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Shuster, Giuliani take over next generation of Duluth FC

The Olympic curling gold medalist is a new co-owner of the club as it enters its sixth season in the National Premier Soccer League.

Men playing soccer outside
Members of Duluth FC celebrate with Blake Perry after he scored a goal against FC Columbus at Public Schools Stadium on July 19 in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Family has always been at the root of the way Duluth FC does soccer.

And as the club moves into a second generation, it is from those roots that new leadership has grown.

The club has changed hands as it enters its sixth season in the National Premier Soccer League, as new co-owners John Shuster and Alex Giuliani hope to build on the team’s success.

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“I think that the growth of soccer and seeing the caliber of not only players but people that we’re getting in here, as a whole, I think we can continue to grow in the community, and that’s one of our goals, for sure,” Shuster said.

Shuster is much better known across the Northland for multiple trips to the Winter Olympics and a 2018 curling gold medal, but neither he nor his wife played soccer in their youth, but after an appeal from a friend, the family started hosting players in their Superior home in summer 2019.

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US Olympic curler John Shuster, of Superior, gives an interview during media day at Curl Mesabi in Eveleth on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“It was really one of the most important decisions that we’ve ever made, to do that, and we’ve absolutely loved every bit of it,” he said.

Guiliani played a role in the creation of the Gitchi Gummi Soccer Club in 1991 and followed his kids through the ranks of youth soccer for about 20 years before deciding to focus on business ventures like the Clyde Iron Works and Pier B restaurant and event venues.

His interest in the game in Duluth goes back to watching Jeno’s Jets, a team from the late 1960s sponsored by Jeno Paulucci (of frozen foods fame) that gave immigrants and shipping workers a chance to play out their pastime in a country that was still several years away from warming to the sport.

Adam Jaros remembers what it was like to not be wanted. To be told he didn't belong. To be a stranger in a strange land. Back in the early 1960s, Jaros was a teenager, and after church on Sundays people from across the Duluth hillside would flock...

Younger Jaros
Adam Jaros as a member of Jeno's Jets. 1971 file / News Tribune

“I always knew that soccer would be coming back full circle,” he said.

Tim Sas, an Orthodox priest who founded Duluth FC with his family in 2015 and took it into the NPSL two years later, was looking for someone to pass the club on to when he was transferred to a church in Minneapolis after 17 years of service at Twelve Holy Apostles church east of downtown.

Fr. Timothy Sas returns to the Minneapolis church of his early priesthood.

With Shuster already involved in the club as a host family, Sas helped the pair come together and the transition was completed in November. Both are learning their way around the club and the league, but they’re benefiting from a high level of continuity in the club’s on-field operations. General manager Charlie Forsyth and head coach Sean Morgan were invited back for another season and the team is preparing to host BlueGreens fans for another summer starting in May.

“Charlie and Sean, our GM and coach, staying on board and continuing down this path, those are assets that can’t be replaced. They’re really crucial to the team operations and success,” Shuster said.

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The team averages about 500 fans per game at Public Schools Stadium, which will continue to host the BlueGreens. The new owners are going to be looking into ways to expand the fan base — which has been known as the “Disciples” — in the new season. Though he wasn’t familiar with the level of play when he first got involved with the club, Shuster said that whenever he brings friends to BlueGreens games, they always leave impressed with the skill they see on the field.

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Members of Duluth FC clap during player introductions before their match with La Crosse Aris FC in 2021 at Public Schools Stadium in Duluth.
Dan Williamson / file / Duluth News Tribune

Even in a relatively short amount of time, the club has seen significant on-field success. The team has reached the NPSL Midwest Region playoffs three times, including in 2022, won the Midwest Region tournament and went to the national semifinals in 2018 and participated in the nationwide U.S. Open Cup twice, most recently in 2019.

The NPSL features nearly 100 local clubs from throughout the country. The 2022 team was briefly ranked No. 1 in the country among them before finishing in the top 10. Last year’s NPSL North race went down to the final games of the season, with Med City FC (of Rochester) pipping the BlueGreens to the title by a single point in the standings. The BlueGreens won a home playoff game before reaching the Midwest Region semifinals and exiting at the hands of Muskegon Risers in Michigan.

“We are bringing in high-caliber soccer players and actually really good young men, and we’re going to keep developing soccer here in town,” Giuliani said.

Men playing soccer outside
Keegan Chastey of Duluth FC celebrates after scoring a goal against FC Columbus at Public Schools Stadium on July 19 in Duluth.
Clint Austin / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune

In addition to the elite players the club is recruiting from around the world, making a place for local talent has been a priority. Keegan Chastey (Duluth Denfeld) and Blake Perry (Wisconsin-Superior) both scored for the BlueGreens in that playoff quarterfinal against FC Columbus. Continuing those relationships and building ties with youth clubs like Gitchee Gumee will hopefully provide a conduit of both fans and players for years to come.

“That’s our hope ... is that every year we have that. People from our direct area that are gonna contribute and can be at that level, to be on a team that’s one of the top teams in the country,” Shuster said.

The former Lumberjacks were looking for a higher level of competition as they prepared for the next level of soccer.

Those relationships, and a network of passionate volunteers and fans, will hopefully make for a smooth transition for the club from one “family” to another.

“We are really very fortunate to just take the baton and go forward with it,” Giuliani said.

Related Topics: SOCCER
Brandon has been sports editor of the News Tribune since August 2021.
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