Minnesota soccer leader Carl Craig to be head coach at Minneapolis City

Carl Craig is ingrained in Minnesota soccer culture and will continue to influence the sport and its community in his new position as head coach of Minneapolis City SC.

Craig was an assistant and then head coach of Minnesota United during its NASL era. Before that, he was an assistant with Minnesota Stars in 2011, when his previous life as an English punk rocker came through in providing the genesis of singing Oasis ballad “Wonderwall” after wins — a tradition that lives on after Loons’ victories in MLS to this day.

At Minneapolis City, Craig also will be technical director of an amateur club stepping full-time into USL League Two this season.

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

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

“It was tough to bring guys in,” Craig said about recruiting issues to the Madison club. “… We got too many draws from winning positions. We didn’t have enough strength in depth.”

In Minnesota’s broader soccer landscape, Craig sees an opportunity for Minneapolis City to fill a gap behind the Loons.

“I would love (City) to be the Number Two men’s club in Minnesota,” Craig said. “I want it to be a space where people can feel a part of it. You can go in with your family and your kids, watch some decent football, have a great afternoon.”

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

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 with New England Revolution since 2018 and Maple Grove native Luke Haakenson has appeared in 44 games for Nashville SC since 2021.

Lakeville native Loic Mesanvi, 19, has joined MNUFC2. Three City alums were taken in the latest MLS draft in December: Herbert Endeley (FC Dallas), Xavier Zengue (Columbus Crew) Rory O’Driscoll (Nashville).

In between the Loons and Flamingos, Craig led the Salvo youth soccer club (Rosemount, Eagan, Apple Valley and Woodbury) and since Forward Madison, he has worked with U.S. Soccer as a coach educator.

In line with starting the “Wonderwall” tradition, Craig has used some unique coaching methods, including hypnosis on players, but he believes the true driver is simple.

“The game is always going to be the motivator,” Craig said. “Yeah, I think there’s times in the heat of a battle where you might come up with some rah-rah-rah speech or some kind of singing. But I ultimately think if you’re prepared properly on the training field and the players want to do it, then I think you can go forward.”

City, which plays its home games at Augsburg University, had courted Craig since he left United in 2017.

“For us, a caveat is he can’t be a wet blanket, and Carl is certainly not that,” VanBenschoten said. “His passion is a really big piece for us. It’s really important he understands who we are as a club in that we are very local-based. We are passionate about making Minnesota soccer better and he is very much aligned with us on that.”