On being an intern, battling cancer, and building a club.
By: Kristian Evans
I remember the moment I fell in love with MPLS City very clearly. In the club’s home opener against the Croatian Eagles, Isaac Friendt, who had been dominating the entire game, made an incredible run to the outside and blew by the the poor back tasked with containing him. Without much choice, the back took Isaac down and was quickly whistled for a red card, while the crowd cheered in approval, Jon Bisswurm, now the club’s Sporting Director, took the jubilation to the next level. In a full on sprint, red solo cup in hand, Jon ran towards the ball that had spurted out of bounds as a result of the foul and took a running kick at it only to fall in spectacular fashion. I think I was one of the few to see it, but that moment summed up Minneapolis City pretty well for me; we are unorthodox, and beyond strange but man, do we know how to make lower division soccer fun.
I grew up in North Minneapolis just off the parkway, which doubled as community to be proud of and the perfect place for a kid to run around. Despite this, soccer was never part of my athletic endeavors. Instead, like my Iron Range descendants, I stuck to hockey as much as I could. It was that love of hockey that took me across the Atlantic for a year of semi-professional hockey in Norway. It was there as a player that I first experienced what a lower league athletics experience is like. A year of long bus rides, tiny towns and one game on the third floor of a shopping mall (ask me about that one sometime) was also supplemented by small groups of diehard fans, hilarious stories and some of the best characters in teammates I assume I’ll ever meet.
While my time in Norway was primarily focused on hockey, it was also where I was introduced to the wild world of soccer. While attending school at a local gap year institution, I participated in a program that focused on the various ways soccer impacts people, from the World Cup to the backyard pitches. This study included trips to London and my first professional football match, taking in a match in front of the rowdy Millwall fans. For those of you who don’t know Millwall, imagine the foulest mouthed, raucous group of men who choose to go shirtless despite the bitter cold and jam them into a rickety stadium in London. To summarize that experience in one thought, it is the only game of any sport I have ever been to with a fight both on the field and in the stands at the same time. My time abroad took me to from glorious Premier League stadiums to village fields in Africa where the grass was as high as my knees, but when I think about what experiences tied me to Minneapolis City, that Millwall game is the most prominent.
It was after that incredible year that I met with Dan Hoedeman for coffee to discuss this team he was founding. Dan’s pitch hit home in a lot of ways for me; the importance of the Minneapolis community, the focus on recruiting local players, but perhaps most important was the drive to be different. From social media to fan and player experience, the idea of offering something fresh was a fun idea to develop. The first summer with a handful of great higher-ups and just three interns, I listened, learned and laughed my way to an incredible time. All culminating in Jon Bisswurm’s infamous whiff that is forever ingrained in my mind.
Now we can talk about the elephant in the room and why I have no hair. In late January I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. A Monday that started with a trip to the doctor’s office ended in surgery and later that week, a diagnosis and recommendation to start chemotherapy as soon as possible. Not surprisingly, Sarah and Dan were two of the first to reach out and offer their support once I broke the news. A nine-week chemo regimen took the life out of me. With the benefit of hindsight, I’m the one that had it easy. I really didn’t have a choice in the matter of fighting this, but everyone in your life does. That, sometimes, is the hardest part, because not everyone chooses to walk that path with you. Important people in my life made that choice and that’s tough. So if you ever tell me how brave I am or any of those very nice things, keep in mind there is way more valor in doing a task you have no obligation of picking up. To supporters far and wide posting pictures with our Undefeated t-shirts only added to my admiration to this club.
So why is any of this important? I’d answer that every character in this organization has a story that holds weight. Nobody got here in an orthodox manner and that shows in how the club operates. In short, Minneapolis City is different because its interesting and interesting because its different. So to the members of the club reading this, you all continuously make an impression on one 22-year old Northsider with no hair. And to those of you reading this that haven’t experienced this community, come to a match. I can’t guarantee we’ll win, but I can guarantee we will be the most interesting club you’ve ever seen.
While Minneapolis City uses the term ‘Undefeated’ as a jab at their unjust removal from the U.S. Open Cup tournament, it holds deeper meaning for me. In the same way, ‘Undefeated’ doesn’t mean the inability to lose in this case, cancer certainly took quite a lot from me, it is the refusal to back down. Catch a tough break? Laugh about it. Lose some friends? Remember those who stayed. Get removed from a tournament because the professional sports hierarchy in America values those with cash over passion and attempts to subjugate poorer clubs to a litany of unfair rules? Make T-shirts and move on but don’t sacrifice one ounce of what made the club what it is. So come out this summer and meet some weirdo’s, drink, watch some quality soccer and witness a club that, like this intern, isn’t always perfect on the pitch, but is Undefeated in spirit.