MINNEAPOLIS — A midweek home victory over Sioux Falls Thunder, followed by a win at cross-metro foe Joy Athletic on Saturday, lifted Minneapolis City SC into third place in the NPSL North Conference. After picking up just 4 points from their first five league games, the Crows have grabbed 12 in their last six.
Second-half goals from Matt Murakami and Zach Susee allowed the Crows to survive an 84th-minute goal from the Thunder’s Samuel Baraka. And a Joy red card preceded the Lionel Vang brace — via free- and penalty kick — that lifted the City over the Goats. In what has been a summer full of adversity, that pair of scrappy victories have brought the season’s salvage mission into focus.
“We all know the quality that Lionel possesses,” said NPSL head coach Marco Campoverde. “Any time we have a set piece opportunity, he’s certainly one of the top people up there. That’s why you invest in guys who have experience. He understood the weight of the responsibility.”
Minneapolis has never finished lower than third place in the North since the conference was founded in 2017. With last weekend’s results, City now controls its own destiny in preserving that distinction. Fourth-place Dakota Fusion has a game in hand but trails Minneapolis by 4 points. The Crows also hold a 3-point advantage over fifth-place Minnesota TwinStars, both having played 11 games.
“When you play or coach for Minneapolis City, the aim is always to be as competitive as possible, but we dug ourselves a bit of a hole. We’ve responded nicely, and we’re going to keep on the path we’re on,” Campoverde said. “Regardless of who we’re playing, we’re going to approach each game the with the same mentality of trying to figure out how to win.”
On Wednesday, July 6, Minneapolis will travel to Jim Gotta Stadium to face the Fusion while the TwinStars will host second-place Med City. With the Mayhem favored against the Dragons, a City win could create breathing room between itself and the rest of the table beneath it. With Med City and Duluth FC atop the conference and playoff bound, the Crows have only pride left to play for in maintaining their perch among the “big three” for a fifth-consecutive season.
Following that, City will host seventh-place Joy Athletic before finishing its season on the road against eighth-place La Crosse Aris.
“Fusion has demonstrated that they are very competitive this year. They have a whole-new group of guys that are motivated to show that they’re capable of competing in this conference,” noted Campoverde. “Rest is our biggest ally, at the moment, with all the injuries we’re dealing with. And then in terms of preparation, we really believe in the way we’ve approached the last couple of games. We want to maintain possession and do that higher up, so we’re less susceptible to quick counter attacks.”
In Other Action
Minneapolis City’s first League Two game at Edor Nelson Field did not go as hoped, with visiting Peoria City leaving the City of Lakes 2-0 winners over the Crows. Hartford, Conn. native Timothy Ennin scored a brace with goals on either side of halftime while Minneapolis failed to tally a score of its own.
“I think we were a little flat,” said centerback Jack Barry, who played a full 90-plus minutes. “We weren’t linking up. At times we possessed well, but we lacked the discipline in defense to get things done, and didn’t have the initiative going forward.”
After the game, with his side still in search of its first league victory, USL2 head coach Matt VanBenschoten reiterated the coaching staff’s commitment to finishing the season with intent, regardless of prior results. VanBenschoten went a step further and asked that any players who felt differently let him know, so the team could proceed with those who intended to fight for the club in its final three home games.
“Especially after the second goal… I get it, I do understand the frustration. But this club is about character, and if we’re not going to show that, we’ll move on. For the guys that did, I’m really proud of that, because I know it’s hard,” said VanBenschoten.
VanBenschoten, when asked about what impact second-half substitutes made, said he was happy with the short shifts put in by Loïc Mesanvi, Jacek Nickowski and recent Futures call-up Ramzi Ouro-Akondo.
“I was happy to see Ramzi get on the field and cut his teeth a little bit, because I think he’s got a bright future,” VanBenschoten said. “He’s a kid that wants it and is always going to battle as long as he’s on the field, and I think at a young age, is already leading by example.”
Ouro-Akondo said the welcome he received from teammates during first-team training had been encouraging. The midfielder also credited Crows fans at Edor Nelson as giving him a boost with their audible support.
That appreciation for the home crowd was shared by Barry, who felt he and his teammates should have returned the energy.
“We have to own our results and we have to own our performances,” said Barry. “We have to come out and give back, and give them better. We have to come back next week, keep battling, and get after it.”
“Three games left. Three opportunities to go get three points. We just go back to practice, grind and come out better next time,” added Ouro-Akondo.