UPSL’s Vlora City FC Fueled by Sustainable Growth
The growth of the UPSL is a remarkable example of the popularity of soccer in America. Here is a new story on a small men’s soccer team in the UPSL.
United Premier Soccer League Spotlight: Vlora City FC
Would you believe me if I told you that one of the most diverse amateur soccer clubs in the Midwest was founded only seven years ago? That prior to 2016, this same club only participated in the occasional tournament together? How about the climbing of the ranks from the second division of a state-run amateur league into the first division and eventually make a splash in its first year of a national soccer league? Well, do I have a story for you.
Let’s start in 2012. Adi Bilani had founded a soccer team in the Minneapolis area that went by Vlora City FC. The name of the club actually comes from Bilani, who was born in Vlora, a city located in Southwestern Albania. He moved to the USA when he was 14-years-old.
Vlora City played together in tournaments throughout the area until 2016, when Bilani received a phone call from the owner of a team called the Super Eagles, informing him that her team’s spot had become available in the Minnesota Amateur Soccer League’s Second Division.
Word spread quickly throughout the area as 40 players showed up to try out for the team.
Bilani felt his players hadn’t been challenged enough and accepted the offering. “We were winning a lot of the tournaments we were playing in,” said Bilani. “We wanted to challenge ourselves and play in a competitive league of soccer.”
A successful first season playing in a competitive league saw the team move up into more competitive divisions within the league. This began substantial growth and changed Vlora City from just a team to an actual club.
“We wanted to build off of our success,” explained Bilani. “We decided to add a second team into the mix and Vlora City FC II began playing in a lower division in the 2018 season.
“We had over 100 players trying out between the two Vlora City FC teams.”Adi Bilani
Both teams were successful on the state level so Bilani explored uncharted territory and joined the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL).
“We as a club wanted to reach higher levels of competition so we could help develop our players. We want to be that trampoline helping our youth reach their dreams,” said Bilani.
At this point, Vlora City FC consists of over 80 players from 38 different Nationalities.
“We are using the local men’s soccer league team to discover and recruit prospects to potentially play for our UPSL squad,” added Bilani. “If the players are good enough and work hard enough, they will play in the UPSL.”
The Vlora City UPSL team competes against teams which include Rochester FC, FC Minneapolis and Granite City FC in the UPSL’s Western Division I of the Midwest Conference.
Vlora City didn’t just join the division in 2019, they WON the division.
An impressive feat for a first-year team, especially on a national stage.
Winning the UPSL division gave Vlora City the responsibility of representing Minneapolis on the regional stage during the UPSL Midwest Conference Playoffs.
Joining them, South Division champions Joliet United Soccer Club, East Division champions, Michigan’s Carpathia FC, and the Central Division winners, who are also the reigning National Champions, Milwaukee’s Bavarian SC.
In September 2019, Vlora City announced the club will be adding a women’s team in 2020 which will compete in the Women’s Division of the UPSL.
All across the state of Minnesota soccer is growing. “We have almost twice as many teams as last year,” said Bilani. “I love seeing more soccer teams in our area, this means the beautiful game is growing, and that is what we all want to see in the USA. Of course, the competition is going to be tougher, but we are Vlora FC. We are proud and confident. We will be competing for all trophies and year-by-year, we will only get better and better.”
“I think that this year we will be more organized than in previous years. We have a full board of members that are ready to take our club to the next level. We have also signed a new head coach, Angel Gracia. Garcia has coached professionally in Ecuador and we are pleased to welcome him to our club.”