren’t going to be the only game in town any longer.

The North Dakota Cup was an idea hatched by Tim Singleton. He envisioned a mini-tournament that could act as a U.S. Open Cup qualifier and it would, of course, include FC Fargo and also local amateur team Fargo United, a new team threatening to form in Bismarck and another team that was sure to pop up.

It was a way to keep FC Fargo, which had joined the nascent American Premier League for the 2016 season, connected and active in the state while providing a pathway for North Dakota’s first-ever Open Cup participant.
Instead, 2016 started without any North Dakota Cup and with a new “semi-professional” club named Dakota Fusion playing in Fargo, owned by a very rich entrepreneur.

Sajid Ghauri is a soft-spoken guy, well known in Fargo, who made his fortune in technology. The president of TriCity Storm, Fargo’s largest youth club, he watched FC Fargo with keen interest.

Singleton met with Ghauri as he had met with other heads of the local youth clubs and was happy, perhaps naively so, to share his FC Fargo blueprint. Friends say that Singleton spent significant time discussing his plans and ambition for the club with Ghauri, who was only too happy to listen and learn.
Learn he did.

Dakota Fusion played out the 2016 season as an independent, facing teams like FC Minneapolis and Duluth FC.

FC Fargo found success hard to come by in their second year, not least because Dakota Fusion seemed intent on scheduling on top of Fargo’s home games. Attendance dipped as local traction waned and, though the team won the American Premier League title, the dangerous overspending continued and FC Fargo slowly petered out into bankruptcy.

It was a sad end to the dream of a hardworking man.

Dakota Fusion joined the NPSL for the 2017 season.
Their 2016 independent season went well enough, with a typically emphatic 12-1 win over FC Minneapolis tucked in with a 4-2 loss to Duluth FC and three wins and a loss against non-affiliated teams I’ve never heard of. There were no reports on attendance and no media coverage of the results, but that isn’t necessarily unusual, and it certainly didn’t stop their application to join a league in their second year as per the Tim Singleton plan.
People who remember the FC Fargo team, or at least look at their last roster on Wikipedia, will notice a lot of similarities to the players that Dakota Fusion has slowly announced via Facebook, and it makes sense that Fusion, having copied the club model and roll-out plan would also co-opt its roster.

So is Fusion just a new name and a richer owner toying with the same idea, facilities and roster?

Outside of a blustery press release featuring gems like “DFFC will be a powerhouse” and “I look forward to showing Minneapolis City SC and Duluth FC our ND power” that was humorously filleted by a Fargo soccer blog there has been precious little in the way of marketing besides the odd Facebook post and I have seen very little in local press or traction on the internet. Even this post, ostensibly about Dakota Fusion, ended up being mostly about FC Fargo because there is available information on them and people would talk to me, albeit off the record.
This is not promising behavior because at the very best case with a rich owner who has the means to ignore building an engaged fanbase we’re left with a new Michigan Stars here in the North Conference. With burgeoning fan interest in Minneapolis, Duluth, St Paul and Rochester, a black hole in North Dakota’s largest city is a major lost opportunity.

One thought on “Opportunity and loss in North Dakota.

  1. I am pulling for the Fargo-Moorhead area to have a successful professional soccer team at some level and growing the game in the area. As our Timbers Army (Portland, OR) phrase says, “Spread the Love.” Maybe the area can eventually be home to a USL affiliate of Minnesota United.


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