NPSL Midwest Preview

Welcome back to NPSL coverage on Northern Lights Football.

This year, we will be covering the whole Midwest Region, except for the Heartland Conference — because their closest club would be Kansas City Sol and their furthest away is Tulsa Athletic. I may live in Summit League country, but I’m not prepared to stretch that far. Strangely, NPSL has Kansas City Sol in the Heartland and Sunflower State in the Gateway. Anyway, on to those clubs we do cover.

The Gateway Conference features two clubs from Greater St. Louis, Des Moines United and Iowa Raptors in the Hawkeye State, Sunshine State FC on the Kansas City Kansas/Missouri border and Milwaukee Torrent in Wisconsin.

Club Atletico St Louis is fielding a young side in the conference. Regarding the roster, they have Erik Pereira, who seems to be a professional indoor player in town. I have seen players from NCAA D1, D2 and D3 schools in St. Louis. They are operating teams in NPSL, Midwest Premier League and UPSL and have suggested that the there will be movement between the three before the lists are finalized in June. They have a 60 man pool and only 8 players listed with the league as of today.

Across the river, but still in the St. Louis metropolitan area, Ehtar Belleville FC will bring NPSL football to a city which has previously hosted the storied WPSL program Fire & Ice SC. There is little public information on the makeup of their squad at this time. Of the 11 men listed with the league, Cody Blentlinger used to play pro indoor soccer for St. Louis Rush, Wyatt Fowler is a current pro arena player for St. Louis Ambush, Adam Knight is a coach at D2 level, Connor Woulahan is a coach at D3 level. There are also former players from NCAA D2, D3 and NJCAA level. The two St. Louis clubs are separated by only 33 miles, but seemingly by a chasm of organisational focus.

Des Moines United FC play at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines, familiar to anyone who watches the extremely accomplished Des Moines Menace over in USL League Two. They are an expansion club, born out of the professional indoor club DemonHawks, like their conference mates, the Raptors. DMU list Menace GM (and current DemonHawks player) Charlie Bales on their roster — as well as current NCAA D1 players Evan Carlson, Austin Holtebeck, Erich Legut, Lesego Maloma, Kevin Qi, NJCAA coach Raphael Nascimento, and a present D3 player. They also include former USL Championship player Mawolo “Gabe” Gissie and former players from NCAA D1, D2, NAIA, NJCAA levels.

Further north in Cedar Rapids, Iowa Raptors are an established side but there is zero published data on their roster this season. Like CASL, they are also operating (outdoor) teams in UPSL and Midwest Premier League.

Milwaukee Torrent are another club with a professional outlook and a well-established presence at Hart Park in Wauwatosa. They also presently have no roster published. They are somewhat on an island, owners of the furthest road trip in the conference — 560 miles to KC.

Sunflower State FC play at Rockhurst University, in Kansas City, Missouri, about 5 miles from the border of the Sunflower State (Kansas). Their roster includes current D1 players Ryder Barrett, Kevin Hubbell, Caden McLagan, Grant Peters and current D2 players Connor Brummett, Miguel Cobos, Bryce Dickerson, Garrison Hill and Tim Smith. There’s also current NAIA players.

This conference has the potential for healthy derbies, CASL vs Ehtar and DMU v Raptors although we are denied a KC derby by the strange decision of NPSL to place two KC teams in separate conferences. I guess that’ll have to wait for the playoffs.

I’m gonna say that Des Moines United will be the team to beat in the Gateway.

The Great Lakes Conference has been expanded. It features teams from the Cleveland, Akron, Detroit, Columbus, Grand Rapids (MI) and Pittsburgh metropolitan areas as well as Erie, Pennsylvania.

Akron City FC play at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, whose most famous alumnus is the NBA’s all time leading scorer, LeBron James. Their roster includes a 2022 College Cup winner in Colin Biros and 14 other D1 players (Nathan Childress, Gyuwon Chong, Dyson Clapier, Samuel George, Will Jackson, Ryan Kolonick,
Adam Lubell, Brent Nanchoff, Josef Paulus, Roarke Schmeider, Levi Stephens, Sam Tojaga, Cameron Victor, Jaden Wright). They also have a D2 player (Luan Tufani) as well as some D3 and high school kids from the local area.

Carpathia FC are based in the Detroit metropolitan area, splitting between Avondale, MI and Pontiac. They include 10 players from D1 (Zain Akeel, John deLeon, Kieran Hayes, Hunter Johnson, Finn Jurak, Luke Morell, Spencer Nolff, Dawsun Schrum, Michael Teller, Dylan Wismont) D2 (Adrian Rakipi) and D3, as well as NJCAA and NAIA players and NAIA coaches. They also list former D1 players.

Cleveland SC play at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio. They are a seasoned lineup, with some D1 (Thomas Beck, Parker Csiszar, Matthew Skye Harter, Corban McAvinew, Julian Pellegrini, Jannis Schmidt) D2 (Ben Bolinger, Conner Hollett, Angel Murillo) D3 players and coaches and an indoor professional (Haralambos Tsirambidis) . They also return the veteran Vinny Bell and other former college players.

Erie Commodores FC play at Gannon University. Their lineup includes present players from D1 (Tyler Card, Adam Hunt, Blaise Liess, ) D2 (Reise Corpuz, Joseph Gasper, Connor Hartwell, Frank Lovett, Charlie Petersen, Marcus Rathburn, Philipp Strube, Luis Jonathan Trapp, Ezequiel Villarreal, Kevan Wambugu, Simon Zahalka) and D3 as well as former college players.

FC Columbus play at the Wellington School. Their roster information is incomplete and possibly out of date.

Michigan Rangers FC play at Davenport University and will split games between Grand Rapids and Caledonia, MI. They have 8 D1 (Grant Balcer, Giuseppe Barone,Elliott Bentley, Lito Esquivel, Miltiadis Hadjipanayiotou, Michael Howell, George Pitsillides, Max Wilhelm) and 5 D2 (Anthonius Berkeley, Adam Hanson, Kaffie Kurz, Chris Mendez-Sanchez, Daire O Riordan) players. They also include NAIA players, a D2 coach and former D2 players and high school players. Finally is the familiar name of Vitalis Takawira Jr, who was last seen playing for Muskegon Risers in the last post-season.

They are the most isolated club in this conference, with a longest road trip of 415 miles to Steel City.

Steel City FC are the NPSL side founded by Pittsburgh Arsenal and Hotspurs (which is ironic in an English context, but anyway…) They play at Pittsburgh Harlequin Rugby Club’s Founders Field in Cheswick, PA. Their roster is a strong one, headlined by twenty D1 players (William Afawubo, Bryan Akongo, Evan Anderson, Rami Bensasi, Giuseppe Croce, Anthony DiFalco, Jack Emanuel, Ethan Hackenberg, Nolan Hutter, Keaton Jennings, Justin Kopay, Ryan Kopay, Ryan Landry, Charlie Lawrence, Eben McIntyre, Ryan Mertz, Tate Mohney, Gabe Norris, Zander Plizga and Michael Sullivan) and backed up by four D2 players (Bryce Ghandi, Daniel Rodgers, Mikel Ubeda, Garret Watson) as well as a former pro (Nicky Kolarac) and a former D2 player.

This division has some of the most obvious rivalries, with a true derby ( Akron v Cleveland, only 40 miles apart) , and two intra-state rivalries (Carpathia v Rangers, Steel City v Erie)

Prediction: Akron City and Steel City fight for their conference title.

North Conference

Dakota Fusion FC have never played in North Dakota. However, their home stadium in Moorhead, MN is 2.5 miles from the Red River and whence into ND. They are up on an island, with the closest teams being Sioux Falls Thunder (244 miles South) and Duluth (238 miles East), and much like the Torrent are on an island in the Great Lakes conference, Fusion’s position in the Red River Valley makes for some daunting travel — the most of which will be 320 miles to Med City in Rochester. The roster is headlined by D1 athletes Wasi Ewnetu and Rashaad Ogun with a D2-heavy mix, (Jeremie Briquet, Ben Colborn, Dylan Ellingson, Máté Lengyel, Yuto Nakamae, Benjamin Nicholson, Xavier O’Garro, Cai Pritchard, Mohammad Sanyang and Kenshiro Yamaguchi) and JuCo players sprinkled in and 2021–22 Gatorade High School Player of the Year in North Dakota, Gannon Brooks.

Duluth FC play at Public Schools Stadium. Their roster includes a Mr Soccer finalist, Parker Chastey, Four D1 athletes (Tom Akinola, Conor Behan, Paul Bobai, Myles Edmondson) leading the way on a roster with ten D2 members (Kostyantyn Domaratskyy, Rory Doyle, Duban Santiago Erazo Medina, Colin O Mahony, James Price, Liam Pritchard, Stefan Roeb, Luis Felipe Santos, Andres Solares, Jake Starling) and an NAIA coach.

Joy Athletic play at St Louis Park High School’s Oriole Stadium. They are the tip of the Joy of the People youth club setup and their roster is largely made up of former Joy youth players. That said, they have moved on to D1 (Aiden Cavenaugh, Bennett Kouame) D2 (Philip Caputo, Noah Eklund, Mika Folstad, Noah Kantorowicz and Zinedine Kroeten) and D3.

It has been announced in a fun way. As featured in that graphic, the club/program is best known for Emmanuel Iwe, who is in the farm system of Minnesota United.

Aris are slated to play at Logan High School but they have a history of changing venues, so stay tuned. Aris are another club with a strong youth focus, but have struggled to translate this into effective play on the pitch. Of the 8 players announced, Anfernee Stokes stands out as a D1 player.

Nicknamed for the Mayo Clinic’s strong presence in the city, Med City FC is based at Rochester Regional Stadium in Rochester, Minnesota. Their roster is powered by D1 (Jack Hilton-Jones,
Abdul-Quddoos Hypolite, Tristan Jumeau, Matias Milla) and D2 players (Noah Gjervik, Lucas Hart, Julian Heppner, Julio Rojo, Ricardo Schroeder and William vanHoornbeek). Chileshe Chitulangoma is at Clemson but not as a varsity player.

Minnesota TwinStars will split games between Minnetonka High School and Spring Lake Park High School, both in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. They are returning to action following a hiatus, and can trace their history overall all the way back to 1997. Their roster is led by D1 athletes Sadra Golzarian, Andrew Holmes, Sidike Jabateh and
Alex Lynch, and D2 players Yuken Harmon, Jonathan Harris, Matthew Janke and Cullen McSweeney.

Sioux Falls Thunder play at University of Sioux Falls’s Bob Young Field.

Their roster remains a mystery as they still have their 2022 lineup posted with the league and on their club site. Of the players who have been announced on Twitter, a couple of guys from D2 Montana State University, Billings jump out (Callum Bryan and Guillermo Gonzalez).

The potential for rivalries sits with the remaining Twin Cities derby between St Louis Park’s Joy Athletic and the more mobile TwinStars, and the I-29 derby between Fargo’s Dakota Fusion and Sioux Falls Thunder.

Prediction: The North will be a scrap.

So, all in all, looks like another fun season with the usual mixture of college athletes, with a sprinkle of high school aged kids and men who have graduated but want to keep playing.

Playoff note:

If you are new to this league, the top two teams in the North, Great Lakes and Gateway (as well as the Heartland) will advance into the playoffs based on points-per-game. More on who will play whom nearer that time.

This week’s fixtures

Saturday 13th:

Steel City FC v Akron City FC

Carpathia FC v Cleveland SC

Dakota Fusion FC v Med City FC

Joy Athletic Club v LC Aris FC

Minnesota TwinStars FC v Duluth FC

Wednesday 17th:

Des Moines United FC v Sunflower State FC

Friday 19th:

Michigan Rangers v Akron City FC

Steel City FC v FC Columbus