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Soccer: Duluth FC stepping up in class

Photo courtesy Duluth FC Duluth FC forward Kyle Farrar takes the ball upfield during a game against Minneapolis City SC last year. The team is playing in the U.S. Open Cup today and has its sights set on another National Premier Soccer League North Division title this season.

Taking the division title last year was one thing. Tonight's game is an entirely different beast.

"It's probably the biggest game in Duluth FC's short history," said Joel Person, the soccer club's coach. "If we're able to win this game then we qualify for the next round, and that's just the stuff of dreams right there."

Duluth FC is looking to make a deep run into the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup for the chance to play against some top-tier talent. To get started, it's going to have to knock off Dakota Fusion FC at James S. Malosky Stadium at 7:30 p.m. today.

With a 2-2-0 all-time record against the Fusion and a handful of returning players, it all comes down to who shows up.

"We're very happy with the talent we have on the roster, it's just that challenge of getting everybody on the same page," Person said.

The U.S. Open Cup will feature 94 teams from all levels of American soccer, though naturally Major League Soccer teams have long held an advantage in the knockout competition. A win against Fargo's side tonight would pit the BlueGreens against Saint Louis FC on May 16. From there, Duluth FC eventually could face MLS competition — perhaps even Minnesota United.

Meanwhile, the BlueGreens also have a division title to defend.

The club, founded in 2015, will play its second season in the National Premier Soccer League, a fourth-tier league in the U.S. soccer system that is organized regionally. Duluth FC is in the North Division of the Midwest Region, where it faces competition from seven other clubs.

With a record of 8-2-4 last year, the BlueGreens won the North Division but were turned away 5-2 by Detroit City FC in their ensuing playoff run. They're looking for another shot, but taking nothing for granted.

"We're going to have a target on our backs as the reigning champions," Person said. "Everything we did last year doesn't really matter this year."

Person takes over as head coach this season following two years under Kyle Bakas.

With a new logo and uniform design and returning title sponsor St. Luke's in tow, the team's 14-game league schedule kicks off Saturday with a four-game road trip.

Duluth FC schedule

Home games at Public Schools Stadium

At 7 p.m., unless noted

May 12 — at Minnesota Twinstars

May 16 — at Dakota Fusion

May 19 — at La Crosse Aris

May 23 — at Med City

May 26 — Minneapolis City

June 2 — at Sioux Falls Thunder

June 6 — VSLT

June 9 — Dakota Fusion

June 16 — at VSLT

June 20 — La Crosse Aris

June 23 — Sioux Falls Thunder

June 27 — Minnesota Twinstars

June 30 — at Minneapolis City

July 6 — Med City, 7:30 p.m.

Brooks Johnson

Brooks is an investigative reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune.

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