Two champions clash on Saturday as Duluth FC visit Minneapolis.
Last season, Minneapolis City famously went undefeated and lifted the North Conference title. Duluth then went on to show incredible defensive resilience over three knockout cup matches to take the Region title. It’s a heavyweight bought, not least because the Donkeys have completely re-vamped their squad with strong international flavor.
There is a blend of English and Brazilian players in this new team, which maintains Duluth’s famed defensive resilience and adds some pace and trickery beyond what they had last season. It’s the fruit of a recruitment policy that scours the country–and beyond–to identify, entice, house, and place these players in Duluth for the season. It’s not unlike what a professional team would do, though, of course, Duluth are NCAA-compliant.
It also means that this match is not just a clash of top teams, it’s a clash of visions.
Minneapolis City use only local players. The definition of local is purposefully inclusive: anyone who is in Minnesota for reasons other than playing for the Crows. It’s an open and welcoming policy that still keeps the club focused on its community mission. That means guys who were born here, moved her as kids, moved here for college, or even got an internship here are eligible to play.
It also means that there is that other layer of interest for Saturday’s game as the local kids representing their local team take on the squad of talented, focused internationals.
DULUTH SCOUTING REPORT
The short of it is that they are very good.
Headlined by 27 year old Brazilian attacking midfielder Carlyle Junior, a former professional a Flamengo and Centro de Futebol Zico. Botswana forward Ronaldo Fortune is another player to watch. The former professional and University of Mobile graduate has already gotten on the scoresheet and looked sharp in the U.S. Open Cup against Des Moines Menace.
By bringing in older and graduated players who stood out in NAIA soccer, it’s clear that Duluth will be physical, organized, and nonplussed as games near the end. That maturity has served them well in the past and, again already this season, they were able to force a bad error by TwinStars in extra time to get the own goal equalizer they needed.
This is a team that has improved from a strong position last season, they are coming off of a competitive draw with Med City, are hungry as ever, and it will be a very tough game.
CITY SCOUTING REPORT
Four wins on the bounce is the right way to start the season, though there was some shakiness in the major test at TwinStars–in a derby match that has always been intense, competitive, and action-packed–on Wednesday. There was also resilience. Despite two quick equalizers by the home side and 90 minutes of diving, playacting, and trolling, the Crows kept doing what they do to dig out a win.
Minneapolis City is just about at full strength finally as players like Aidan O’Driscoll and Luke Haakenson return from college, though given that they are just back it may be too soon for them to feature.
Central defensive pair Myles Norville and Trey Benhart continue to be absent for the team though they are working hard with the staff to get fit for a return to action.
Head coach Matt vanBenschoten recognized the massive week of games the club are in the middle of, “It goes without saying that Saturday is a big game. It’s the second of three games in a weeks time which is book-ended by two difficult away games.”
He continued, “but we were able to get a big result against TwinStars and that was a big win in what we’re calling Big Week. Not everything needs a flashy name, guys. Anyway, despite the fact we still haven’t played our best soccer, we’ve faced adversity well and have found ways to get the result. That’s the mark of good team. Saturday will be tough, but I’m confident and I know the players are even more confident that we can show up and ball out.”