At a ceremonial groundbreaking for Minnesota United’s new St. Paul stadium on Monday, five men were front and center for the main photo opportunity: team president Nick Rogers, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, team owner Bill McGuire, Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber and team sporting director Manny Lagos.
After most of the cameras stopped clicking, the man whose persistence is the main reason Monday’s moment happened went and grabbed a shovel and turned over some dirt, too.
Buzz Lagos, the co-founder of the Minnesota Thunder and the longtime head coach of the now-defunct amateur-turned-professional club, wasn’t about to miss this day.
The new stadium site near I-94 and Snelling Avenue in St. Paul is about 2 miles from the home in which Buzz still lives, and in which Manny and the rest of his children were raised. It’s only a mile away from the high school stadium at St. Paul Central, where Buzz coached his final home game with the Thunder.
That was in 2005, when it would have been pretty hard to picture the way soccer’s future in Minnesota ended up playing out.
Hard, that is, unless you were Buzz Lagos — relentlessly positive and relentlessly moving forward.
“I always envisioned Major League Soccer coming to the Twin Cities and soccer getting its own stadium,” Lagos said Monday. That said …
“When I see what’s going on, the ownership group and the resources, the stadium they want to build, it just blows my mind away,” he said. “This is way beyond what I could have imagined it would be. I was bare-bones the whole time with the Thunder. We always just got by.”
There were troubled years in Minnesota pro soccer after Lagos’ time with the Thunder ended, but the path he was instrumental in sustaining eventually led to McGuire’s grand vision.
Buzz Lagos was hardly alone in that push, as Manny is quick to point out. But he’s also quick to note that there is “no chance” there would be an MLS team in Minnesota without his father’s groundwork.
“There’s no doubt my dad is somebody who believes in soccer in St. Paul and believes in the growth in the sport,” Manny Lagos said. “So seeing him here today was special.”
Buzz Lagos’ fingerprints are on United as it makes the transition to MLS. Manny Lagos is, of course, his son but also played for the Thunder during its amateur club days under his dad. Amos Magee, one of the Thunder’s all-time great players who also succeeded Buzz Lagos as head coach in 2006, was recently named United’s player personnel director.
Buzz Lagos said he takes a certain amount of pride in shaping the success of the next generation. More than anything, there’s the simple gratification of seeing this day arrive after so many years of work.
“I just happened to be at the right spot at the right time,” Buzz Lagos said. “There was a need, and I grabbed onto that need and moved it along.”