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Back by the rail tracks - in the press box for Dakota Fusion v Med City

A year ago, I was working in the press box, tonight I was a guest as I took a punt on the shelter of the press box in preference for the open seating and was allowed to stay.

That said, none of what follows reflects any bias towards Fusion accept that of someone genuinely happy to see a life footy match after a year.

There are FC Fargo ties to the NPSL North everywhere, including the Sioux Falls Thunder club managed by Amadu Myers

Tonight I returned to the scene of many glories, the (American) football stadium at Moorhead "Senior" High (as it officially says on its doors) for Dakota Fusion vs Med City (both FC)

Let's get the ugly things out of the way first: It was 40 degrees at best and pouring with rain so the 25 hardy souls I head counted in the exposed metal seats of the bleachers at Jim Gotta Stadium was a good turn out, especially given the fact that the Fusion are still developing an identity as a team, and visibility as a club.

The field is artificial turf, with the soccer lines (penalty area, sidelines, for instance) painted in the Moorhead Spuds' signature dayglow orange. The football end zones are painted black, which does also not make for a particularly aesthetically pleasing soccer fan experience.

That said, the custodial staff at Moorhead were amazing to FC Fargo and both they and the Fusion staff (and some of the players) extended their hand of welcome to me as a familiar face or a name from last year's battle between the two clubs for survival. I discovered that their head coach is also a Manchester United fan, so I look forward to those conversations.  

Also, a grass pitch would have been waterlogged (as happened to Sioux Falls v Aris) whereas the closest that an artificial turf field gets is spray like a (field) hockey pitch.

I love Father Tim Sas, the founder/owner of Duluth FC, but I fundamentally disagree that our small market - with only Concordia College D3 and Jamestown NAIA offering men's soccer programs in the vicinity - could sustain two teams and Sajid Ghauri has followed the old maxim that the easiest way to make a small fortune from soccer is to start with a big fortune.

FC Fargo having folded and Fusion being now the only game in town, I very much appreciated his sentiment that I wasn't "on the other side of the fence" (my words) but the "same side of the fence" (his words).

Fusion has deep ties to the dominant youth soccer club in this area, Tri-City Storm, and thus access to a pipeline of ball shaggers (no sniggering at the back) and hopefully some talent if they survive long enough.

Their program was well designed and free, although it did conflate NPSL North Conference into Northern Soccer Premier League before explaining the actual name on the other page.

You can needless access promotional material on their name but while I don't personally like it, "A fusion of cultures" is a North of Normal piece of positivity. Tonight's opponents went with Med City, because they are from Rochester, Minnesota - home of the Mayo Clinic 

On tonight's roster as published in said program, I noted 10 former FC Fargo players (Steve Harris, Sunaj Beljulji and Fiaz Musa definitely started and Ben Eastwell definitely came on as a substitute. Otherwise I am unsure, but I hope the club can inform you) , 2 former trialists and the former Jamestown player Jack Hartley, who we had tried to 'sign'.

It should therefore come as no surprise to anyone who followed FCF that Fusion looked solid at the back.   Harris is a good goalie and Habib Beljulji an equally good backup (who still has his FC Fargo scarf, he told me) and the defence was well organized and kept a memorable clean sheet including:

A chance in the first half where I cannot for the life of me work out how the Med City attacker did not beat Harris in a 1-on-1

Two goalmouth scrambles.

Fusion on the other hand were defensively solid and well organized to set up West Fargo's own prolific, athletic, Jade Johnson for two goals and Baghdad's Zuheer Al Abase for one.

All of this with head coach Jim Robbins elsewhere on other business.

Med City did not deploy their defence efficiently. Against a guy who led FC Fargo and West Fargo High very publically in scoring AND has both NPSL and marathon running experience, they kept trying to play a high line against Jade Johnson.   

Med City are solid in defence and midfield but lacked a cutting edge. Deep, throaty shouts of "out" from an unidentified Med City player don't equal efficiency. When attacking, they also appeared to be too emotionally invested in scoring and then they didn't hustle back to defence.

The warning signs were there early on, when in the 10th minute, Jade had a goal disallowed ruled offside, possibly correctly. I didn't see.

Fusion broke the tie in the 13th through Al Abase. I refuse to acknowledge the peculiar American habit of crediting assists for footy, with the following exception:
Jade Johnson doubled the Fusion lead in the 26th minute with an assist from Sunaj Beljulji. I choose to believe that was a goal crafted at least in part during their time with FCF.

Before half time was even reached, Med City and Fusion both missed golden chances to change or bolster momentum.

The start of the second half was delayed for 10 minutes as Fusion entered the field of play alone and after 10 minutes, after someone was dispatched to find out where Med City had got to, the game resumed.

The locker rooms at Moorhead High are in the neighbouring Moorhead Sports Center hockey arena (and ugly goalscoring backdrop) but I still think they were wasting time. When they did emerge, they then spent a couple of minutes huddled comically in their dugout, which was on the far side of the field from the locker rooms.

Fiaz Musa cleared a Med City chance in the 49th and shortly after, Jade Johnson had a shot parried by the Med City keeper again but the second ball was cleared.
With an hour gone, a Med City attacker blasted a chance wide from within the 6 yd box. Four minutes later, Med City had a goal line scramble ruled no goal and switched off as the Yellow and Black clad home team countered and set up Jade Johnson for Fusion's 3rd on a counter attack, to be mobbed by all the other players.

With a three goal lead, Fusion got a bit less conservative and I have noted two clear cut chances for the home team in the latter minutes where the player with the ball chose to shoot from a tight angle rather than pass to an open man. I also noted that Med City came close again, but were foiled by Steve Harris yet again.  

And thus it finished: Dakota Fusion 3 - 0 Med City FC and on this unseasonably cold evening I wandered home.

I will wander back when they have another home game. For more on the NPSL North as a whole, follow the NPSL Northerner.