Though young, Minnetonka is looking to repeat its state championship from 2013 (above).
1. Girls’ exodus stemmed
About 40 talented girls’ soccer players are expected to remain with their high school teams this fall rather that bolt to the Minnesota Thunder Academy club team. A rule change by the Elite Clubs National League moved the season start date to Oct. 18. That gave girls the chance to play high school soccer before joining the MTA. Last year, 54 girls chose the MTA over their high school teams. The Minnesota State High School League does not allow soccer players to play high school and club soccer simultaneously.
“The ECNL wasn’t too excited about moving the season, but I get the value of the high school experience,” said Danny Storlien, MTA girls’ team director and coach of the Bloomington Jefferson boys’ varsity program.
Among those missing from the high school scene are 10 to 12 girls who want to play club soccer as soon as the season starts. Some of those girls are taking a break, playing other varsity sports or training with the MTA boys’ team. Moving the season start date is a one-year experiment, Storlien said.
No schedule changes occurred on the boys’ side, where 68 players chose MTA over their high school team, said Rob Zahl, MTA boys’ team director. More than 40 players left for club soccer in each of the past two seasons.
“The academy teams are dynamite,” said Steve Hendrickson, Trinity boys’ soccer coach and president of the soccer coaches association. “But they’re taking the best players, and our state tournament is poorer because of it.”
2. State goes north
For the first time, the state tournament’s semifinals, third-place and championship matches will be played at St. Cloud State’s Husky Stadium. Previously, the event had been held at the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis. But with the construction of the new Vikings stadium, the state finals of soccer and football won’t return to that location until 2016. While football will play at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium as the Vikings will, soccer moved away from the metro area. All other fall sports venues remain the same. St. Cloud’s stadium is an outdoor arena, meaning the season will finish in the elements, where the regular season is usually played. It is also a turf field, which was another important qualification.
3. New season, new possibilities
Class 1A boys’ soccer state champion St. Paul Como Park and Class 2A state champion North St. Paul might have tough roads ahead in defending their titles. North St. Paul returns only two members of its state championship-winning team while Como Park brings back seven. But Como Park will also have the added challenge of working with a new coach, as Eric Erickson stepped down to coach his middle-school daughters, leaving former assistant Jonah Fields to take the reins. Even so, the Minnesota State High School Soccer Coaches’ Association ranked Como Park first in its preseason Class 1A poll. Minneapolis Southwest nabbed the top spot in Class 2A, with North ranking fifth.
On the girls’ side, defending Class 2A state champion Minnetonka fields the youngest team in Jeff Hopkins’ 11 years with the program. Still, the Skippers drew the No. 1 ranking in the coaches’ Class 2A poll, and defending Class 1A champion Benilde-St. Margaret’s was ranked first in that class.