Fri. Dec 1st, 2023

Vlora FC Women’s Staff: Assistant Coach Muhammed Gubara, Team Manager Katie Brink, and Head Coach Marcus Anthony, credit: Matthew Johnson

For years, the WPSL showcased the best amateur women’s soccer in the Twin Cities. Last year Minnesota Aurora FC burst onto the scene in the USL W League, and this year Rochester FC will add another Minnesota team to the USL W League’s Heartland Divison. 2023 will also see the introduction of a new women’s league for Minnesota and Wisconsin: UPSL.

Vlora FC are based in Minneapolis and play their home games in Burnsville. They have been operating a successful men’s UPSL side for years. This year, they named former men’s assistant coach Marcus Anthony as the new head coach for their women’s side.

Recently, I had the chance to interview Marcus Anthony.

Matthew J: How did you get involved with Vlora?

Marcus Anthony: Yeah, I met Adi [Vlora Club President Adi Bilani] through my assistant coach at the women’s side now, Mohammed Gubara. We started out playing at Vlora.

MJ: Oh, really, you played for Vlora?

MA: I played on the D-1 MASL team for a year, and then I transitioned into coaching.

MJ: What excites you about the UPSL women’s division?

MA: The fact that it’s a new league, and we’re finally opening doors for women’s soccer in Minnesota. We have the Aurora team that’s been around, but [Vlora is] able to connect the dots in between, from high school to college. We want to give players, who are looking to go into the next level, room to see what it looks like and see where they could grow. So the league itself is exciting for me and what opportunities we’re able to give young women in the area, who are looking to just step up and go above and beyond to other levels of women’s soccer.

MJ: I’m going to hit a controversial subject here. Coaching men, coaching women: do you see any difference?

MA: There’s a huge difference. I would say there’s not so much of an ego ease when it comes to coaching women. It’s about cohesion, wanting to play together, getting to know each other. They’re all eager to learn and just execute. With the men side it’s all about “I’m the heavy hitter. I’m the heavy mover.” The women’s side, it’s “We’re gonna work together . . . and get where we need to be in terms of building cohesion and not really so much ego.

MJ: Follow up question: the stereotype is “Men’s players are very individualistic. They’re trying to dribble through  three players, and go for glory. Women’s players overpass, and they don’t know when to be selfish.” Do you find that to be true?

MA: I think it’s even on both sides. It just comes down to coaching. Like being able to have a player buy into what you’re saying and how to help them improve and how to execute. Both sides do pass. There’s players who do pass more, and there’s players who do take it to the individual side a little bit more, but I personally think it’s a balance. It just comes down to coaching and how the approach is taken to help that player: either be a little bit more selfish or be more of a team player.

Vlora Club President Adi Bilani

MJ: Fans of Vlora and those who have played football with Adi Bilani, they know what he’s like as a coach and a player. What is he like as a coworker?

MA: Direct driven: he is a man that has a strong vision. [He values] execution as the most important piece, as well as communication and always being ready to go. So, he’s direct driven just all the way around. He wants to know every piece of information, so it makes it easier to make the decisions that are important and in the best interest of the club. . . . He always has a backup plan that makes sure that there’s a safety net that puts the club first and puts all parties in the club where they should be.

Vlora Team Manager Kaite Brink

MJ: What’s it like working with Katie Brink?

MA: It’s pretty good. I can’t argue. Katie’s well-organized, and she’s super structured. She ensures that we are all on top of things that we need to be on top of. . . . She is on top of everything; she makes life very easy.

MJ: And so part of her role as Team Manager is helping you with some of those tryouts: whether that’s getting contact information or reaching out and contacting people who are wanting to try out for the team. Can you just say a little bit more about her role or what her influences are on that side of things?

MA: To be honest, her influence is really big in terms of being outreach being our eyes and our ears. Because as much as I want to say being a male coach to female players is normal. It really isn’t in a lot in many areas of soccer. I’ll give you an example. At Burnsville BVU [Burnsville Valley United], their coaching staff: male staff coach the male players, and female staff coach the female players. I draw that reference to say, in this sense, Katie brings her personal experience in how she was coached and how she liked to see change. . . . She is the eyes and ears to speak to the women on our program to get their input. It makes things a lot easier for us to really see where they’re coming from and how to adjust and how to adapt. Training sessions: we asked, “How were these training sessions? Were they good? Were they impactful?” The feedback isn’t hesitant. It’s direct because Katie has opened that line of communication and inclusion for all the players to know that she is the voice of reason. She is also the person that connects all of us together, making sure we’re doing what we need to do and making sure the needs of everyone are being met.

Vlora FC Women open their UPSL season at Bob Pates Stadium in Burnsville on Sunday, May 14, 2023 at 2:00 PM against Wave FC (Eagan). Stay tuned for Part II of this interview where Marcus Anthony discusses soccer differences between Antigua and the U.S., cricket, his favorite club teams, and more.

By Matthew Johnson

Matthew "MJ" Johnson is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis. In 2007, he discovered UEFA Champions League. His complex spreadsheets went from college football bowl season to European club soccer, and his fandom soon followed. In 2011, a friend Wes made the mistake of inviting him to an NSC Minnesota Stars game, where he fell in love with local soccer. Matthew co-hosts The Daves I Know podcast and occasionally guest hosts the MN Fútbol Show. When not playing broomball or watching soccer, he repairs bicycles and sharpens knives for money but fuses cuisines for fun. Follow Matthew on Twitter @mjmattsui

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