The message sounded too good to be true.
As president of the Duluth Amateur Soccer League, it’s common for me to receive e-mails from people new to the area looking to join a team. But I’d never read one like the message Matt McCune sent me three summers ago.
My adult-league team roster usually doesn’t have extra room, so I pass people’s names along to other clubs that could use the numbers. McCune’s was one name I kept, though. In the e-mail, he detailed his playing experience, which included time spent at a well-known NCAA Division I school and on the practice squad of a Major League Soccer team.
A simple Google search backed up his claims.
The elementary school teacher from Baldwin City, Kan., grew up in nearby Vinland, a tiny town where James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, used to preach. McCune, whose basketball-crazy high school didn’t have a soccer team, played one season (1993) at Ottawa University, a small NAIA school in Ottawa, Kan. (where Olympic runner and former Duluthian Kara Goucher’s father, the late Mirko Grgas, played), and set the program’s single-season assists record (18) and the NCAA record for fastest hat trick (5 minutes, 23 seconds) en route to being named the Braves’ Player of the Decade for the ’90s. (Grgas was Ottawa’s Player of the Decade for the ’70s.)
After stints as an amateur player with professional clubs that included the Minnesota Thunder and Austin Lonestars, McCune enrolled in school again at age 25 and played Division I soccer at Ohio State from 2000-03. He went on to play for the practice squad of the Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting Kansas City) of the MLS.
McCune, 37, said he and his wife, Sarah, have traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe and first came to the Duluth area in 2001 after reading an article about the North Shore.
“It’s exactly what I love,” he said. “I got tired of the mountains and fell in love with Lake Superior.”
Arizona and Florida get some of our finest senior citizens during the winter months. In exchange, we get McCune, who spends his summers near Two Harbors with Sarah and their two kids, son Grady, 8, and daughter Marley, 6.
Beginning Monday, McCune, who began instructing soccer clinics when he was 14, will be coaching at the Two Harbors Soccer Camp for youth players at Segog Park.
He started the camp in 2010 and has modeled it after ones he conducts in Vinland, a rural area with about 100 kids in a soccer club that focuses on individual skills, he said.
“Although they’re 700 miles apart, there are similarities with both towns. I definitely see that,” said McCune, who hopes to bring a Vinland team to the Northland — and vice versa — to play friendly matches. “I’m comfortable in Vinland, and I think that’s what made me comfortable here.”
Grady and Marley play in both cities.
“Now that I have kids, I think there’s even more interest in my club,” McCune said. “It’s nice to have two models of how I’ve done; that has helped.”
The Two Harbors camp is divided into two- or 2½-hour, four-day sessions for players from ages 6 to 17.
“Not only do the kids work on basic skills, but advanced skills as well,” Cass Beardsley, Two Harbors Soccer Club President, said. “I can always tell which of my kids have been to his camp. The improvement I see in the one-week period is amazing.”
McCune also has conducted coaching clinics for Two Harbors parents who may be light on soccer-playing experience. He provides 90-minute programs, where he runs coaches through drills.
“(The kids are) constantly moving the whole time they’re there (at camp), learning what to do with the ball in a game-time situation,” Beardsley said. “All of our coaches are volunteers, and most of us grew up without soccer. We’re all learning with all the kids, so this has been a great experience.
“He’s been helpful at increasing the skill level of our players.”
McCune’s hectic schedule as a coach, husband and dad didn’t allow him to play on my team until this season. When he finally showed up to his first and only game, my teammates, who have poked fun at me by claiming he doesn’t exist, asked McCune to show some ID.
While I’d like to have him at more games, I’d say McCune’s time in the Northland has been well-spent.