St. Thomas provides new path to Division I soccer in Minnesota

St. Thomas will play its first Division I men’s soccer home game on Monday — a big moment not only for the Tommies but for the sport in the state of Minnesota.

St. Thomas coach Jon Lowery will be focused on the micro elements that will go into getting their first win this season after an 0-4 start. But the Apple Valley native now in his 10th season at the helm of the Tommies also takes a macro view of the potential affect of adding another key rung in the player-development ladder.

“For the young men and boys in the state to be able to have a Division I program, I think it’s going to be valuable on so many levels, where kids can come watch Division I soccer now and they can aspire to play it in their home state,” said Lowery, who played at Ohio State. “Minnesota United was a huge addition to the soccer community and now you add Division 1 (men’s) soccer. It’s really exciting.”

MNUFC chief soccer officer Manny Lagos will participate in festivities before the St. Thomas game, flipping the coin and presenting the Tommies with a Loons jersey.

“This is St. Thomas’ project, but people see it so much deeper,” Lowery said. “It’s a part of St. Paul. It’s a part of Minnesota. It’s a part of the soccer community and there is no better ambassador for soccer in St. Paul and Minnesota as the Lagos family.”

As St. Thomas makes the jump from Division III, Lowery’s primary focus is on building a foundation for the program from its culture.

They have taken their lumps early this season and are not used to losing. Lowery, the DIII national coach of the year in 2016, won 82 percent of their games in the last four seasons and were nationally ranked each year. Over that span, they have a 73-12-8 overall record and are 41-5-4 in the MIAC.

St. Thomas must bring up the level of the roster with scholarship players. They have some aid for players now and the amount of scholarships will increase over the next few years to be at a competitive level within the Summit League.

“It’s going to take more time because it’s been an accelerated progression and internally for our program, we have to be fair with the players that have been in this program, some with the COVID year have been with us for five years,” Lowery said. “Some of them are transitioning from Division III players to Division I players. Some of the players we brought in (through transfer portal) have Division I experience and some of the recruits we brought in have Division I ability.”

The Tommies roster is blend of those players. Three standouts are fifth-year captain center back Halvor Houg of Oslo, Norway: junior midfielder Stu Sain, a Plymouth, Minn., native and Wayzata High grad who transferred home from DI University of Hartford; and talented true freshman defender Charlie Holton of Mequon, Wis.

“As we talk about those three buckets, those are the three guys that I’m pleased with right now, as well as some others,” Lowery said. His 27-man roster has 13 from Minnesota and six from Wisconsin.

The Tommies will play on South Field at the corner of Cretin and Grand, a turf facility, shared with with softball team and at a capacity of roughly 800. It’s a field that Lagos and Tony Sanneh would hop the fence to play pickup games on during their high school years and during their college careers at Wisconsin-Milwaukee before embarking on pro careers in MLS and abroad.

With Monday’s game, the Tommies are closing a gap for the sport in Minnesota.

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