Manny Lagos was 7 years old in 1978 when the Minnesota Kicks routed the New York Cosmos 9-2 at Metropolitan Stadium in front of nearly 46,000 fans.

“Those moments when you are young are the moments you look back on,” he said. “The Kicks and Cosmos and NASL inspired me.”

Now 35 years later, things have come full circle. Lagos is coaching Minnesota United FC, which plays in the revived North American Soccer League. The re-branded Cosmos — who once boasted all-time great Pele on their roster — joined the league this year. On Saturday, Minnesota will play host to the Cosmos at the National Sports Center in Blaine.

The crowd might be closer to one-tenth of what Lagos remembers from 1978, but the NASL doesn’t mind the slow-and-steady approach.

“It’s getting better and brighter, and I hope it brings attention to all the things we’re doing by bringing a brand like the Cosmos to play,” Lagos said. “Right now the explosion maybe isn’t happening as fast, but it’s happening at a much more planned, concise, fan-approached and community-approached way.”

The key is capturing the imagination of new fans — as well as the generation that still remembers the old Kicks. Brian Kallman was an infant in 1984 when the Cosmos played the Minnesota Strikers, a one-year NASL incarnation that quickly fizzled. But he has been made keenly aware of the state’s soccer history.

“It’s crazy because when I talk to people in the neighborhood, they know I play for the pro soccer team here but they still talk about the Kicks,” said Kallman, a former Woodbury High standout and current United defender. “They still talk about those games and how fun the tailgating was.”

Lagos’ father, Buzz, helped bring the legacy of soccer back to Minnesota as the driving force behind and head coach of the Thunder from 1990-2005.

Various incarnations of outdoor teams since have built a bridge to United FC — and an important match against a foe that is all at once old and new.

“We’re a market that is unique and special,” Manny Lagos said. “We should expect to have as high a level of soccer as we can.”

michael rand