Minnesota

Minnesota soccer leader Carl Craig becomes head coach at Minneapolis City – Twin Cities

Deeply rooted in Minnesota football culture, Carl Craig will continue to make an impact on the sport and its community in his new position as head coach of Minneapolis City SC.

Craig was an assistant and then head coach for Minnesota United during his NASL era. Before that, he was an assistant with Minnesota Stars in 2011, when his early life as an English punk rocker helped sing the Oasis ballad “Wonderwall” after wins – a tradition that lives on following Loons’ victories in the MLS to this day.

In Minneapolis City, Craig will also serve as technical director for an amateur club entering the USL League Two full-time this season.

“The most important thing is his experience as he’s coached to a higher level,” said Matt VanBenschoten, who stepped down as City head coach to act as general manager. “He understands how professional really looks. As an amateur club…there are limitations, so where can you step up and be professional? There are certainly aspects that we want to control. For us, Carl is really good at it.”

Craig returned to Minnesota in 2021 after a season as head coach and technical director of Forward Madison (Wis.). Under Craig, the Flamingos finished ninth in USL League One with an 8-8-12 record.

“It was difficult to get guys in,” Craig said of recruiting issues at the Madison Club. “… We have too many draws from winning positions. We didn’t have enough strength at depth.”

In Minnesota’s broader football landscape, Craig sees an opportunity for Minneapolis City to close a gap behind the Loons. “I would love it if (City) was the number two men’s club in Minnesota,” Craig said. “I want it to be a place where people can feel a part of it. You can go in with your family and kids, watch some decent football and have a great afternoon.”

Minnesota’s soccer hierarchy is filling with Minnesota United’s second team, MNUFC2, which came online last season and plays in the MLS NEXT Pro League, while St. Thomas 2021 became the state’s first Division I men’s program.

Minneapolis City, which played in both the National Premier Soccer League and USL League Two last season, has a growing history of developing players for higher leagues.

Brandon Bye has played more than 130 games for New England Revolution since 2018, and Maple Grove native Luke Haakenson has played 44 games for Nashville SC since 2021.

19-year-old Lakeville resident Loic Mesanvi has joined MNUFC2. Three City grads were included in the last MLS draft in December: Herbert Endeley (FC Dallas), Xavier Zengue (Columbus Crew) and Rory O’Driscoll (Nashville).

Between the Loons and Flamingos, Craig managed youth soccer club Salvo (Rosemount, Eagan, Apple Valley and Woodbury) and has worked at US Soccer since Forward Madison as a coach educator.

Alongside his Wonderwall fame, Craig has used some unique coaching techniques, including hypnosis on players, but he believes the real drive is simple.

“The game will always be the motivator,” Craig said. “Yes, I think there are times in the heat of a battle where you might come up with a rah-rah-rah language or some kind of chant. But I think if you’re properly prepared on the training ground and the players want it, then I think you can move on.”

City, who play their home games at the University of Augsburg, had courted Craig since leaving United in 2017.

“One limitation for us is that he can’t be a wet blanket and Carl certainly isn’t,” said VanBenschoten. “His passion is a very big piece for us. It’s really important that he understands who we are as a club as we are very local. We are passionate about making Minnesota football better, and he very much agrees with us.”

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