WELCOME TO MU - SOCCER IN AMERICA 2.0 – LEADING FORWARD
Well it serves me right for waiting as long as have to publish my President’s Welcome Letter to the club. Had I done this last September as planned, it would have been far easier to compose. Another successful MU summer Rec program would have just concluded, the fall competitive season would have been just getting under way, and the shaky, but talent laden US Men's National Team would have just bounced back (albeit barely) from their 2 – 0 loss to Costa Rica by grabbing a last minute 1 – 1 tie against Honduras to keep the nation’s hope of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup alive. Instead, I now must find a way to explain why having our hearts broken may actually end up being a good thing for soccer in America and how Minneapolis United fits into it all. It seems procrastination has really upped its price.
I apologize in advance for the length of this letter. However, because of the unprecedented situation U.S. Soccer has found itself in, I felt it was important to illustrate the point that our club does not operate in a vacuum. What happens at the highest level of soccer in this country has an affect us and what we do at Minneapolis United has an effect on it. I am very proud of what MU is doing for the game, the differences we are making in youth soccer, and where we are heading as a club. I hope you will read this letter in its entirety and find it informative. If you’re more interested in just reading about club specific items please jump to the section titled, “>>> UNITED THROUGH SOCCER <<<”.
The State of Soccer in America
I, like many of you, was crushed by the U.S. Men’s National Team's (USMNT) failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. However, deep down, and as hard as it was to watch, I knew this needed to happen. It needed to happen if soccer in this country was truly ever going to have a chance to reach the realm of world class. While soccer in America has enjoyed extraordinary growth over recent years, the systems responsible for player development remain inadequate and disconnected. This unplanned pause, for lack of a better word, affords the USSF (the governing body of soccer in this country) time to fix what’s broken, and even more importantly, the opportunity to reimagine how soccer could live in this country not just as a sport, but as part of our culture. We can only hope they take advantage of it.
At this point in time we should also collectively agree to stop lumping the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) into the conversation of what’s wrong with U.S. Soccer. They have managed to stand three times on top of the world's stage with the Cup held high, all the while being underappreciated, underpaid, and now once again the undeserving victim to the USMNT's failure. Yes, they had a head start on most countries in the world, but that by no means should devalue what those women have achieved and what they have done for growing the sport domestically and abroad. Young girls playing soccer everywhere now have legitimate stars in the sport that they can cheer for and aspire to emulate on the field. Today the USWNT faces the challenge of an ever-shrinking talent gap between them and other countries. Now, they too must be mindful of how it maintains a competitive edge. But again, this is a positive byproduct of their efforts and a credit to them for what they have accomplished throughout the years, despite being held as second-class citizens in the eyes of the USSF and FIFA. There’s something else we can hope for, gender equality in soccer.
How does the USMNT missing out on the World Cup affect to our club?
The USMNT’s failure to qualify for the World Cup is virtually unprecedented, at least since our club has been in existence. Kipp Barksdale founded Minneapolis United in 1984. The last time the U.S. failed to qualify was in 1986. From 1990 until now, the United States has been represented at every World Cup. This unbroken streak has produced many benefits to soccer in America. The interest in the sport has been on a rapid rise, as too has the money being invested into it. Conversely, estimates put the financial loss from the USMNT missing out on the 2018 World Cup in Russia somewhere around $200 million. That’s the dollar amount which would have been slated to go back into U.S. Soccer. This money in theory would have been used to fund things like youth player development and coaching education. While it is uncertain how the USSF will handle this loss of revenue, many argue that at a time like this, funding for critical programming should not be cut. In fact, the collective hope is that the USSF will recognize the need for greater funding to be invested in all aspects of the sport, and especially in youth soccer.
So, what’s the potential benefit to a club like ours if the USSF increases the funding? The current “pay to play” system that exists in youth soccer today is a major contention of why the U.S. lacks the ability to develop world class players. The fact that players must pay clubs to play soccer creates an inherent barrier to those who cannot afford to participate. Arguably this barrier prevents a large percent of the potential talent pool from ever entering organized soccer. There is hopeful speculation that the USSF is finally coming to terms with the fact that in all other soccer playing nations, where the world’s top footballers are coming from, there is no cost of entry barriers for youth players.
I’m sure all of us, myself included, would welcome any financial support the USSF would be willing to offer a club like ours that could potentially lower or eliminate the need for a fee to participate. If that barrier got reduced, or even better removed, then more kids from all walks of life would have a greater opportunity to play soccer and that would be a good thing.
What Minneapolis United means to U.S. Soccer
Some of you might be wondering why I chose to write about the state of soccer in America in my welcome letter to all of you. The reason is simple, it’s because MU matters to U.S. Soccer. Minneapolis United, and other independent clubs like us, play an important role in the player development process for U.S. Soccer. Collectively, we are the first point of entry for all domestic talent that could potentially go on to don a MLS, USMNT or USWNT uniform. It's almost guaranteed that if a club like ours doesn’t get a player into their program, that player doesn’t get into the U.S. Soccer system. Lately there has been much ado about the creation of US / MLS Development Academies (DAs) and the role they will play in getting soccer in America back on track. While the DAs are an important piece to the process, they only work with a select number of players, beginning around the age 14. At Minneapolis United we are there from the beginning, when a child first takes to the pitch, quite often providing them with their first organized soccer experience. It is through the efforts of our dedicated coaches, our staff and the legions of parent volunteers, that the love of soccer is instilled and fostered in each one of our players, with the goal that someday they too will pass it on.
Now more than ever it is a time for innovation in youth soccer development and how soccer in America is structured overall. The current systems in place for youth soccer are disconnected and grossly under supported. There needs to be a collective effort to find ways to unify the pathways in and provide support so clubs like ours can reach more youth players. As President I am committed to making sure Minneapolis United remains part of this conversation and has a hand in developing solutions to the problems that exist. We are as relevant to this discussion as any organization, and based on the financial aid that MU awards, we are doing more than most.
>>> UNITED THROUGH SOCCER <<<
Soccer is the world’s sport. There is no other sport that transcends cultural lines more universally. Participation in it provides the unique opportunity to bring people from all different communities and socioeconomic backgrounds together. It is our shared love and respect for the game that unites us. It is a fabric in which we are all woven. As a club, MU’s goal is to not only develop better soccer players, but to build lasting bonds within the communities we serve.
Our club’s vision has always been, "Soccer for the City". We strive to make the beautiful game affordable and accessible to as many players as possible by providing a range of top quality offerings from recreational to competitive. There are few clubs that come close to matching our efforts. This year alone MU, through the generous support of our members and corporate sponsors, is on track to provide over $100,000 in financial assistance to underprivileged kids in the greater metro area. To put that in perspective, the U.S. Soccer Federation will provide approximately $800,000 in total scholarships nationwide. We are working hard to redefine what it means to be an urban based club and more importantly, what youth soccer can be in America.
Who we are and where we’re going
For more than 33 years Minneapolis United has made sure soccer, at every age and at every playing level mattered. MU strives to set the standard for excellence in youth soccer. As President I am committed to continuing the high standards of effective leadership that I have been fortunate enough to serve under as a board member. Today, due in large part to the tremendous efforts of our Executive Director, Gregg Olson, the club’s administrative and coaching staff, and outgoing board members: Brian Brom, Ehssan Taghizadeh, Bob Weil, and Brian Kelley, Minneapolis United is running more efficiently than ever. We will continue to challenge ourselves to improve upon those benchmarks, but thanks to their hard work we can now, as an organization, begin to take on a more strategic planning, mission driven role. In doing so we will begin to take significant steps towards addressing and achieving important key objectives.
High Quality Programming
Minneapolis United takes great pride in being a leader in youth soccer. We have three of the best Directors of Coaching (DOCs) in the state with Tamba Johnson (DOC Boys 12U+), Ben Linder (DOC Girls 12U+), Aaron Paye (DOC Boys & Girls up to 11U). Our DOCs, along with the talented men and women who comprise our coaching staff, continually challenge themselves to be innovators in the programming we offer and the methods with which we conduct our training. As a club, we refuse to become complacent in our approach to player development.
At Minneapolis United we are committed to providing year-round, high-quality soccer programming across all levels of play from recreational to premier. For our players, MU implements the best practice approach of, “Soccer where you are to get to where you want to be.” Our primary concern is with the success of the individual player within the team experience. I take great pride in the fact that MU is a player-centric club and we take care in selecting high quality coaches for every level to lead our players. Our goal is to ensure all players are placed appropriately so they are set up properly for successful developmental now and in the future.
Our club’s vision has always been, "Soccer for the City". We strive to make the beautiful game affordable and accessible to as many players as possible. I am extremely proud of the fact that this year alone MU, is on track to provide over $100,000 in financial assistance to underprivileged kids in the greater metro area. This would not be possible without the generous support of our members and our corporate sponsors: Adidas, Twin Cities Orthopedics, Planet Soccer, and Pearson’s. Thank you all!
As great of an accomplishment it is to offer aid to so many, as a club, we understand that to truly support our mission we need to step up our efforts to secure more dollars through sponsorships and fundraising. Currently we are working on a campaign to attract corporate sponsorships as well as individual team oriented fundraising opportunities. Our goal is to have a broad range of viable fundraising methods in place so that MU can continue its mission of being Soccer for the City, while insuring the cost to participate never becomes too much of a financial burden for any member of our club.
A Place to Call Home
A well-established club like ours whose mission to be “Soccer for the City”, is deserving of a place to call our own. However, being an urban based youth soccer club, we face a unique set of challenges. Two of the biggest are rental fees and adequate access to fields/facilities. The cost of field rentals combined with the shortage of playing facilities in Minneapolis creates inherent barriers for our club to be able to successfully fulfill our mission to reach all those who would truly benefit from our programming. A prime example of this is our summer Rec program which, due to the playing space limitations at Pearl Park, we are forced to turn away more than 200 kids each year.
Year in, year out we work tirelessly with the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board to piece together and secure enough field space for our teams to train and play their matches. In 2017, Minneapolis United again paid more than $100,000 in rental fees to the MPRB. Last year, overall, our annual expenditure on facilities (indoor / outdoor) topped out at approximately $400,000! A staggering amount to be sure. One can only imagine the soccer facilities that could be constructed with that kind of money. Well the strategic planning process has begun, and we’re determined to find out.
This past fall the Board of Directors formed the MU Facilities Committee (MUFC), chaired by the club’s Vice President, Nick Brown. The objective of the MUFC is to become educated in the aspects of building and/or operating an all-season sports facility. The committee will seek out and engage in conversations with potential strategic partners and local government officials to determine viability and to garner support for when, fingers crossed, the time comes for our club to act on a facilities project.
I am very proud of the fact that we have taken action to address this mission critical need of our club. Though we’re still only in the exploratory phase and there are many challenges that lie ahead, I am extremely excited about the prospect of MU having a place to finally call home.
Together we succeed
As members of this club, I ask that you please consider these words:
Together we are stronger. Together we can achieve more. As players we take to the field playing for one team, but we represent all. Together we rise and fall, under one badge, in victory and defeat. Together we stand united in purpose. As members we are much more than individuals connected by sport, we are the unified voice for our club’s mission, “Soccer for the City”. Together we succeed. Together we are Minneapolis United!
Our club has a long and storied history in Minnesota youth soccer. Minneapolis United is one of the most successful and well-respected clubs in the state. Our Competitive program draws in top talent from all over and our Rec program operates at maximum capacity each summer. I’m always both amazed and proud when I witness the sea of players that fill the fields at Fort Snelling during our summer tryouts. Each player there wanting an opportunity to be part of MU. It’s a true testament to our club’s reputation. A reputation which has been established through the tireless efforts of our dedicated coaches, staff, volunteers, and members over the past 33 years.
Even with all that we are as a club it’s easy for each of us, once tryouts are done and teams are formed, to lose our perspective. We sometimes forget that MU is much more than a bunch of teams wearing the same uniform and familiar logo. There are many times during a season when Minneapolis United has multiple teams competing at the same sports complex (i.e.: Fort Snelling). As President, I’m asking each one of you to, when time permits, please take a moment to stop by and watch another MU team compete this season. A mere, “What’s the score?”, or “How we looking?” is all it takes to engage in a conversation with a fellow supporter and forge the common bond that is MU. This simple show of club support has a lasting positive impact with our players on the field and provides us with a greater sense of togetherness as members.
As a club we are working on a variety of ways to build a stronger sense of community among our members. From professional soccer viewing parties, to an all club tournament, to enhancing our use of social media, we are looking into a broad range of opportunities where our members can come together and engage. To successfully plan and execute these types of initiatives sometimes requires help from our membership. The success of our club would not be possible without those individuals who generously give their time and effort. Everyone from our Rec coaches, to our Competitive team managers, to the members of our Board, all respectively donate their time to ensure a positive experience for all members. I encourage each one of you to consider answering the club’s call for volunteers whenever it’s possible. Because together we succeed!
Welcome Competitive Players! Welcome Rec Players! Welcome Families! Welcome All!
The year begins at Minneapolis United as the dawn of a new era in U.S. Soccer breaks upon us. There is a new President of USSF and changes in the American soccer landscape are inevitable. Will the new administration make the critical changes needed to raise U.S. Soccer to a level where it can consistently compete with the best footballing countries in the rest of the world? Hope springs eternal … Courage everyone!
No matter what the future holds, our club will remain at the forefront of youth soccer in Minnesota and beyond. At MU we are leading forward: Proud of our past, confident in where we’re going, committed to our mission to be “Soccer for the City”.
Welcome to Minneapolis United Together we make soccer great!
It is a privilege and honor to serve as MU’s President. Soccer is my passion and I am committed to making sure every player in our club, from Rec through Competitive, has a positive experience.
Please join me in welcoming the club’s other new leaders: Nick Brown, Vice President; Trent Lunder, Treasurer; Elia Goodwin, Secretary; and Dipen Mehta, Governance. We encourage you to reach out to us with your questions, comments, and concerns. We look forward to connecting with you.
On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, our coaching staff, and administrators, I would like to thank each one of you for choosing to be part of Minneapolis United.
Josh Katan / President / Minneapolis United Soccer Club
(612) 281-2699 / firstname.lastname@example.org / www.minneapolisunited.org