by Ryan Manning
When thinking about adult soccer in the state of Minnesota, most everyone in the soccer community can cite one of the numerous recreational options available to anyone who is interested in playing the world’s greatest sport. But where do the top level players go to find a true competitive environment which includes the best amateur players in the state as well past professionals and players who aspire to reach the next level?
Founded in 1953 as the Minnesota Soccer Association, the Minnesota Amateur Soccer League (MASL) is the oldest soccer association in Minnesota. It is also the only true promotion/relegation adult soccer league in the state. Any, and all, new teams that join the league must begin their climb to the top in the fourth division, no exceptions. The top team in each division is promoted to the next division while the last place team is relegated to a lower division. This system ensures incredible parity within all divisions. The top three divisions consist of 10 teams each, while the 4th division varies each year based on the number of new and returning teams. The state’s only sanctioned competitive soccer league for men changed its name to MASL in 1987 when the Minnesota Soccer Association (MSA) became Minnesota’s umbrella organization for adult soccer.
The MASL consists of great players in all divisions, but it is in the first division where you will find some truly special players. A sampling of current and past professional players who have played in the ranks of the MASL include John Swallen, Brian Kallman, Andrei Gotsmanov, Joe Warren, Greg Wheaton, Mark Abboud, Zafer Kilickan, Jeremiah Bass, Amos Magee, John Sylvester, Johnson Kolaru, Ted Kroeten, Tamba Johnson and Nate Winkle, as well as Tony Sanneh (USA) and Sergey Gotsmanov (Russia) who have both played at the national team level. These players either got their start in the MASL or joined the league when deciding it was time to step away from the pro game, while still looking to quench their thirst for a high level of competition. The MASL also serves in providing an environment conducive to the level of play that college players need in order to continue to grow in the offseason. The MASL first division includes many Div. I college players, as well as top Div. II and III players.
When talking about the MASL, it is also important to speak on the diversity of the league. The league is represented by players and coaches from Nigeria, Cameroon, Somalia, Liberia, Mexico, Serbia, Bosnia, Russia, Ghana, Uganda, Brazil, Argentina, the Hmong community and many more. It’s this diversity that exposes players and fans to many styles of play and provides for a very entertaining viewing experience.
Each summer there are two Cups, or tournaments, that are sanctioned by the MASL. The first is the Minnesota Cup which is open to all adult amateur teams in the state and began in 1962. This tournament also serves as the state’s qualifying tournament for the US Open Cup. The second is the Wilson Cup which was named after the late Morgan Wilson who served as the treasurer for the MSA from 1960 to 1978 and is a member of the Minnesota Hall of Fame. The Wilson cup started in 1966 and is open to all Div. II, III and IV MASL teams. Both tournaments are single elimination tournaments and are played throughout the summer.
Another unique aspect to the MASL is the ability for clubs to be formed. Up to four teams are allowed to affiliate under one “club.” Each club may only have one team per division within its ranks. This allows players to establish themselves in the lower levels before being called up to a more competitive team or vice versa within their own club. Teams may pull up to two players to a higher division for a game or up to four players down. This creates a strategic environment that allows managers to create an “on loan” situation for each game if needed. It also provides for players who don’t get much playing time in the higher divisions, to still get minutes on another of the club’s teams.
Teams from the MASL have represented the state on a national level as well as provided competitive exhibition opportunities for teams from the PDL all the way up to the MLS. Most recently, the Fire SC ’00 will be representing Minnesota in the US Open Cup, America’s largest tournament that includes teams that range from amateur levels, as well as all levels of professional teams. Past MASL teams to represent the state in the US Open Cup include the FC Internationals, Inferno ’95, Blackhawks, Cardinals, and Cougars. More information on the US Open Cup can be found at www.thecup.us.
The MASL is truly unique in its ability to provide an environment for all levels of players. It is an incredibly well structured league that is attractive to the player who is looking to be a part of something that is much more than the average adult recreational league. Uniforms are strictly required to be matching, consistent and properly numbered. This provides for an organized environment aside from simply fielding a team with T-shirts of the same color. Official rosters are also required to be turned in to the referees prior to each match. Rosters can include any player from the official 26 man player pool that is turned in to the league prior to each season. Unlike many of the recreational leagues in this state, you will not find players going from team to team in order to simply cover for a team that might not have enough players. Player cards and rosters are strictly monitored to ensure that teams are not utilizing “illegal” players. This is strictly enforced to make sure that each and every game is played with the utmost credibility as opposed to games that are decided by which team has the best “ringers.”
This summer, if you are looking for a high level game that might just provide you a glimpse of the next NSC Minnesota “Star” or past Thunder star, you are strongly encouraged to check out an MASL game. You might be pleasantly surprised at the incredible level of play that exists in this league. Of course, all games are free to watch, and the environment for each game is simply fantastic. Games can be found throughout the state at such sites as Augsburg College, Macalester College, the National Sports Center, Parade Stadium, McMurray Fields in St. Paul, the Coon Rapids Soccer Complex as well as others. For a complete schedule of game times and locations, simply go to www.masl.org. If you are interested in finding a team to play for in the MASL, you will also be able to find contact links at this site as well. Although team registration is now closed for the upcoming season, you can have any questions regarding how to join this league in the future addressed by any of the board members listed on the website.
Check out the MASL, and see for yourself the highest level of amateur soccer that Minnesota has to provide. You just might be pleasantly surprised. See you at the pitch.