DULUTH — One of the new owners of Duluth FC, a high-achieving team that plays in the semipro National Premier Soccer League, is an athlete better known as the gold medal-winning skip for Team USA Curling.
John Shuster is, admittedly, relatively new to soccer. He didn't play and he didn't watch much of the sport while growing up. He didn't even know Duluth had a team until 2019 when a friend put a call out looking for host families for the unpaid college-aged players. John and Sara Shuster eyed their finished, but largely unused, basement and took in three.
"It was an amazing summer," John Shuster said. "Those kids were like brothers to our kids. They did a lot of kicking the ball around in the yard."
Now Shuster and Alex Giuliani, a Duluth developer who helped build youth soccer in this city, own the team. They bought the BlueGreens from the team's founder Tim Sas, a priest at Duluth's Twelve Holy Apostles Church who transferred to St. Mary's Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis last year. Sas wouldn't disclose the purchase price.
"I did not become a millionaire," he said.
There were four groups interested in buying the team but it was important to Sas that the BlueGreens remain based in Duluth. Giuliani, who is behind Clyde Iron Works and Pier B, has been interested in ownership since the team's beginning, Sas said, and Shuster, in his short time with Duluth FC, has quickly taken on the role of ambassador.
Plus, Sas liked the duos' continued vision of making the players more visible as role models.
"It isn't just there for entertainment purposes," Shuster said of the team. "It's something that will help grow the love of soccer and the level of soccer — something that is giving back to the community."
Sas started Duluth FC in 2015 because, after a long absence from the sport, he wanted to play soccer. He collected other like-minded, experienced "old and rusty" players, and mixed in standout high school and college athletes.
He got injured in the second game.
Sas shifted to behind-the-scenes roles — manager, coach and water boy. The next year the team got more serious. The BlueGreens held tryouts and joined the American Premier League, which later combined with the National Premier Soccer League. At this point, about 30% of the players are local — a stat its leadership said it hopes to increase.
General Manager Charlie Forsyth said Giuliani brings the soccer experience. Shuster has a wide reach with his name recognition that will help with the team's visibility — and the ambition to push the team to the next level. While Forsyth handles day-to-day operations, Shuster and Giuliani will be behind the big financial decisions.
"I couldn't be happier," Forsyth said.
Shuster, a five-time Olympian who won a gold medal in 2018, is in Phoenix this weekend for the Golden Wrench Classic. He's eyeing one more Olympic run in 2026. There is a link, he said, between his primary sport and soccer.
"Elite athletes are very similar in mindset — finding out where your place is on the team and figuring out how to become a better teammate and a better team," he said.