Recognizing the best: 2017 Team of the Year

It has been a hell of a season, competitive and hard-fought, and I am disappointed that the conference season has already come to a close as I would have enjoyed a lot more of this NPSL North soccer.

Overachievers.
This has to be Dakota Fusion. While I only chose them to finish as low as they did because I wrote my season preview before they announced the signing of Midwest Region scoring leader Jade Johnson, I still believe that this is a team that did vastly better than their raw talent and were forged into something better than the sum of their parts with incredible spirit and resilience by coach Jim Robbins. Good luck in Detroit.

Coach of the Year.
Jim Robbins, Dakota Fusion. I just told you why up above.

Player of the Year.
Jade Johnson, Dakota Fusion. He scored 17 goals, 13 against teams not named La Crosse Aris, and put Fusion on his back and dragged them into the playoffs. While there were any number of fantastic players in this conference, his personal impact to his team outweighs that of any other individual.


The team of the year.

I will set the team out in the 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 ​that was so common across the conference this season and, while that forced some very tough decisions in a league with a lot of good wide attackers, it give a realistic structure to the selection.

Tom Greensall, goalkeeper (Duluth FC).
The man just did not get scored on and, while he may not have the highlight reel of saves that Sean Teske and JC Perez had this season, he had safe hands when called upon and superbly marshaled his defense to the point that his mid-season injury threatened to derail the Donkey’s championship campaign. Irreplaceability is the mark of a quality goalkeeper.

Charlie Adams, fullback (Minneapolis City).​
The diminutive center midfielder-turned-fullback was a key player in this City team, a positive presence who was always part of the City build-up play, always looking to overlap and come inside to be an option, and with the pace to recover as well. A true attacking fullback.

Ignacio Milla, centerback (Med City FC).
He stood tall in the center of defense for a Med City side that led the league for most of the season, and wasn’t bad with the ball at his feet either as he checked in with more than one assist. Milla’s ability with and without the ball is key to the Medic’s possession-based style of play.

Gonnie Ben-Tal, centerback (Duluth FC).
Good in the air, good in the tackle, and damn mean, BenTal is a big, physical defender who will do whatever it takes to stop the opposition. As the commentators say, the team that gets scored on less will likely win the game and Ben-Tal kept Duluth from getting scored on regularly.

Amadu Myers, fullback (Sioux Falls Thunder).
Fast, physical and skilled on the ball, Myers helped connect the Sioux Falls defense to the attack and it’s a pity that his club management responsibilities limited his playing time this season. He is a quality player.

Edi Buro, midfield (VSLT).
The heartbeat of VSLT’s midfield as a deep-lying playmaker, Buro has a passing range that few in the division can match and the vision to find interceptions where others would be forced to tackle. He was a joy to watch this season.

Martin Browne, midfield (Minneapolis City).
I counted six free kicks from shooting range by Martin Browne this season and two were goals, two hit the crossbar​ and two were saved for corners. That’s not a bad return for a player whose main purpose is to control the game. He’s silky smooth on the ball, with an adhesive first touch and the ability to unlock a defense with a single pass. It’s no surprise teams sat so deep against City. Give Marty a bit of space and you’re done for.

Karim Darbaki, midfield (TwinStars).
A technically excellent player with an eye for goal, Darbaki has played as an attacking midfielder and an out-and-out striker this season and excelled in both roles, scoring nine goals this season. He is the focal point for the Dragons and reliably excellent every game.

Isaac Kehson, wide midfield (Dakota Fusion).
A dynamo of pace, power and not a bad finisher either, Kehson is a dangerous attacker with the technique and vision to play deeper in the midfield. He almost single-handedly beat City in Minneapolis and was a dangerous presence in the Fusion team all season long.

Jake Turnbull, wide midfield (Med City FC).​
He always seems to be popping up on the scoresheet for Med City and is no doubt deeply involved in the recurring nightmares of more than a few North Conference defenders. He is a quick player with good vision and timing, which makes him difficult to keep track of as he scampers down the wing. One of the most impressive players of the season.​

Jade Johnson, forward (Dakota Fusion).

He just doesn’t stop scoring goals and at one point late this season was the top scorer in the entire league. Given his supporting cast, it’s a massive achievement and an indication of his class that he is able to consistently score goals and almost single-handedly drive Fusion forward.

 

​Substitutes:

Sean Teske (TwinStars).
A fantastic season from Teske and his performances were crucial in all of the points the Dragons accumulated.

Kyle Farrar (Duluth FC).
The second-leading scorer in the conference​ and a formidable, physical targetman around which the Duluth attack revolved.

​Juan Fiz (VSLT).
The wily old captain can still play at this level, using his positioning, reading of the game and still excellent technique to make a difference for VSLT.

Brice Holiday (Sioux Falls Thunder).
A great connector of play for the Thunder, Holiday was solid on the ball and often a key for Sioux Falls’ best attacking play.

Miles Stockman-Willis (Minneapolis City).
He has scored seven goals in six games since coming into the team after losing most of the season due to injury.

Matias Pazos (Med City FC).
The heartbeat of the Med City midfield, his drive and knack for the odd goal helped drive the first-year club to the top of the table for much of the season.

Isaac Friendt (Minneapolis City).
A player so good Duluth fouled him every time he got the ball, Friendt scored six goals this season from his position on the wing and chipped in with a number of assists as well despite being regularly double and triple teamed.

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