Local athletes flock to Superior City FC
The new soccer club, which is part of the United Premier Soccer League, draws its players from high schools and colleges in the Northland.
SUPERIOR — One look at the rosters of the men's and women's Superior City FC teams, and it's not hard to see a common thread.
Nearly all of the players have connections to communities in the Northland.
That is by design, said Kaden Bergman, general manager of the club.
"We want it to be locally driven, and we want the development to be for local kids, because when I left college that’s what we didn’t have was somewhere to go play, so we want to provide that," Bergman said.
Bergman helped start Hayward Wolfpack FC, and said the club's organizers considered relocating the team in 2022, but wanted to find the right spot.
"The UPSL seemed like the best fit. They kicked out some of their weaker clubs to try to bring in some stronger clubs with better fan bases and better leadership. We thought this might be the right time to move up to Superior," Bergman said.
The UPSL has 255 teams in the Premier Division, including Superior City FC's men's and women's teams, according to its website. In the U.S. Soccer hierarchy, the UPSL sits one notch below the three professional tiers.
Women look to make history
The Superior City FC Women's Team is coached by Sharon Lahti. The Esko girls head soccer coach said she's no stranger to breaking barriers, and that's one of the reasons she wanted to get involved with the young club.
"I’ve been a part of several startups for soccer in the area, playing on the first team for UMD when that program started and being involved in the early years of the women’s recreational program here in the area," Lahti said. "The Midwest has been behind in opportunities and soccer (development) programs in comparison to other areas of the country, so this is a huge opportunity to get something going, have extra ways women can be a part of a team and play soccer in offseasons and continue to expand their playing experience."
That being said, there are a few players on the team Lahti can't coach until June 1 because of Minnesota State High School League regulations. Those athletes practice with the men's team.
Gwendolyn Lilly is one of those players, and she said she's excited about having another opportunity to play and learn more about the game.
"My experience with soccer is that people think it’s unfortunate to play soccer up here because there’s not a lot of competition," she said. "I’ve had college coaches tell me that I don’t have enough competition to be higher than a (NCAA) Division III soccer player, so it’s nice to be able to play with Division II and III soccer players. I just think it’s a nice turnaround for the area."
For Abrianna Madill, eventually getting to play for her high school coach in another league was a draw, but so too was playing with athletes who are already at the college level.
"It’s been pretty cool because I get to see how my skills are compared to theirs and how I can improve based off of how they’re playing," Madill said.
Cloquet High School graduate and Wisconsin-Superior student Brenna Mattson said the club fills an important gap for athletes in the region.
"Once you graduate high school and age out of club there aren’t many opportunities in the Northland to develop with soccer in the summer," Mattson said.
She added that it's "awesome ... to finally have a place for all of us to play in this area — none of us are going to drive to the (Twin) Cities to play for the summer. It’s just a really great thing for us to be able to do."
Ellie Keillor, a student at St. Scholastica, said she spent her first summer in Duluth in 2022 and felt she wasn't able to practice as much as she would have liked.
Superior City FC will help her maintain her fitness for her college season, and it's a fun change of pace to play on the same team with people who are her opponents otherwise.
The women's season kicks off Friday, May 12 at 8 p.m. against Vlora FC at NBC Spartan Sports Complex.
Men look to make their mark
Superior City FC's men's coach Otto Berti knew he wanted to be part of the organization when he heard about it.
"I’m passionate about soccer. I thought it was a great opportunity for the development of that program to grow here. I believe we have the talent and the numbers," he said.
Malcolm "Mally" Lumsden, a St. Scholastica graduate and one of the men's team captains, said the local connections the players have motivates them even more to succeed.
"There’s nobody from say out of state that’s coming in just to play this summer. I think with that being the case there’s a lot more pride in the team to be successful," Lumsden said. "We see them on a daily basis. We want to put on a good show for them — they can be proud of what their city is about when it comes to soccer."
Lumsden said the team is looking to nab a playoff spot, and so far, things are going well. The team is off to a 3-0 start, and will take on Granite City FC in St. Cloud Friday.
Even though many of the players on the team have either played with or against each other for years, Lumsden said the guys are pushing each other to get better and working well as a team.
For Superior native and Northland College student Jeffrey Olson, the team offers him the ability to prepare for his upcoming college season in his hometown.
Representing his community also means a lot to him, Olson said.
"We’ve never really had an opportunity to play in Superior at this competitive level so to represent and prove that we have the talent to compete with these other teams is pretty special to me," Olson said.
Building for the future
With this year being the club's foundation year, the organizers and coaches were focused on finding enough players. Now their attention is on winning some games to build a fan base.
The pursuit of sponsorships is ongoing, Bergman said. The club is a nonprofit organization, and they aim to keep costs for their players low, with fees currently at $100, he said.
They hope to offer a fun, family-friendly atmosphere during the summer, Bergman said, and maintain a visible presence in the community. Every week, the teams will do a community service project, whether cleaning up local parks, volunteering at the Superior-Douglas County Family YMCA or working with the Superior Public Library, Bergman said.
"It's a very high level athletics happening every week in Superior. I think we’re going to provide something really positive for the community," he said.
If you go
What: Superior City FC men's and women's games
Where: Home games are played at NBC Spartan Sports Complex, 2600 Catlin Ave., Superior.
When: Find the schedules for both teams online at www.superiorcityfc.com.
Cost: Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children, members of the military and college students. They can be purchased at the gate or on the team's website. Season tickets are also available for $75 and include playoff games.