By Kyle Eliason
MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis City SC followed a pregame moment of silence for its first-ever head coach, the recently-departed Keith Kiecker, with a 3-0 victory over visiting La Crosse Aris FC. The result extended the Crows’ winning streak in league play to nine games.
Current head coach Matt VanBenschoten used a matchup with an Aris side in search of its first league victory in 2021 to audition a number of Crows for increased minutes in the second half of the North Conference season, while a midweek tie with second-place Duluth FC loomed on the horizon.
Among those making their first starts for the Crows in 2021 — after working their ways back from respective injuries — were defenders Abdallah Bah and Aaron Olosn, and midfielder Samuel Ruiz-Plaza. All three were with Minneapolis City for its inaugural 2016 campaign when the Crows were part of the Premier League of America. And all three learned shortly before their match against Aris that Kiecker — their former coach — had recently passed after being hit by a motorcycle while living in California.
Keith Kiecker leads Minneapolis City SC onto the field during the club’s inaugural 2016 season. Image Credit: Daniel Mick Photography
The news brought a sense of loss to those who had worked with Kiecker, and also, surfaced fond remembrances of the Crows’ first head coach.
“It’s terrible news,” Olson said. “Unbelievable, really, and it’s something that hits you as a complete surprise. I love that we had a moment of silence before the game, and I just wish his family and his close friends the best.”
“It’s very tough. I was very close to Keith,” said Bah. “He was the first person that reached out to me when the team was first starting, and he had a really big role in getting me to come out for the team.”
Olson remembered Kiecker as a player’s manager.
“His enthusiasm for the team was great,” noted Olson. “You never doubted that he would show up for the players. That’s what you loved about him. He gave his all for us every game from the sideline and he’d go to battle with any of us. It’s really sad that he’s gone.”
Minneapolis City SC defender Aaron Olson holds off a La Crosse Aris forward at Edor Nelson Field in Minneapolis, Minn. (June 26, 2021) Image Credit: Daniel Mick Photography
Bah held warm memories of Kiecker’s help on and off the field.
“He always wanted me to play and perform,” recalled Bah. “There were times where I wouldn’t really be in the mood during training, but he would always say to me, ‘I know you’re a gamer,’ and keep me motivated.”
Bah also talked about Kiecker’s impact off the field, helping him find a host family for the summer of 2016 as well as setting up job opportunities following Bah’s graduation from Post University.
In conversations around Edor Nelson Field on Saturday, numerous players and staff noted Kiecker’s role in helping lay a foundation for the club’s future success. On the field, the Crows took another small step forward in pursuit of a third-straight North Conference title.
Defender Abdallah Bah surveys the field before a corner kick during Minneapolis City SC’s game against La Crosse Aris FC at Edor Nelson Field in Minneapolis, Minn. (June 26, 2021) Image Credit: Daniel Mick Photography
Scoring the game’s first goal and assisting Arthur Parens on its second was forward Nick Hutton. In the Crows’ previous NPSL game, against Sioux Falls, Hutton had been deputized to stand in for regular play-by-play announcer Eric Nordquist on the team’s live stream. Now fully recovered from a hernia and torn adductor sustained over the winter, Hutton drew praise in his return to the field.
“Hutton is always someone who impresses me,” said VanBenschoten. “His work ethic, his speed, he’s always going to contribute.”
VanBenschoten also made note of forward Eli Goldman’s return to the starting XI, playing his first full game in over a year-and-a-half.
“Our starters through the first eight [games], no, they’ve got a spot you have to knock off,” said Hutton. “I’ve got to hopefully put in a shift that makes our coach think maybe we do have a little bit of a rotation up front,” said Hutton. “But those guys are putting in so many goals, playing so dang well, you just have to push a little bit and hopefully lean into one of those spots.”
Forward Nick Hutton strikes what would prove the opening goal in Minneapolis City SC’s three-goal victory over La Crosse Aris FC at Edor Nelson Field in Minneapolis, Minn. (June 26, 2021) Image Credit Daniel Mick Photography
Both Bah and Olson echoed Hutton on the quest for minutes as the season neared its stretch run.
“Definitely — this is the part of the season I’m really looking forward to, going into the playoffs,” Bah said. “I’m looking to make a good run going in.”
“I think every single one of the players on the squad wants 90 minutes a game,” said Olson. “Wherever the coach wants to fit me in, that’s the role I’ll play.”
VanBenschotten closed his postgame interview with a bit of a wink.
“Our defensive shape was better today, so if we can continue that against Duluth, that’s going to help us a lot. And again, the roster is probably going to change for Duluth, so we’ll see what happens.”