With an eye on building a Major League Soccer roster for next season, Minnesota United FC Sporting Director Manny Lagos will spend Friday to Oct. 2 in northern Europe scouting players.
Lagos will see multiple teams in Norway and Sweden plus one in Denmark on his first international scouting trip representing the MLS-bound club.
With a nod to the North American Soccer League season in progress and the uncertainty of which current players might make the MLS jump, Lagos expressed excitement and concern about the first public discussion of club’s 2017 plans.
“I do look at a trip like this – and there will be more during this offseason – as incredibly important on a lot of levels for the club to start building a base of players,” Lagos told assembled media Wednesday afternoon at the club’s Golden Valley headquarters. “We’ve put together a good trip that can give us a good base of players that we’re interested in from this part of the world.”
Current United players Jeb Brovsky, Danny Cruz and Daniel Mendes have all played with clubs located in northern Europe.
Here is more about the trip in Lagos’s words:
Q: Why Scandinavia?
A: It’s cold in October and November. [Laughs.] There’s something appealing about where we are now and looking at those leagues and looking at those types of players. There are some serious similarities in terms of the level and sometimes the types of players. It’s certainly a market we’re intrigued by and one we want to get to know better. Not just watching players but networking and growing relationships and partnerships that have added value.”
Q: What types of teams are you seeing?
A: Stabaek is a team [former U.S. National Team coach] Bob Bradley coached. Hammarby was coached by Gregg Berhalter. The Denmark game is a high-level game, Champions League. These are all really well-respected clubs. Some of these clubs operate a development role and some of these clubs are the big boys of their country.
Q: Is this more about coming back with a list of five players you’re interested in signing, or building networks?
A: It’s both. We’ve identified players we’ll be looking at throughout the trip. We’re not talking about signing. We’re building a base of players.
Q: How do project players from this region fitting into a MLS roster? Are these top-end players? Middle-of-the-pack players?
A: I’m not inventing the wheel. This is a market that intrigues a lot of MLS clubs because it’s not as extreme as, say, like the [English] Premiere League in terms of salary discrepancies. This is a situation where you have like-for-like. It’s got some big value for us to get to know the market and see some players we’ve already identified.
Q: What’s the nature of contact with players?
A: Most times when players are in the thick of their seasons, you’re not going to have too much personal interaction. But the soccer world is surprisingly smaller as you filter up to the higher levels. There’s agent interaction, coach and contacts that have been built up. You’ll be able to sit down with people that are involved in high level positions with these clubs to get a sense of the market.
Q: What MLS salary mechanism gets used?
A: It really depends on the level of player. They are similar to our market in terms of having players trying to get to higher levels, players that are solid veterans where you have to find value if it makes sense for your roster and they have some higher level players who are on a pathway to potentially very high levels of soccer.
Q: Are you out there looking for starters, for every sort of player, for a designated player?
A: The goal is all of the above and to really make sure we’re assessing the market values in different parts of the world correctly. This is a similar market in that you’re probably not overshooting a lot and hoping you can place players in your roster.
Q: Do you have inroads that make you feel this trip could be more fruitful for Minnesota United FC than other MLS teams?
A: Anytime a Minnesotan goes to Scandinavia, it’s kind of cool. It’s got some leverage culturally. There’s a mentality both cultures probably have embraced, evolutionarily, over centuries and right now in terms of the weather we deal with and how we embrace our identity.
Q: Any specific people you’re working with?
A: The people we’re working with are very close with people like Bob Bradley.
Q: Any interest in American players playing in Scandinavia?
A: Josh Gatt and Cole Grossman have some history. Listen, this trip is to build a base of players, do some networking and do some gritty work.
Q: Is that region of Europe known for a typical style or produce a type of player?
A: You’re looking at a mentality of a culture that’s very disciplined and organized. If you want to compare it to South America, it probably doesn’t have the same creative flair or athleticism – perceived athleticism. But you do get a type of mentality rosters need. This market is known for disciplined steadiness.
Q: What vision are you selling vs. the other 21 MLS teams that might come knocking?
A: We don’t want to pretend we’re going to be like New York or L.A. It’s not our market; we’re not those cities. But we are a city that can talk about being so family friendly, our music scene and theater scene and lakes and quality of life. There’s no doubt with the budget the way it is in the MLS, we’re going to have to be excellent at that. Globally, New York and L.A. are an easier sell, particularly if you’re going to convince somebody to play within the budget constraints of our league.
Q: Your coaching situation is not solidified. What happens when that question comes up?
A: We’re in a current season and we’re all assessing ourselves for how we want to grow and be part of this transition. We’re competing week-in and week-out and we think that competition will be important to the environment and culture we create for the future.