#NPSL2MLS: The Story of Joy Athletic Club Alum Emmanuel Iwe

By Nick Flores/NPSL.com

Emmanuel Iwe has come a long way in his playing career since joining Joy Athletic Club in 2009.  Iwe essentially grew up with the club and everything he knows to this day about football was shaped by the values and lessons learned at Joy. 

Iwe grew up around football and has always been a gifted talent so it’s no surprise that he’s seeing his hard work pay off.  Iwe was part of Joy Athletic’s inaugural NPSL season in the summer of 2021 and helped them earn a fourth-place finish that year which marked a great start to life in the NPSL for the club. 

“Getting to play with the Goats in their inaugural season was really special because we’ve been talking for a while about what’s next for the club,” Iwe said. “We always played at the youth level but we never really had a stepping stone to the professional level.  Getting an NPSL team was a really big milestone for the club.  Getting to play that inaugural season with my childhood friends was truly a special moment for me.”

With the Goats is where Iwe learned to play to his strengths such as his speed and the club’s “freeplay model” allowed him to really stand out and take his game to the next level.  His speed paired with his ability to think out situations on the pitch has made him the talent he is today. 

Iwe played collegiately for St. Cloud State University in the 2021 season as a freshman and earned All-GLIAC Second Team in his first year.  He also started every game, scored six goals and had four assists as well.  A lot of his success can be credited to the things he learned with Joy Athletic, and he’s very grateful. 

“Joy takes a very experimental approach to play, especially when it comes to tactics,” Iwe said. “They’re very ambitious in the way they set up.  The experimental side of it growing up was great because you learn to be a creative problem solver on the field and later on in your playing career you get the more technical and advanced coaching.  When you build a foundation of creative decision making, it doesn’t really matter what situation you’re thrown into on the field.  You have that foundation of creative problem solving that allows you to get yourself out of situations.”

Following his freshman season with St. Cloud State, Minnesota United FC 2 announced they were holding tryouts for the team in January of this year.  Iwe had multiple friends urging him to sign up for the tryouts, and he was the first to get registered. 

“You had to have had some type of high-level background of play which I had previously and I got accepted,” Iwe said. “I did the tryout, did exceptionally well in it, and they let me know they’d be inviting me to the first team’s preseason. So even though the tryout was for the MLS Next Pro side, they wanted to see me in a professional setting as well.”

Iwe ended up participating in all six weeks of preseason with the first team and was eventually offered the MLS Next Pro contract.  Iwe is now working with the MLS Next Pro team and continuing his development in order to reach his goal of making it onto the first team.  

On July 20, 2022 Minnesota United played in a friendly against Premier League side Everton, and Iwe was part of the squad.  That match is remembered fondly by Minnesota United, MLS, and Liverpool fans (like myself) as the Midwest club thrashed Everton 4-0. 

It was a complete performance from Minnesota and a well-deserved victory over the Merseyside club as they were touring the U.S. for their preseason.  Not only did the team get a huge victory against a historic club in England but Iwe was able to make his first team debut as well. 

“It’s one thing to be on the sidelines and to see those guys but it’s another thing to play against them,” Iwe said. “It was a crazy experience.  I didn’t think much of it as I was going onto the field but I remember getting some touches and every time there was a stoppage I would look to my left and see Dele Alli and think this is insane.”

Although Iwe was a bit starstruck at times when looking over his shoulder and seeing some of the Premier League stars, he didn’t feel out of his element.  He knows that being a footballer is what he was destined to do and felt at home on the pitch.

Growing up and watching the Premier League made the moment all the more special for the forward as he can recall early Premier League Mornings as a kid. 

“I’ve watched multiple Everton games before so to make my first team debut against a Premier League side was a crazy and unique experience that only a few people can talk about,” Iwe said. 

The moment was huge for Iwe but also for the league in general.  Following Minnesota’s 4-0 victory, the media went into a frenzy both here in the states and overseas in the U.K.  Iwe feels that following his side’s victory over Everton, people around the world should start taking more notice of the MLS and the talent and high level the league offers.

“I think British fans kind of have to realize that now when Premier League teams come to the U.S. that the quality has been raised in the past five or ten years,” Iwe said. “They may be expecting a walkthrough and just getting the team ready fitness wise but now when they’re coming over, I think they were shocked because they didn’t expect us to put up a fight, let alone win 4-0.  The reaction was a surprise but I think it was very fitting because people have to realize that MLS clubs – like Minnesota United and the higher up MLS teams – do have the quality to compete with a Premier League side on any given day.”

Moving forward, Iwe is working tirelessly to improve and eventually reach his goal of making it to Minnesota United’s first team and eventually to Europe.  He’s been a massive part of the MLS Next Pro squad as he’s already been contributing to the goals and his impact one-on-one with players is unmatched.

Iwe has the drive and skills required to make it far in his career, and he is taking all the right steps so far.  He understands what he needs to do to reach his goals, and he is sure to achieve them. 

“Speaking with the coaching staff, it’s not really anything so much more physical, it’s more like once you start to get to the level of first team players it’s about consistency,” Iwe said. “It goes from a physical battle to a mental battle because at that level everyone has the skills and ability to play, it’s all about can you be more mentally fortified and make the right decision in the moment.”

As his career progresses and begins to unfold the future is exciting for the MNUFC2 forward. Emmanuel Iwe is one to watch for the future. 

Photo Credit: Minnesota United FC

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