Ian Smith was one of the first players to sign for Minneapolis City when he joined the Crows back in 2016. Then, he was a teenager looking to get sharp the summer before he started playing college ball at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. Now, he’s in the middle of his first professional season with Oppsal IF in Norway and has already signed a contract extension.
Minneapolis born and raised, Smith always dreamed of making it as a pro. As he moved through the Minnesota Thunder Academy system, the defensive midfielder played with future City stars like Max Stiegwardt and, as he got older, began to attract the attention of Division 1 programs--and of Minneapolis City.
He was an impressive young gun for City in the inaugural season. He was an important part of the midfield in 2017. In his third season, reunited with youth club teammate Max Steigwardt in the middle of the park, Smith was at his snarling, Gattuso-like best as the Crows went undefeated in conference play and won their first North Conference crown. While he spent 2019 with Green Bay Voyageurs in USL League Two, Smith returned to Minneapolis in 2021 as the Crows again topped the conference and made the national quarterfinal.
“Ian has always had the quality and the drive to make it as a pro” said club co-founder Dan Hoedeman “and if it wasn’t for the pandemic he would have signed on earlier. Tough to graduate and look for a contract in the spring of 2020. But credit to him, he kept at it and after this last summer he made it happen for himself."
This fall, Smith signed with Oppsal IF in Oslo and things have gotten off to a great start.
“Playing in Norway has been incredible” said Smith.
“I love the country, the people are wonderful, and the overall lifestyle is great too.”
“In terms of football, that has also been really good” he continued. “The quality is super high here and I have loved the environment at my new club thus far. The games here are super tactical, and it is 100% results driven so getting used to that has been a challenge, but a welcomed one. The task of having to adapt to a totally new type of football has also really helped to mature my game, and give me a holistic perspective moving forward with my career. I am learning so much everyday and I can already see tons of improvement and development.”
Oppsal IF play in Norway’s 3. Divisjon Group 2, which is the fourth tier of the Norwegian pyramid. There are six groups at this level and the group winner gets automatically promoted. The Norwegian season runs from spring to fall, so they are in the off-season preparing for next year.
“I have re-signed for Oppsal for 2022, which is great.”
Smith continued, “I hope we can challenge for promotion because I think we have a quality team. It feels nice knowing you have done enough to get that second contract, especially in a place where I feel valued.”
We had to ask: were his four seasons with the Mighty Crows good preparation for the rigors of the professional game?
“City definitely prepared me to be here. We had a really competitive team and playing time was not a guarantee, just like it is here” he enthused.
“Ian was a huge part of building the culture that we have in the club” said head coach Matt vanBenschoten. “He took training seriously, he brought intensity to everything he did, and that rubbed off on everyone, especially the younger players. It made a difference.”
“That mentality of having to fight for your spot every single session, coupled with the pressure to win, was another great way I was prepared to be where I am now. City offers players a great environment to improve and showcase themselves, so I just hope my story isn’t an anomaly, but more-so the start of a trend. I think the teams I played on at City had immense quality so it’s great that the club gives us an avenue to really make a name for ourselves.”
“The fans and support are also incredible and I argue the Citizens are better than lots of USL League One and Championship fans, they really prepare you to play in tough environments.”
So what is next for the man the Norwegians have nicknamed ‘Tom Brady’?
“I try not to look too far ahead as I live in the present as much as possible, but moving forward I do want to see how high of a level I can achieve” Smith said.
“I am planted in Norway for another year for sure. The world of football is super unpredictable and ever-changing, so who knows where I will end up in a few years. But holy shit, I am excited to see.”
“You love to see players find success in the game” said Hoedeman. “Especially players like Ian. He is a great guy, positive and enthusiastic, just the type of person you want good things to happen to. It’s awesome to see good things happening for him in Norway.”