Minnesota Aurora Gear Up for Inaugural Season in USL W-League’s Heartland Division

This Thursday, May 26, Minnesota Aurora FC open their first season against Green Bay Glory at 7pm at TCO Stadium in Eagan. Aurora are a founding member of the new USL W League. They will play in the Heartland Division. You may ask, “What about the other divisions?” Hey, I’m glad you asked.

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USL W League 

44 teams in 7 divisions

The W League is a pre-professional league — all players will maintain amateur status and their NCAA eligibility. With that in mind, the league wisely chose divisions that prioritize geography — not equal numbers of teams in each division. This will minimize travel time and travel budgets across the league.

  • Metropolitan Division
    8 teams around New York City: 6 NY, 1 CT, 1 NJ)
  • Mid Atlantic Division
  • 5 teams: 1 Pennsylvania, 2 Maryland, 2 Virginia
  • South Atlantic Division
    6 teams: 5 North Carolina, 1 northwest South Carolina
  • Deep South Division
    6 teams: 2 Tennessee, 1 central South Carolina, 3 Georgia
  • Southeast Division
    5 teams: all in Florida
  • Great Lakes Division
    8 teams: 5 Michigan, 1 Indiana, 1 Ohio, 1 Kentucky
  • Heartland Division
    6 teams: 1 Minnesota, 1 Wisconsin, 2 Illinois, 1 Kansas, 1 Missouri

You may ask, “Can’t you tell us more about the Heartland Division?” Hey, I am glad you asked.

MN Aurora run a 8-on-6 drill in training

The Heartland Division

The Heartland Division consists of 6 teams in the Upper Midwest. Roughly from North to South . . .

  • Green Bay Glory – Green Bay, WI
    Previous League: WPSL
    Affiliate: independent
  • Minnesota Aurora FC – Eagan, MN
    Previous League: none
    Affiliate: independent
  • Chicago City SC – Chicago, IL
    Previous League: WPSL
    Affiliate: Chicago City men’s (USL League Two)
  • Chicago Dutch Lions FC – Lisle, IL
    Previous League: WPSL
    Affiliate: Chicago Dutch Lions FC men’s (USL League Two)
  • Kaw Valley FC – Lawrence & Topeka, KS
    Previous League: none
    Affiliate: Kaw Valley FC men’s (USL League Two)
    Developmental Partner: Sporting Kansas City (MLS)
  • St. Louis Lions SC – St. Louis, MO
    Previous League: WPSL
    Affiliate: St. Louis Lions SC men’s (USL League Two)

You may say, “That’s a lot of information. When does the season start?” Well, I’m glad you asked. While some USL W League teams started earlier in May, the Heartland Division kicks off this week!

Heartland Division – Week 1

Wed. May 25
5pm St. Louis Lions v Kaw Valley FC
7pm Chicago Dutch Lions v Chicago City SC

Thur. May 26
7:00 pm Minnesota Aurora FC v Green Bay Glory

You exclaim, “Yes, MN Aurora content, FINALLY. What more can you tell me about them?” Well, I’m glad you asked.

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Minnesota Aurora FC

Last June, United Soccer League (USL) approved a new Minnesota women’s soccer team (MNWoSo) as one of the few USL W League founding members. In September of 2021, the MNWoSo twitter account released the narrowed 16 team names. Community Owners voted and narrowed the list to 3 team names. The team hired 3 women designers, each to design a crest and color scheme for Arctic, Foxfire, and Aurora. After community owners voted again, MNWoSo announced their name would be Minnesota Aurora FC.

You reply, “yeah, i know all that, who’s on the team?” Well, I’m glad you asked.

Director of Soccer Matt Privratsky educates the talented Pat Borzi from MinnPost

Roster

On Tuesday, Director of Soccer Matt Privratsky broke down the roster make up:

  • 25 rostered players, 12 from MN
  • 7 U.S. states + 2 foreign countries (South Korea & Japan)
  • All levels of collegiate soccer represented: D-I, D-II, etc.
  • 4 players arrived this week, all recent high school graduates: Shelby Hopeau from Hawaii, and the Rapp sisters from Colorado

You can see the full roster here, but I asked Head Coach Nicole Lukic for 3 players to watch this Thursday.

  • Sang-min Cha (or Cha Sang-min) – Campbellsville University (KY)
    “She’s an attacking midfielder, South Korean. And she’s just got a lot of different movements that American players don’t have, quite frankly. She’s very good with the ball at her feet. So she’s definitely one to watch.” – Nicole Lukic
  • Kelsey Kaufusi – Utah State University
    “Kelsey’s a centerback from Utah. She’s got a very nice calm presence about her. She’s also got these giant strides of which help really have a really good recovery speed.” Lukic added, “Two of her steps are like 10 of mine. So that just automatically makes me watch her and go, ‘oh, that must be nice!’”
  • Jill Bennet – Utah Tech University
    “She’s a [wing, likes to get wide]. She’s she’s got a skill set where she can run through people if she needs to. She can dribble them. She can play a lot of nice balls into the box. And defensively, she can cause the other team some trouble and have them turn it over which is what we’ll be looking for [on Thursday].” – Nicole Lukic

Privratsky also pointed out defender Rachel Preston from Lakeville, MN as a player to watch this season. After training Tuesday, I had the chance to interview her.

MJ: What was your experience like playing at South Dakota State?

Rachel Preston: I love South Dakota State. It is great environment. They’re truly my second family. That culture is just unmatched there. I’m excited to come back for one more fall. I still have one more semester there. So I’m really looking forward to that.

MJ: Where have you played in the [college] offseason previously?

RP: I played a couple summers ago with Salvo WPSL [Arden Hills, MN]. And then last summer, I actually took the summer off. Because with COVID, we had a spring season, and I didn’t want to have [to play] spring, summer, then fall — so back playing this summer!

MJ: What’s it like to play under Coach Lukic?

RP: She is great. She pushes you to be explosive. She pushes you to be really technical and sharp in your play, and I think that’s what I need going into my final semester at college. She gives great feedback and I’m excited to just keep learning from her.

Listen — I’m now going to stop you right there. I have mentioned head coach Lukic a few times. You’re probably wondering: who are the other coaches?

MN Aurora FC coaches discussing tactics (clockwise from bottom left): Jennie Clark, Jenn Larrick, Cassie Ulrich, Nicole Lukic

MN Aurora Technical Staff

Nicole Lukic – head coach
Played: University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee
Coached: University of Wisconsin – La Crosse
She was also the Technical Director at Rush Wisconsin West and current Director of Operations of Twin Cities Rush.

Jennie Clark – assistant coach
Played: Frauen-Bundesliga, Sky Blue FC (WPL), University of Minnesota
Coached: Dixie State University (UT), Hamline University (MN), University of Minnesota

Jenn Larrick – assistant coach
Played: University of Minnesota, University of Florida
Coached: Hamline University (MN), Augsburg University (MN)
Larrick was also the Director of Coaching at BV United (Burnsville & Apple Valley youth club)

Cassie Ulrich – goalkeeper coach
Played: University of New Mexico
Coach: Salt Lake Community College, University of Nottingham

I had the chance to meet all 4 coaches on Tuesday after training. They are excited for the Thursday opener versus Green Bay Glory and MN Aurora’s inaugural season.

I asked Coach Lukic: what will success look like for this first 2022 season?

“Yeah, great question. We want to win our division. We want to be in the playoffs. We want to be in the championship game. And we’re really as a staff dedicated to the overall player experience. So retention, you know, making this team a place that players want to come back to, and helping players that are ready to move on to the next level professionally do that as well.”

Matt Privatsky chats with TCO Stadium grounds crew about to paint some soccer lines . . . and hide some American football lines.

Privratsky informed me Green Bay are women-run and women-coached, similar to MN Aurora. They are also the only other independent USL W team — not an offshoot of a men’s club.

When I asked Nicole Lukic, “What should Aurora fans know about Green Bay Glory?” the head coach didn’t give away any scouting or coaching tactics. With a smile and a laugh, she replied, “that they’re not the home team and they’re not the team to cheer for.”

What more do you need to know?

Editors Note: You can check out our full conversation with Minnesota Aurora Head Coach Nicole Lukic, and support our coverage, on our Patreon.

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