Fri. Dec 1st, 2023

Image Courtesy of Superior City FC

Western Wisconsin has long held a small position in Minnesota’s lower league soccer scene. In recent years, that position has largely been made up by the WPASL, La Crosse Aris’ participation in the NPSL, and the fact that many Minnesotan clubs end up with a few Wisconsinites on their rosters. Western Wisconsin’s say in the affairs of the lower league game, however, have just taken another big step in growing.

Enter Superior City FC, a new project born from the now-Superior Wolfpack, formerly the Hayward Wolfpack. The club’s early years saw them compete in the Duluth Amateur Soccer League (DASL), the same league that gave form to Duluth FC. The Wolfpack then went on to help found the Wisconsin Premier Amateur Soccer League (WPASL). There, the Wolfpack took part in changing the face of soccer on the state border, forming a competitive league that represents several core towns and cities across the western third of the state.

Superior City has a new goal, to take that work and translate it into a club that can compete at the national level, joining in the UPSL’s ever growing presence in Minnesota. Alongside its men’s and women’s UPSL teams, the club remains dedicated to fielding teams, the Wolfpack and Whalebacks, in the WPASL and DASL.

While it’s hard to say what 2023 will look like on the pitch for Superior City, it’s fair to say that national league soccer coming to the other side of the Twin Ports, an area that up until now has been dominated by Duluth FC, is a fascinating and exciting new step.

To learn about the new ambitious project in Superior, WI, Sota Soccer talked one on one with club president Kaden Bergman.

While the club’s decision to maintain a presence in the WPASL and DASL reflects an interest in maintaining its roots, the move from Hayward to Superior raises questions. Bergman explained that the club found that as the player and coaching pool has changed, so did the club’s needs.

“As the club’s grown, we’ve been pulling a lot of players from the Duluth/Superior area. Originally our team was mostly made up of guys from Hayward, so competing in Hayward made the most sense. But as we’ve grown and pulled in college guys from the Twin Ports, we found the facilities in Hayward weren’t the quality that we wanted … We felt the amount of resources we wanted to put into this just wasn’t viable in Hayward.”

Bergman also noted that a transitional period in Hayward’s soccer scene in general have affected the club’s plans. The Superior City club president explained the club wanted a more central home as it expanded in reach.

“The [Hayward] high school program is rebuilding right now and we just felt like to stay competitive at the level that we wanted, we need to pull in these [Twin Ports] players … We were pulling players from Hibbing, MN, from Marquette, MI, so these guys are traveling really far and we just felt like a more central location with a bigger market and better resources for coaching, facilities, would be the right move.”

The club looked at the NPSL, UPSL, and Midwest Premier League (MWPL) as its potential new homes. Bergman noted that ending the club’s consideration of the MWPL largely came down to the fact that the area would not have its own conference in the MWPL, forcing an extensive travel budget. WPASL is an affiliate league of the MWPL. The option of the NPSL was also complicated by costs.

“We reviewed the finances between them and we came to the agreement that the UPSL and MWPL were probably the two best options … [The UPSL] are bringing in some good, more established clubs and getting rid of some of the clubs that weren’t meeting minimum standards … It felt like the right time to jump in when they’re reorganizing everything and keeping some of the more established clubs that have good operations, they’re meeting their minimum standards, and then bringing in some new clubs that are doing the same thing.”

Bergman says that Superior City takes their responsibility representing the city seriously and intend to make their operation as much of a reflection of the community as possible, including their selections for a venue and broadcasting.

“We want to do everything local, so we’re doing our apparel through a local vendor. We’re playing at the best facility in Superior, the NBC Sports Complex, we think that will be pretty accessible for everyone. We also just secured broadcasting rights with iFAN sports network. We’re really excited about that because they’re kind of a staple in the area. They do UWS sports and also Superior High School sports.”

Bergman added that the club also has plans to engage with the community off the pitch, with a series of ideas for community-focused activity days.

“Once a week, we’ll be doing a community involvement day. We’re still setting some things up but the goal of this will be to take one day a week for our players to go out into the community and make an impact, whether that is providing soccer camps, setting up a “new to soccer” camp for adults, or going out and cleaning Wisconsin Point … We want to create events where our players can make an impact in the community, be involved, and hope that community members will come out and get to know the guys.”

Superior City will also need the community financially. This includes tickets and gameday purchases, but also the vital role of sponsors.

“We are a non-profit club, so we rely on community sponsors for our funding. That’s something we’ve been pushing, I’ve been going business to business handing out flyers and trying to make relationships with some of these businesses, so, we want our success to be on the back of the community, and for them to be involved in what we’re doing.”

Bergman also noted the club aim to stay involved with neighboring communities where they expect to draw players and fans.

“We’re pulling our players from a pretty big area, so we still want to be involved in communities like Hayward, Hibbing, Grand Rapids, Ashland, whether it’s that we play a game in each of those communities or we go help out with an event.”

Superior City’s first big announcement as they’ve looked to start building their roster was Otto Berti as head coach. Berti is a long time head coach for the Superior High School boys soccer team. He was also head coach of the Duluth FC Academy team in 2021 and an assistant coach for Duluth FC in 2022.

“[Otto Berti is] a great guy. He’s known in the community, and has a lot of connections in the community. A lot of the players know him and he was highly recommended to us by college coaches and he has experience coaching at this level as an assistant for Duluth FC… He has a lot of the same values that our club does.”

The organization will hold open and invite tryouts on Mar. 18 and 19, which will be used to fill out all four teams. Some players already on the radar as targets were directly invited to the second tryout, while standouts from the open tryout will then also earn a spot in the invite tryout. A separate open tryout pathway will then also be held for the women’s team.

Bergman explained that the club has seen a strong response to the arrival of a second pre-professional team in the Twin Ports.

“Duluth FC’s taking some of the most elite players from some of the colleges, but how many [local players] are getting quality playing time … When we talked with college coaches and youth coaches from the area, it just seemed like another pre-professional team using local players was really needed because there was nowhere for these players to go play at a high competitive level.”

Bergman also noted that there were very promising signs from their first steps in building the women’s UPSL team, which would be the first of its kind in the Twin Ports.

“We sent out a survey to all the local college coaches. Within the first hour and a half, we had 16 responses from local college players saying that they wanted to play and that’s just continued to grow. There’s no women’s soccer here in the summer, there’s nowhere for these women to play at a high level and the first responses we got were really positive.”

The connections between Duluth FC and Superior, WI are deep. From Berti’s multiple roles with the club to the long list of UWS players the club has recruited over the years or the fact that UWS men’s soccer head coach Joe Mooney has commentated for Duluth FC for years, the city has been a part of lower league soccer long before having its own club.

Now they have that club, and Bergman looks to make the most of continuing the relationships that both the Wolfpack organization and Superior have had with the BlueGreens.

“Duluth FC and our club have always had a good relationship, even when we were in Hayward. We always tried to help one another out … [Former Duluth FC Owner, Tim Sas] was a good resource for me, learning how to run a club. Duluth is obviously a well run club and we have a lot of respect for what they do.”

Bergman noted that the clubs hope to maintain a positive relationship of respect, while embracing their new dynamic as neighbors and local rivals and competitors. 

“The focus is having a mutually respectful relationship and working together to build soccer in the area. Clubs should be competitive with eachother, on and off the field, but at the same time there needs to be mutual respect … We’d probably like to do a game over the summer. Obviously that’d be amazing for the Twin Ports community.”

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