Rochester FC making a big jump in the soccer world
Men's soccer club Rochester FC is moving up two rungs and will play in USL League Two next season. Club owners Midhat Mujic and Muharem Dedic are also adding a top-tiered women's amateur team to their operation in Rochester.
ROCHESTER — Midhat Mujic and Muharem Dedic are taking a considerable plunge.
The co-owners of men's amateur soccer club Rochester FC will be operating in much deeper waters next season, the former members of the United Premier Soccer League now joining USL League Two.
USL League Two is still amateur soccer, meaning its players are not paid. But it is just one notch below professional soccer, which will make it the highest rated soccer in Rochester, surpassing Med City FC which is two rungs below professional in their National Premier Soccer League. Rochester FC's former UPSL is one rung below the NPSL.
Not only are Bosnian natives Mujic and Dedic joining the men's ranks of USL League Two, but they will also be fielding a women's USL team in Rochester that will be operating a single rung below the professionals. That club is joining the 44-team USL W-League, which just completed its inaugural season. Rochester also has women's soccer franchise Rochester United FC, which plays in the Women's Premier Soccer League.
Mujic and Dedic made the announcements in a press conference Friday afternoon at Mayo Civic Center. They also included that they have signed a contract to be outfitted by Adidas and that they're making subtle changes to their Rochester FC logo.
"We have always been pushing for local player development and discussing how important that is," said Mujic, who along with Dedic founded Rochester FC in 2018. "What we want to do now is develop a strong and competitive soccer system in Rochester that gives kids growing up here something to look up to and a goal of one day being a member of (these new men's and women's franchises). I have been in communication with the USL for some time now. It just made total sense for us to make the jump now."
The jump is a massive one in terms of the soccer competition they've signed up for. Also significant is the leap Mujic and Dedic will be making in financial commitment. Mujic broadly estimates that the combined annual cost of operating both teams will be between $100,000 and $200,000, travel included. The annual cost of operating one team in the UPSL was around $30,000, according to Mujic.
"We are investing, and we are doing it because we believe in this," Mujic said. "If we didn't believe in this project, we wouldn't have invested as much as we have and will continue to invest. This is not cheap, but we are hoping to continue to get support from many sponsors."
Mujic and Dedic aren't just operating a couple of high-end amateur soccer clubs. They also operate a youth soccer academy in Rochester. They fielded just one youth team this spring and summer, a 13-under collection. But they are expecting to add at least three more youth teams next year.
Dedic believes the name recognition that will come with owning a pair of USL teams will pay major dividends when it comes to their youth academy.
"This is a nationally recognized league that we will be in," Dedic said. "All of the support we'll get from that will help us. The (USL League Two) really liked what we were doing at the youth level. That was one of the reasons they let us join their league."
Dedic and Mujic both say that their push to grow local soccer won't change despite the jump to these loftier amateur men's and women's leagues. As a member of the UPSL, both stated numerous times over the years that their reason for owning the team was to give southeastern Minnesota soccer players a chance to play with them. They lived up to that, with their Rochester FC team having been stocked with players from Rochester and Austin, especially, many of them just one year removed from high school and a couple of others still in high school.
Still committed to local players
They say they are not abandoning that local commitment, even as they join leagues that are overflowing with current Division I players from across the country and even some former professional players.
Dedic and Mujic say they will have plenty of Division I and II players on their teams who have no local connections. But they are also committed to a roster that represents the southeastern corner of Minnesota, as they hope to land the cream of the local crop each season for their teams.
"We will not change,” Dedic said. ”We are still all about the locals. There will be up to 24 spots on our teams, and I can assure you that 4-6 players will be local kids. In the coming years, we want to build our (USL) teams from our youth clubs."
The USL League Two has 72 teams and operates out of four regional conferences. Rochester FC will be in the Deep North Division of the Central Conference, which includes Des Moines (Iowa), Manitoba (Winnipeg, Manitoba), Minneapolis City SC, Peoria City (Ill.), St. Croix SC (Stillwater, Minn.) and Thunder Bay (Ontario).
The USL League Two has had various incarnations through the years, including for a time being called the USL Premier Development League. For two seasons, Rochester had a team -- the Rochester Thunder -- in the USL Premier Development League. That was in 2009 and 2010, before the Thunder folded.
That team averaged 447 in attendance in 2009, 322 in 2010.
Dedic and Mujic have high hopes for attendance numbers. They point to the increased youth soccer participation numbers in and around Rochester as well as what they've seen on a state-wide basis for their optimism.
Eagan has a USL W-League team, Minnesota Aurora, that has been a large hit. In their national championship game recently, nearly 7,000 fans showed up to watch them play. Their regular-season attendance numbers were also robust -- 5,626 fans per game.
Dedic isn't expecting those kinds of numbers the first season with either of his USL-based franchises. But it sure gives him hope.
"It's hard to say what the numbers will be," he said. "But soccer is still growing in (Rochester). We hope to get as much fan support as we can. I'd love to fill up (Rochester Regional Stadium)."
Mujic indicated that prices for tickets for the Rochester FC men's and women's teams will be in the $10 to $15 range, with kids 13 and under getting in free.