Get to know: the rivalries

In the NPSL, Minneapolis City is a big club.

It has a huge social media presence, very strong attendance, and a history of success. That makes it a juicy target for opposing teams. In the North, the Crows are the team that everyone wants to beat. But which teams do the Crows really want to beat?

THE TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES DERBY

If derbies are derbies because of the intense rivalry, the consistent controversy, and the visceral disdain the competitors have for each other then the derby between urban Minneapolis City SC and suburban Minnesota TwinStars, which we dub the Technical Difficulties Derby, definitely qualifies. 

This derby even has that magical ability to lift the performance of the team lower in the table beyond what it should be, with the passion of the occasion clear to see.

The derby didn’t start well for the Crows in 2017. 

A messy and insipid performance was just turning around, helped by TwinStars going down to 10 men with 15 minutes to play, when the referee inexplicably called the game before it had reached 90 minutes played. Confusion and argument ensued. The game was eventually re-started. All momentum lost, the Crows fell 2-0. 

It got worse from there, if you can believe it. Needing a win to stay in playoff contention, playing in front of the largest crowd of the season at home, the Crows watched the TwinStars goalkeeper stand on his head to keep City off the scoresheet as the Crows lost again and were bounced from the playoffs. Ouch.

Photo from club’s social media

Everything went haywire in 2018.

With less than 48 hours notice, TwinStars announced publicly on Twitter without notifying the league or the City front office beforehand that their scheduled game was being rescheduled because of “technical difficulties.” 

Those technical difficulties were imaginary since the blog E Pluribus Loonum saw the TwinStars holding practice on the stadium field at Prairie Seeds Academy, which is an NPSL compliant stadium, on the day and time of the scheduled game. 

#TechnicalDifficulties became a trending hashtag, a meme, and a tifo that The Citizens brought to the rescheduled game.

Despite the TwinStars breaking NPSL Bylaws and over the strenuous protests of the Crows, the NPSL forced the game to happen. The game happened at the Prairie Seeds Academy stadium, which was a derbylicious touch. The Crows won the rescheduled game 1-0. It was a brutal match. A flurry of cards went to the TwinStars, including a red. And yet, no red was awarded to the TwinStars player who bumped the referee or the TwinStars player who bit City captain Aaron Olson. Yes, bit him. Just derby things.

Aaron Olson after getting bitten. Photo: Seth Steffenhagen for E Pluribus Loonum.

The TwinStars staff even attempted to cancel the game for a hint of lightning in the area and only a phone call to the league forced the match to be finished. It doesn’t get any more derby than this derby.

So the return match was much anticipated. The Crows were undefeated and in the hunt for the conference title and the TwinStars were the TwinStars. With help from the softest penalty ever awarded, the TwinStars fought to a 2-2 draw with the eventual champions. Fought is the right word.

Among other infringements of the rules, the TwinStars were awarded a red card for a stamp on Ian Smith.

Then a punch was thrown at Matt Elder right in front of the referee. Derby! 

Those were just the highlights of the Glad Nobody Was Seriously Injured year of this derby.

Things calmed down in 2019.

Maybe only because things could not possibly escalate over 2018, the 2019 matches were competitive but without the edge that existed previously.

The first match of the season was played in Maple Grove. The Crows scored first only to be pegged right back. Then they scored against only to be pegged right back again. Time was running out in the second half when Kevin Hoof planted a header in the back of the net to win it for City in a derby match full of the right kind of drama this time.

The drama continued in the return match at Edor Nelson. Each team neutralized the other. The Crows were on top but struggled to create clear cut chances. As time ticked on, it seemed like the game was destined to stay 0-0. Then Coach VanBenschoten threw on Aidan O’Driscoll and Eli Goldman. O’Driscoll was the creator and Goldman the finisher as the Crows broke down the TwinStars resistance to grab the win.

Celebrating with Eli Goldman after the win. Photo from City’s social media.

It is a real disappointment that TwinStars are on hiatus in 2020. The Technical Difficulties Derby will be missed.

All-time record: City 3-2-1/TwinStars 2-3-1

THE GREEN LINE DERBY

It was Minneapolis vs St. Paul when the Crows took the field against VSLT FC. These games were always a lot of fun in the stands and competitive on the field, even though City managed to win all of the contests.

The two faced off in the first NPSL North match in 2017.

The Crows came in as favorites, but Matt Elder was sent off for a professional foul in the first half and before you knew it City was behind 1-0. But then an unlikely fight-back while a man down ensued and AJ Albers’ goal from Martin Browne’s free kick made it 2-1. How crazily derby.

AJ Albers scores the winner. Photo from the club’s social media.

There was another defining red card in the return match in Minneapolis. Ayuk Tambe had opened the scoring for VSLT, but not long after the visitors had their centerback sent off for a professional foul. With a man up, the Crows were flying. Will Kidd scored a diving header to turn the game and once again City roared back to win 2-1.

City did the double again in 2018.

Coming into the first derby match between the two, VSLT boasted the league’s best defense and were top of the conference. 40 minutes later, the Crows were winning 4-0 behind the best half of soccer that the club has ever played. With a huge set of Crows fans singing and heckling, it was an incredible experience.

This sums up the game. Photo by Seth Steffenhagen.

City coasted in the second half to a statement 5-1 win over their rival.

The return match was in Osseo and both teams were vying for the title. VSLT were very strong, but went behind to a Tim Wills goal that was almost cleared off the line but judged to have gone in first. VSLT were enraged when Max Kent cleared the ball off the line in a similar manner but the linesman judged that this time the ball had not crossed the line. Controversy! That derby magic was sprinkled all over this game.

VSLT found an equalizer and both sides had chances to win but it was the Crows who grabbed another 2-1 victory in the end. Will Kidd’s cross found a leaping Juan Louis at the back post to win the game.

It is official that VSLT is no longer in the NPSL, but expansion does happen and maybe there will be a Twin Cities Derby again in the future.

All-time record: City 4-0-0/VSLT 0-4-0

THE DULUTH RIVALRY

At its best, this is the story of two heavyweight clubs going at each other. We are going to tell the story of the rivalry at its best because it’s competitive, intense, and funny. These two clubs and their duels have defined the North Conference so far.

Similar to Manchester United and Arsenal in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Minneapolis City and Duluth aren’t geographic rivals, they are rivals simply because they have both been really good. It means that every time they face each other the games have meaning and that gives them an edge.

Duluth’s physical approach to games in 2017 helped to define that edge.

It also helped to knock the Crows off of their perch, quite literally, as the visitors used every bit of physicality they had to knock City down. It was the kind of game that creates a rivalry. Despite Martin Browne giving the Crows the lead, a late, late equalizer shook up City and Duluth’s celebrations on the Edor Nelson turf told their own story.

There was a bizarre situation after the game where Duluth FC staff, including the club’s head coach at the time Kyle Bakas, took to Twitter to accuse Minneapolis City of withholding the full video from the game. The Crows claimed that there was an issue with the streaming video production and that they posted everything that they could. As the accusations got increasingly more strident, City’s Twitter account pretended to post the full video only for it to be a link to a video of Rick Astley’s classic Never Gonna Give You Up. That began a regular tradition of City Rick Rolling Duluth. Rivalry intensifies!

The re-match in Duluth featured the famous Donkey tifo by The Citizens. Rivalries are nothing without the fans getting into it, and they got into this one. Despite Matt Elder saving a penalty and Isaac Friendt scoring, the BlueGreens took the 2-1 win and, soon after, the conference title.

Photo from Wikipedia

The rivalry continued in 2018.

The Crows went to Duluth early in the season and grabbed a 1-1 draw. It was a good result for both sides given the quality of the opposition. It was an intense, hotly contested game. Given the history though it was also the most vanilla flavored game between these two clubs.

The return match was set-up to be something much, much bigger. Win it, and the Crows won the conference. Lose, and Duluth could take the title. It was all confidence on social media from Duluth and their fans. Remember, the Crows hadn’t beaten Duluth yet in their previous three tries.

History, though, is made to be written. The Crows blew Duluth away in the first half. Two goals and a penalty save were highlights. Duluth stormed back, scoring just minutes into the second half. City restored their two-goal lead not long after. With twenty minutes remaining Duluth made it a game again with another goal. But the Crows settled matters and won the title with a goal of their own. Victory! The on-field celebrations were a treat.

Photo from the club’s social media

The rubber match was in the playoffs. Shorn of their Division 1 players, this wasn’t the same Crows team but they were still formidable. Forced to play down a man because of Abdallah Bah’s nose ring situation, the Crows went behind. They equalized and forced extra time. Then a contentious penalty was called against Myles Norville and Duluth won 2-1 in extra time.

The two kept at it in 2019.

By this time, Duluth had completely revamped their style of play and their squad. The new players were technical, fast, and comfortable with a short passing game. The result was a great match-up between two skillful teams intent on playing the right way.

The celebrations show how much the game means. Justin Oliver with The Citizens. Photo from the club’s social media.

While City had the run of the play, Duluth scored two quickfire goals late in the second half to come back from a 1-0 deficit and break the Crows’ 19-game conference unbeaten streak. Yet again, Duluth was celebrating on the Edor Nelson turf after the final whistle.

The return match was the penultimate game of the season. Just like the season before, City had a chance to win the conference title by beating the BlueGreens. Just like the season before, they did it with a 4-2 win and two goals from Justin Oliver. Just like the season before, the Crows were celebrating a conference title on the field while their rivals walked off to the showers.

The rivalry implications continued into the next game, when the Crows hosted Med City. Win or draw, and the Crows would knock Med City out of the playoffs. Lose, and the Crows would knock Duluth out of the playoffs. The Crows fielded a strong team and they put in plenty of effort, but a 0-1 result meant that the Crows knocked Duluth out of the playoffs and down to third. Ouch.

The Crows had a lot to celebrate after the Med City game. Photo from the club’s social media.

All-time record: City 2-3-2/Duluth 3-2-2

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