In Duluth’s second season as part of the NPSL’s Midwest-North conference, the BlueGreens took another step forward in their quest to be part of the core of lower league football in Minnesota. It was a journey that ended in a blaze of glory that quite possibly should have never ignited and yet in the end earned the club its first ever regional championship.
It’s easy to forget that Duluth’s season didn’t start well, in fact it didn’t go well for almost a month of play. By the half way mark of the season the BlueGreens had only beaten two teams in league play, had actually lost more home games than they’d won, and were hanging on to a barely positive goal difference. The U.S. Open Cup provided a glimpse of optimism as the club made history by playing in the first round and advancing to the second, the first amateur club in Minnesota to do that in the competition’s modern era. The brief attention the cup earned Duluth seemed to dim quickly however as they found themselves stuck in the middle of the table and lost far behind VSLT and Minneapolis City sides that looked destined for first and second place respectively.
This all changed as soon as the second half of the season kicked off. Duluth would win, somewhat remarkably, six of their seven remaining games and earn five clean sheets in the process. Their one late season loss to Minneapolis would prove the determiner for them not winning the conference, but the sudden burst of form would earn them the second place spot and a playoff run.
Said playoff run was largely expected to last a match or two and provide the team a silver lining for their complicated and sometimes frustrating title defense season. It would instead turn into a 360 minute Cinderella story and a regional title victory after facing three of the top clubs in the Midwest. From beating the otherwise undefeated Minneapolis City to four penalty saves in two games from Alberto Ciroi to scoring three against Ann Arbor, who had only conceded four goals all season, the playoff run would provide surprises and lifelong memories for players, stuff, and most importantly fans.
The story would end in Miami, where the BlueGreens would suffer their biggest loss of the year in a 3-0 win to Miami FC 2, but would still make history with their appearance and earn respect from Miami’s assortment of historied, skilled, and professional players and coaches.
2018 would also bring a series of firsts outside of the raw stats for Duluth. Ivan Adika participated in the NPSL’s Player Showcase during preseason, the first Duluth FC player to do so. The showcase provides chances for standout NPSL players to show scouts their skills and included a strong group of representatives from the North. Jan Hoffelner, Ryan Tyrer, and Joe Watt would all be voted on to the conference’s best XI for 2018, with Hoffelner going on to win the same spot in the regional and national best XI, eventually earning him the league’s Golden Glove.
Duluth would have eighteen different goal scorers this year, a massive increase from eleven in our first NPSL season. Because we certainly wouldn’t let them get away with doing something cool like scoring a goal without a chance to gloat, those goalscorers were Ryan Tyrer, Joe Watt, Kyle Farrar, Dana Kowachek, Garga Nyuah, Sora Wakabayashi, Brooks Rice, Liam Moore, Tom Corcoran, Ricardo Ramos, Ivan Adika, Mally Lumsden, Cori Hill, Arad Lev Ari, Leonardo Almeida, Gonnie Ben-Tal, Sean Morgan, and Soham Kathuria.
We would like to thank Head Coach Joel Person, Assistant Coach Brandon Stemwedel, and goalkeeper Tom Greensall, who served as an aid to our coaching staff for several matches. All three were key in keeping the tactics and mindset of this club on track and dangerous, without their work on the sideline we would not be where we are today.
We want to thank the many businesses, big and small, that have contributed to the club throughout this season. Whether it be our kit features, St. Luke’s and KJ Branded, or the food from Oasis del Norte and The Rambler, or the great event and watch party hosting from Hoops Brewing and Yellow Bike Coffee, our partners have helped provide us with chances to grow and develop as a club.
Of course a massive thank you must be reserved for all our players this season. Thank you to those who played every match, those that played one or two, those that played a few positions or stuck to one. Thank you to the goalscorers and the goalkeepers, the assisters and the tacklers, thank you to every single player who did their best in training, traveling, and playing to uphold the interests and passions of this club and community. For these reasons and many more Duluth FC thanks Ricardo Ramos, Brooks Rice, Leonardo Almeida, Siji Gonzalez, Ian McIntosh, Gunnar O’Neill, Sora Wakabayashi, Alex Johnston, Cori Hill, Alex Peterson, Robbie Sobczak, Jan Hoffelner, Charlie Evans, Fernando Bicalho, Adrian Leal, Ivan Adika, Mally Lumsden, Parker Bjorlin, Selim Tunagur, Vladik Margolin, Ryan Tyrer, Daniel Hedstrom, Julian Lucumi Villegas, Gonnie Ben-Tal, Kyle Farrar, Sam Winning, Tom Greensall, Alberto Ciroi, Tom Corcoran, Sean Morgan, Soham Kathuria, Nico Railef, Kimani Dallas, Santiago Castro, Liam Moore, Garga Nyuah, Joe Watt, Aidan Hill, Arad Lev Ari, and Dana Kowachek.
Our final yet most important thank you is reserved for you, the supporters. Whether it be our club record attendance of 706 against Med City this year or the contingent of away fans at the Minnesota TwinStars or Minneapolis City matches, we at Duluth FC know we are endlessly lucky to work and play for a passionate community. Our city and region may not be known for soccer, but you, the fans, prove that the opportunity is there for it to grow in the northland. You’ve supported our boys through thick and thin, you’ve embraced our rebranding, and you’ve helped make sure that we all remember what lower league soccer across the planet has always been about: building a community. There’s still room to grow and lessons to learn, but having you with us along the way will make that journey all the better.
Thank you all once again for what you’ve helped us bring to this beautiful city. 2018 was a crazy ride, but perhaps the craziest part is we’ll do it all again next year. See you there.