Chris Wright is about 4,000 miles from his native England, but joining Minnesota United is still a bit of a homecoming.
“This is a legacy play,” the soccer club’s new chief executive officer said Monday. “I’m returning to my roots, the game that I was born into, the game that I played, the game that I coached, the game that I came to the United States to manage.”
United officially announced Wright as the club’s first CEO on Monday at a news conference at the team’s Golden Valley offices. Wright, president of the Timberwolves and the Lynx for the past 13 seasons of 26 total years with the organization, will oversee both the business and sporting sides of the Loons after Oct. 5, when the Lynx season is finished.
Wright said he initially began talking about this opportunity with team owner Bill McGuire about three months ago. McGuire said he talked to more than five candidates for the job and was interested in finding someone with experience outside of Major League Soccer, but who still had a passion for the sport and ties to the Minnesota community.
Wright met all those standards.
Wright, 68, has been familiar with United’s operations for a while because Glen Taylor — owner of the Timberwolves and Lynx as well as the Star Tribune — tasked him with managing his investment in the Loons.
“Things just evolve in certain ways,” McGuire said of adding a CEO with about a month left in the team’s inaugural MLS season. “And as things have gotten larger and more complicated and demand more time … thinking about this, and at some point organizing this way, was always in the cards.”
Having a CEO will lighten McGuire’s load, as the owner estimated he spends 18 hours a day, seven days a week working now. Everyone, besides McGuire, will report to Wright, including current team president Nick Rogers.
McGuire said he “wouldn’t speculate” on Rogers’ future with the club beyond continuing to focus on building the team’s $200 million St. Paul stadium, Allianz Field, which has been his primary job for the past month or so. Rogers could not be reached for comment.
Wright was a semipro soccer player and coach in England and initially moved to the U.S. to be the general manager of two indoor soccer teams, one being the Minnesota Strikers, in the 1980s. He said he still wakes up early every Saturday to watch the English Premier League and even tried to convince Taylor to buy a soccer team, either in MLS or Europe, 14 years ago.
“Adrian [Heath, Loons coach] will hear an awful lot from me on style of play, on formations, on substitutions, what we’re doing in the final third and not in the final third,” Wright said. “I’m a goalkeeper, so Bobby Shuttleworth will hear from me as well.”
Wright said much of his experience has been in startups and growing franchises, and he says United’s ownership group could be one of the most powerful in MLS. With the Timberwolves and Lynx, he was a big part of sponsorship deals with the likes of Target and the Mayo Clinic as well as involved in the $140 million renovation of the Target Center.
“I’ve always loved challenges,” he said of likely ending his career with an expansion team. “This happens to be an incredible challenge in the game that I’m really passionate about.”
As far as what he wants his legacy with the Loons to be, Wright had three simple goals: for Heath to win an MLS Cup, for Allianz Field to be the best fan experience in the Twin Cities and for the business to be profitable.
“I think it’s going to be special,” Wright said.
Loons Sporting Director Manny Lagos and director of player personnel Amos Magee were not at the announcement Monday. Lagos was on a scouting trip to South America while Magee was doing the same in Europe.
Staff writer Michael Rand contributed to this report.