Thursday, January 07, 2010

New Professional Soccer In Minnesota

Thursday January 7, 2010 was the official start date of the next professional soccer team in Minnesota.

The former top team was the Minnesota Thunder who started in 1990, but for all intents and purposes are now just a part of history.

The National Sports Center in the northern suburb of Blaine has stepped forward to start a team and have them play in the newly formed USSF Division 2 league.

According to their press release: "This will be a brand new team and organization. There are no formal ties between the new NSC team and the old Minnesota Thunder."

But the team has hired Manuel Lagos, former Thunder president, as the Director of Soccer Operations.

The new league will combine teams from the Thunder's old league, USL 1st Division, and the recently formed breakaway league, the NASL, of which this new Minnesota team is a member. But in a very confusing twist Minnesota will play in what is called the USL Conference of this new league. (There will also be a NASL Conference.)

12 teams will play in this league starting in April, with scheduling and any post season playoff plans being discussed right now.

You may be asking yourself why there are 2 conferences in a 12 team league? It appears as though politics played the main force in this as a way for both leagues, USL & NASL, to get their names on the newly formed league in an equal way.

As far as assembling a team on the field, NSC staff are in Florida this weekend for the MLS college player work outs, and then will be having 2 more combines of their own in Minnesota, one in late January and another sometime in February.

A big factor in all of this will be finding a head coach, and assistants, which they hope to have filled in the next 2 to 4 weeks.

Free agents from all levels including former members of the Minnesota Thunder will be pursued for the roster.

Naming the team will be another priority, and an announcement will be made soon concerning plans for a team-naming contest. The general plan is to have voting online for approx 2 weeks, with a certain number of choices predetermined and an option for write ins.

The team will begin connecting to fans right away, and one nice gesture they have made is stating that any fan who made a ticket deposit with the Thunder at the end of last season will be honored by the new team.

Next they will host an Open House on Thu Jan 21, consisting of a social hour, news announcements, small group breakout sessions with NSC staff and an overall Q & A session with organization leaders. All soccer fans in the state are encouraged to attend. We will have the details right here at du Nord as soon as they are made available to us.

Things that had been popular at Thunder games such as the beer garden, tailgating and post-game autograph sessions will be continued and improved upon.

On the business end, the team will be run just like the National Sports Center itself has always been run - in the black, and with transparency.

They have run their organization with an overall positive financial balance every year since starting in 1989, and are very open about how they run their business, leaving the ego's out of the process. They are confident that they can run this team with financial integrity.

They will be honest up front in saying that they wont be the biggest payroll team in the league, but not be the lowest either.

The team is specifically owned by the NSC Foundation, which is a 5013c non profit, and not owned by the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission, which is the NSC's parent organization and a Minnesota state agency.

The NSC currently has 60 full time staff, of whom 10-12 will have a role in the team. Besides the already mentioned coaches they will be adding staff for sales, marketing, camp director and an administrative person. Morale is very high among current staff for their new tasks.

In marketing the new team, they have already identified 17 groups that would have interest in the team, and will have custom made strategies to attract each one. However, they are not likely to spend money on TV, radio, print advertising etc, but will be using any and all new media tools.

The NSC will continue to have big name summer friendly's tied to Schwann's USA Cup youth tournament. And in the future might try to have international teams train at NSC during their off seasons.

They are already working on ties to international teams on a pro level - and are specifically wanting to form a partnership with a Scandanavian club. There is nothing official on this front yet, but it is a big goal to have a "formal relationship" in place sooner rather than later.

They will not have an exclusive youth system, instead seeking to include all club teams in the state in the growth of young players into potential pros.

As far as any official ties to a MLS club, that is too early to tell yet, but they do find it an intriguing idea.

This project all started for the NSC just 10 weeks ago (they have been interested in having a team for several years), so there are still many things to be thought up and worked out. It is a work in progress each and every day.

For all the best coverage of this team and the new league go to Inside Minnesota Soccer, as Brian Quarstad has been covering this story tirelessly since it erupted last fall.

The 2 daily local newspapers managed to scrape together a few words each on the topic. But good luck finding it on their websites, as I had to use search engines to find both.
-Minneapolis Star Tribune
-St Paul Pioneer Press

And finally, here is the Official Press Release from the NSC:

The National Sports Center (NSC) announced that it will form a new professional soccer team that will begin play this April as a member of a professional soccer league made up of teams from the United Soccer Leagues (USL) and the North American Soccer League (NASL)

The league will be a unified United States Soccer Federation (USSF)-sanctioned division II league. The league will occupy the second tier of professional soccer in the United States and Canada, just one tier below Major League Soccer (MLS).

The league will consist of two six-team conferences – the USL Conference and the NASL Conference. The USL Conference will include teams from Austin, Minnesota, Portland (Ore.), Puerto Rico, Rochester (N.Y.) and Tampa Bay. The NASL Conference will consist of teams from Baltimore, Carolina, Miami, Montreal, St. Louis and Vancouver.

The new team, which has yet to be officially named, will be based at the NSC and will play home games at the National Sports Center Stadium in Blaine. The new team will replace the Minnesota Thunder at the division II level.

The National Sports Center is the largest athletic complex of its kind in the world, boasting 52 soccer fields and over 3.8 million annual visitors. It is the most-visited sports facility in Minnesota. The new team will play some its home games during the NSC’s major youth tournaments to take advantage of the huge attendance base of youth players already attending NSC tournaments, such as Schwan’s USA CUP in July, the largest youth soccer tournament in the Western Hemisphere, with nearly 1,000 teams.

The National Sports Center board of directors has approved ownership of the team. Kris Bjerkness, the NSC’s Chief Administrative Officer, has been designated to organize the new team. The NSC has also contracted with Manny Lagos to be the Director of Soccer Operations.

“The NSC believes that professional soccer plays a critical role in advancing soccer at all levels all across the state,” said Bjerkness. “At the urging of many of our colleagues in soccer, the NSC has decided to step in to preserve professional soccer in Minnesota.”

Bjerkness added that the new team would focus on delivering the highest-quality fan experience by fielding the most competitive team possible, actively listening to fan comments and suggestions, and sending players into the community to work with youth sports groups, including youth soccer camps. “Our success depends on fans having a good experience, seeing their game played well, on their home field.”

“We are very respectful of the long, proud history of professional soccer in Minnesota from the Minnesota Kicks, Strikers, Thunder, and now this new team,” said Bjerkness. “There are over 100,000 registered soccer players in the state, and many times that number of passionate fans of the sport. We want to renew and build on that passion and preserve top-quality professional soccer for all the fans in the state.”

Over the next few weeks, the team will announce plans for a team-naming contest and the schedule for a series of “soccer summits” to collect fan ideas and suggestions.

Bjerkness and Lagos are currently attending this weekend’s North American Soccer League general league meeting and MLS College Draft Combine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

This will be a brand new team and organization. There are no formal ties between the new NSC team and the old Minnesota Thunder.


Anonymous Dave Brett said...

Let's hope the team is called "Minnesota Kicks!"


11:10 AM  
Blogger Kevin Joseph said...

Let's not. Ugh.

5:07 PM  
Anonymous Charlie N. said...

Next to Vangorren of Hesselink (the coolest name ever!)I like Bjerkness.

6:32 PM  
Anonymous Neal said...

NSC: New Soccer Club

I have great fondness for the MN Kicks, but I think it's time to move on.

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Dan M. said...

just keep it as the thunder. no good reason to change.

12:19 AM  
Blogger brucio said...

Dan M - I think someone else just might own the Thunder name.

10:45 AM  
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