MATCHDAY PREVIEW: DAKOTA FUSION

Dakota Fusion are possibly the biggest wildcard in the NPSL North this season and this match will tell a lot about both teams.

Last season, the Mighty Crows faced Fusion early in the season–just three games in–and walked off with a 5-1 win that set the tone for a record-breaking year. A Whitney Browne hat trick and two goal of the season contenders, one from Max Stiegwardt and one from Martin Browne, set Minneapolis City on its way to a statement win against a Fusion team that had made the playoffs the season before.

While the Crows would go on to an undefeated league season and conference championship, Fusion would slump to a disappointing fifth place finish.

And yet.

The best thing about NPSL soccer is that just about anything can happen, especially in a short season and especially this early in the season.

FUSION SCOUTING REPORT

It’s another first-year coach for Dakota Fusion as Nick Becker makes way for Jonathan Melendez. An experienced coach at the college and high school level, Melendez steps in with a clear brief to return Fusion to the competitiveness that they showed in their first year when they continued the on-field success of the folded FC Fargo club that they replaced.

Melendez will have to do without Jade Johnson and Ben Eastwell, neither of whom is on the roster (or at least has been announced yet). Both will be big losses, not least Johnson. The forward won the Golden Boot in the North Conference in 2017–and almost won nationally–and remained an offensive fulcrum in 2018. While the return of Isaac Kehson will help, Melendez has a big hole to fill up top. Similarly on defense, where Eastwell was a particular talent. Who will step up? How will Melendez get the most out of this group of players? The unknowns make for tough scouting, and suggest that the Crows will have to be careful not to get caught out.

CITY SCOUTING REPORT

Matt vanBenschoten makes his managerial debut in the NPSL. VanBenschoten helmed the U23’s last season and was a key assistant as the club went undefeated in conference play to take the title, so he will be familiar with what it takes to be successful at this level–and what it takes to win early season games when the team is just coming together.

Max Stiegwardt is back for the Crows

The Crows team has a lot of familiar faces from last season’s title winning team: NPSL National First XI selection Max Stiegwardt returns as does NPSL All-Midwest forward Will Kidd and NPSL All-Conference defender Max Kent. That is in addition to big contributors like Nick Hutton, Aaron Olson, Justin Oliver, Whitney and Martin Browne, Ben Wexler, and Matt Elder. That is a list of heavy-hitting returners and all should be available for the opener.

There will be some notable absences. Young Kevin Andrews and wily veteran Myles Norville are both nursing injuries. Also, there are some players who have not yet returned from college, Creighton attacker Luke Haakenson among them. Still, it’s a strong City team that will be taking the field on Saturday.

“We’re glad to be out of preseason” said Head Coach Matt vanBenschoten.

He contined, “preseason is always a weird time that starts with a lot enthusiasm and excitement for all of the possibilities, but then reality sets in and it becomes hard work. So then you’re left thinking ‘Why am I doing this? I should really be spending more time with my wife and kids.’ It’s very similar to Tinder.”

Jokes aside, the home opener is a big match and vanBenschoten sounded a note of quiet confidence, “the guys have put in a lot of hard work and they are starting to see what they are really capable of. Our coaching staff has grown and I feel very confident in all of the prep work they’ve put into getting to this point. So we’re ready and excited to start the season and defend our title for 2019.”

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