By Frank Dell’Apa/NPSL.com
For Alli Lipsher, it seems perfectly natural that two women coaches – herself and Tori Burnett – have been hired to join the staff of Minneapolis City SC.
“There are so many top women players and great coaches,” Lipsher said recently. “For any team to look past them you’re cutting your quality pool in half.”
Lipsher should know. She has been competing against and alongside Women’s World Cup-winning coaches and players since her teenage years. Now 34, Lipsher, was named director of goalkeeping for Minneapolis City, and Burnett an assistant, in late October. Training has been limited due to protocols related to the pandemic, but Lipsher and Burnett are optimistic about the situation.
“The guys have been great,” Lipsher said. “I warmed them up in 7v7 games. They had to get to know me and I had to get to know them. I don’t know if they’ve been coached by a woman [before] but as far as I’ve seen they’ve been great.”
Minneapolis City co-founder Dan Hoedeman said the team hired Lipsher and Burnett because “we’re willing to look at merits.”
“I think it does make a statement and I think it may not be the statement you kind of expect on its face,” Hoedeman said. “Both of them are incredible coaching talents. Alli had a great college and pro career and to have someone of her level coaching at the NPSL level is impressive. Tori had a fantastic career with Gopher soccer, winning the Big 10 championship. In both cases, I think we’re lucky to have them. It’s a statement of intent that we’re trying to be a club for the community, and for players and coaches. And if people want to use us as a stepping stone, if people notice the women for their merits and they move forward in their coaching career, fantastic.”
Lipsher, who grew up in Hawaii, played at Duke University, spending summers with SoccerPlus in Connecticut, coached by Tony DiCicco, who guided the U.S. to the 1999 WWC title. Lipsher then played for DiCicco with the Boston Breakers in 2009 and ‘10, moved to Australia’s W-League, and returned to the WPS with the Atlanta Beat. She has been coaching at the collegiate level (Tufts, Trinity, University of Minnesota) while earning a graduate degree.
“It helped a tremendous amount just to learn from some top coaches as a player,” Lipsher said. “You take that on in your coaching career.”
Lipsher earned the Breakers’ starting goalkeeper position in her first season, on a roster that read like a Who’s Who of the women’s game, including the sport’s all-time caps leader (men and women) Kristine Lilly. In 2010, Lipsher was competing for the starting spot with current U.S. national team starter Alyssa Naeher when she sustained a broken wrist stopping a shot by Lauren Cheney Holiday in practice.
“We had incredible talent,” Lipsher recalled. “It was very cool to show up, 22 years old, and to be surrounded by phenomenal players and coaches.”
Lipsher’s experience in the professional ranks adds to the credibility of the all-volunteer club.
“Alli is an absolute rock star,” Burnett said. “She’s dedicated. She watches more soccer than anyone I’ve ever met, she cares a lot about the kids and developing players. She asks them to be better than they were the day before.”
Burnett, who grew up in Colorado Springs, followed Minneapolis City while playing at the University of Minnesota and working as an assistant to coach Krystle Seidel at Macalester College.
“I knew the club as a fan and they have been standard-bearers as far as doing the right things,” Burnett said. “We like to call it professionally amateur, which is pretty funny but it’s pretty accurate, as well. We try to do things the right way.”
Burnett appreciates the Mighty Crows’ emphasis on an attacking playing style, and plans to contribute her ideas on defending, especially via high-pressing tactics.
“City is extremely attack-minded, creative and good on the ball,” Burnett said. “When everyone is on the same page on the press, it’s easier to win the ball up the field. And the closer you win the ball to the goal, the easier it is to score. I’m excited to bring that piece in. There’s definitely opportunities to grow in that area, putting those two things together.
“Not only does defending make it easier to win the ball back and score, there is also less running, you’re covering less ground if you know what you’re doing and everyone is on the same page. It’s an energy saver. Defending is a choice, and defending well takes a lot of skill.”
Both Lipsher and Burnett will assist Mighty Crows head coach Matt vanBenschoten and also be involved with the Minneapolis City Futures, a training program for local Under-20 players.
“The Futures team is a good pathway,” Lipsher said. “Minneapolis City is a top team for training and helping players and coaches develop and my goal is to provide quality training for them.”
Hoedeman said he has received positive feedback for bringing in Lipsher and Burnett.
“Anyone you talk to on the men’s or women’s side of the game, they’re stunned, they’re impressed,” Hoedeman said. “They say, ‘what a statement you guys made.’
“Alli, having been a pro, along with her experience at Duke, is great for players. She’s a fantastic coach and she brings so much to the table it’s almost an afterthought that she happens to be a woman. If clubs aren’t looking at women [as coaches] they’re missing out on half the talent that’s out there.”
Hoedeman and Jon Bisswurm founded Minneapolis City as a supporter-run club in 2016 and joined the NPSL in 2017. The team has provided a platform for professionals such as Brandon Bye (New England Revolution) and Luke Haakenson (Charlotte Independence).
“I’m feeling really good about the future and the addition of Alli and Tori is part of that,” Hoedeman said. “If we can attract people of that caliber we’re doing the right thing, and we’re seeing that on and off field. Attendance has been growing, jersey sales continue to grow – we sold 300 jerseys in Europe this year, which is astonishing given we’re in Minnesota and I’m not sure those people even know where Minnesota is. We’re clear on who we are and the things we’re trying to do. If you like community soccer [without] the corporate vibe – if you’re into that ethos it is pretty easy to support us.”
Photo Credit: Duke Photography, Brad Rempel/University of Minnesota Athletics, Christopher Mitchell/University of Minnesota Athletics, and Christopher Mitchell, Sport Shot Photo