Shining on: Woodbury’s Gotsmanov, Kallman help lead Minnesota Stars to championshipA Royal reunion helped bring Minnesota a championship title this fall.
By: Patrick Johnson, Sports Editor, Woodbury Bulletin
A Royal reunion helped bring Minnesota a championship title this fall.
Woodbury High School graduates and former Royals teammates Andrei Gotsmanov and Brian Kallman helped the NSC Minnesota Stars professional soccer team earn the North American Soccer League championship in October.
“It was just a matter of putting the right players at the right positions and trying to figure it out as a team how to win games,” Gotsmanov said. “Toward the end of the season we figured it out, took that and won the whole thing. It was just good timing.”
The NSC Minnesota Stars were formed out of the ashes of the Minnesota Thunder organization, which folded in 2009.
Brought together by the National Sports Center in Blaine and led by head coach Manny Lagos, a former Thunder luminary, the Stars won the 2011 NASL championship over seven other teams from the Carolinas, Puerto Rico, Tampa Bay, Fort Lauderdale, Edmonton, Montreal and Atlanta.
The Stars earned the NASL championship crown with a 0-0 tie with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., earning a 3-1 total-goals victory in the two-legged Championship Series – after winning 3-1 at NSC Stadium in Blaine the week before. The 3-1 two-game win allowed Minnesota to lift the Soccer Bowl trophy for the first time in the history of the re-launched NASL.
Gotsmanov said it was fun to be able to win the title, especially, with a fellow former Royal.
“It’s sort of in the past a little bit. We’re getting older,” Gotsmanov said. “We’ve kind of moved on. But, I’ve known Brian for years and it’s always more fun to have an ex-Woodbury teammate playing with you.”
During the regular season the Stars weren’t one of the league’s top teams, however. In 28 games, Minnesota went 9-9-10 for 36 points – well back of league-leader Carolina’s 54 points.
A seven-game winless skid nearly derailed the Stars’ playoff ambitions, but the team rallied in its final three games to clinch the NASL’s sixth and final playoff spot with a road win on the final day of the season.
“We definitely thought we were good enough to win the whole thing, it was just a matter of the right players playing at the right position, getting a little bit of luck, scoring goals at the right time and playing some good defense,” Gotsmanov said.
Gotsmanov, Kallman and the Stars returned to Minnesota with the NASL championship cup on Monday, Oct. 31. Fans met the team at the airport and joined the Stars for a championship celebration at Brit’s Pub in downtown Minneapolis.
Gotsmanov said he felt the Twin Cities was excited about the team.
“When you have a crowd behind you it makes it a lot easier and motivates you to work hard,” Gotsmanov said. “It definitely helps to have a little bit of buzz.”
Soccer in the blood
Both Gotsmanov and Kallman have built impressive soccer resumes since graduating from Woodbury in the early 2000’s.
Gotsmanov was born in the Soviet Union. He moved from Minsk to Woodbury in 1996 when his father, Sergey, joined the Minnesota Thunder. After graduating Woodbury, Gotsmanov began his college career at St. John’s University in New York, leading the Elite Eight team in points. However, he transferred to Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., to be closer to home. After a two-year break from college soccer, Gotsmanov reached the Elite Eight again with Creighton. With the Bluejays, he was a semifinalist for college soccer’s most prestigious award, the Hermann Trophy, in 2008 and was also named the Missouri Valley Conference player of the year.
Gotsmanov was selected by the New England Revolution with the 24th overall pick of the 2009 Major League Soccer SuperDraft, but he never played for the team and ended up trying out for a Swedish club Mjällby AIF. He scored twice in an exhibition match with the club, but wasn’t offered a contract. He returned to Nebraska, joining an amateur side and caught a break during the US Open Cup, when his team played the Thunder, impressing Minnesota coaches and earning a contract offer.
Off the field, Gotsmanov maintains ties to his Eastern European culture, enjoying Russian food and music. In addition to soccer, he also plays golf and tennis.
After a college career in Florida and Nebraska, Kallman returned to Minnesota to begin his professional career in 2006. The defender played 50 games for the Minnesota Thunder before the team disbanded after the 2009 season. However, he was one of the first players signed to NSC Minnesota after the Stars were created.
Prior to playing for the Thunder, Kallman spent three seasons with Jacksonville University, from 2002-2004, starting in 38 of 42 games for the Dolphins. After the 2004 season, however, he transferred to Creighton University for his senior year. The 2005 season was a successful one for the Bluejays, as they won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament and reached the national quarterfinals. Kallman appeared in all 23 of the Bluejays’ games that season, making 17 starts and scoring one goal. He considers his first game at Creighton’s Morrison Stadium – one of college soccer’s premier facilities – to be his finest soccer memory.
For both players, soccer runs in the family. Gotsmanov’s father, Sergey, is a former Soviet and Belarusian international who represented the Soviet Union at the 1988 European Championships in West Germany. Andrei, his father and his older brother, Sasha, have now all played professionally in Minnesota.
The Kallman’s are a very well-known Woodbury soccer family. Rich and Laura Kallman have six children, three boys and three girls. In addition to Brian, his sister Krystle Kallman played for West Virginia University and the University of Minnesota, his sister Kylie played soccer at the University of Minnesota, and his sister Kassey is currently a standout at Florida State.
In Minnesota professional soccer has been around since 1976, when the NASL’s Denver Dynamos moved to the Twin Cities and became the Minnesota Kicks. The Kicks were highly popular, drawing crowds of up to 45,000 during its run – until folding in 1981.
After the Kicks, soccer went indoors with the Minnesota Strikers, then the Thunder followed in 1994 and had success, including sending several players on to the U.S. National Team and other professional teams, until folding two years ago.
The Stars are currently owned by the NASL, and are seeking an ownership group to purchase the squad from the league.
“We both felt we could play at this level, for this team,” Gostmanov said. “Being a team player helps a lot. We’re both happy it worked out and that we had a chance to play a big role on a championship team. We’re happy with how it finished.”