ST. PAUL, Minn. — Before the clock struck eight on the evening of Saturday, June 11, the final whistle blew on a 5-1 victory for Minneapolis City. Visiting La Crosse Aris, occupying its customary last-place position in the NPSL North Conference table, had been soundly bested. Crows coaches and players were hoping momentum from the win could be carried toward a strong finish to the 2022 season.
Before the clock struck nine that night, the League Two side had fallen 4-1 away to Des Monies.
Results were no better this past weekend. Minneapolis was outscored 12-3 over three losses in three days.
A 20-hour round-trip bus ride saw the club play its first international matches, losing 3-1 to the Thunder Bay Chill on Friday and 4-1 to FC Manitoba on Sunday. In between, the Crows were defeated 5-1 at home to fellow North Conference “big three” rival Med City.
The club has tried to regroup after its attempt to play in two leagues using a single, expanded pool of players resulted in a lack of cohesion to start the season. A plague of injuries — two-dozen players have missed time, several for at least two weeks — has made the coaching staff’s attempt to better-define NPSL and USL2 rosters difficult. City was forced to play three of its home games away from the friendly confines of Edor Nelson Field while new turf was being installed. And chasing results while trailing has led to concession on the counter and lopsided scorelines.
“I still think the results have been worse than our performances, but until you find the ‘W’ it’s hard to argue that’s not the case,” said USL2 head coach Matt VanBenschoten.
Through eight League two games, Minneapolis remains in search of its first USL2 victory. The Crows simultaneously reside in fifth place in the NPSL North, having never finished worse than third since joining the conference in 2017.
“I think Tyler David just kind of said it,” relayed fullback Matt Murakami, following Saturday’s loss to Med City. “We’ve got quality, but we’re not always showing it, especially in front of our own goal and in front of their goal. We’re not scoring, we’re getting scored on, and it’s tough.”
Frustrating moments acted as hinges upon which results are swung to losses: an 84th minute goal scored by Thunder Bay’s Osita Obiekwe on the counter ceding the lead; a positive COVID test result taking Nick Hutton out of the starting XI hours before kickoff; a hamstring injury removing captain Charlie Adams from the middle of a young Crows lineup in just the 22nd minute, ahead of the first-place Medics scoring twice in the next six.
General bad fortune also had its say, when 100-degree temperatures met the Crows upon arrival in Winnipeg, just in time for the League Two travelling 18 to play a second game in less than 48 hours.
This catalog of missteps and misfortunes is presented to give the reader insight into the frustrations of a down season. Please note — if for nothing but for author’s part — it is not offered as an excuse for points dropped, nor to diminish the points earned by Minneapolis’ opponents. The latter have executed. The Crows have not.
“We keep making the same mistakes, and it lets us down,” said VanBenschoten.
“When you prepare to deal with an opponent’s strengths, and they find a way to score regardless of your preparation, it’s frustrating,” said NPSL head coach Marco Campoverde of facing Med City. “It gives us an opportunity to say, ‘Preparation is one thing, execution is another.'”
And yet, amid the string of losses, morale among the team is said to be relatively good, per both Campoverde and VanBenschoten. Fans will have to hope that translates into a salvage operation on a sinking season.
Last Saturday, though it did not factor in the result, small aid came in the form of Justin and Tyler Oliver. The pair came out of retirement to log minutes off the bench for City.
“I have so much love and passion for the club, and when I see what they’re trying to do here, and little things continuously going against them, I just wanted to come back and try and help the club,” said Justin. “I’ve got nothing but love for the people that run this, like Dan [Hoedeman], [John] Biss[wurm], and Matt [VanBenschoten] at the USL2-level. Marco is awesome. [Assistant coach] Tori Burnett is awesome. This club is special, and I wanted to come out and try and contribute in whatever capacity I could.”
Oliver was asked, on the record, if he thought all of City’s player’s shared his pride in playing for the Crows.
“I think that the people who have been here know what it means to play for City, and some people who are newer are learning what it’s all about. But I’m not saying that they don’t play with passion. Everyone that played [against Med City], even though we lost 5-1, I can confidently say nobody left anything out on that field today.”
Playoffs are no longer a realistic goal. A top-three NPSL North conference finish is still possible. And so is picking up multiple League Two wins in front of fans at Edor Nelson field before summer turns to fall.
VanBenschoten noted he, personally, was feeling optimistic given the composition of the remainder of the Crows’ schedule. Six of the Minneapolis’ last nine games are at home, including all four-remaining League Two contests. Additionally, two of the three away games include a short, cross-metro trip to face Joy Athletic and an away day at last-place Aris.
“All we can do is approach each remaining [NPSL] game the best we can and aim for 15 points,” Campoverde said of his part. “If you look at the schedule, we have good opportunities to pick up points based on our track record against the competition we’re set to face. The ambition is to do everything we can to get as many of those remaining 15 points and see how the table shakes out.”