Minnesota United FC rebrands, retools and reinvigorates

  • Article by: DAVID LA VAQUE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 4, 2013 - 11:43 PM

Minnesota United FC has a new name, new investors and some top new players for the coming season.

hide

Manny Lagos of Minnesota United FC wears many hats for the soccer club — locker-room unifier, game-day tactician and salesman among them.

Photo: KYNDELL HARKNESS, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Amid wealthy new owners of Minnesota’s professional soccer team, three imported top players and a new team name stands stalwart coach Manny Lagos.

The fourth-year coach steps into a new season facing the highest expectations of his tenure. After leading the former Minnesota Stars FC to the past two North American Soccer League finals, including a title in 2011, Lagos helped convince former UnitedHealth Group CEO Bill McGuire to emerge as a buyer last fall as the NASL considered folding the team.

The wealthy McGuire’s purchase of the team instantly preserved soccer’s slim standing in the crowded Twin Cities sports market. The recent rebrand of the team, now called Minnesota United FC, adds a new challenge to an already difficult chore for Lagos: help sell the United to a public that, outside of a dedicated core, is largely indifferent.

The former Stars ranked fifth out of eight NASL teams in attendance last season. This season it plans to do better, buoyed by what team president and McGuire’s son-in-law, Nick Rogers, called a “significantly increased” budget. Some of it helped Lagos — whose father, Buzz, is synonymous with local soccer — lure two former league MVPs and a top goalkeeper to Minnesota in hopes of winning games and filling seats.

Wearing many hats — locker-room unifier, game-day tactician and salesman — does not deter Lagos, 41, a Major League Soccer veteran, former national team member and Olympian who is accustomed to pressure on the pitch.

United FC opens play at 7 p.m. Saturday against San Antonio at the Metrodome. A year ago, as defending league champions, the team opened there to 8,700 fans before retreating to the National Sports Center in Blaine and much smaller crowds. This year, seeking to raise the team’s profile, United FC will play its first five home games at the Metrodome and not play in Blaine until the first half of the season concludes July 4.

“I’m excited about the stress,” Lagos said. “You can have healthy adversity. Sports get stale if you don’t take yourself out of the box. The guys are looking forward to that challenge. It will be harder but it could be something really enjoyable.”

Season of dramatic changes

The team’s owners have stepped up in measured fashion, befitting what Rogers called “a marathon, not a sprint’’ to improve attendance. A marketing campaign was launched just this week, including four billboards along metro-area freeways. A new Facebook page has attracted 5,000 followers in three weeks and is growing by 200 a day this week, he said.

All-important sponsorship dollars are projected “to be more than double that of last season,’’ he said in an e-mail, although he did not disclose figures.

Great expectations serve as the latest form of pressure for Lagos. In 2009, he was team president as financial problems forced the Thunder, a team started by Buzz Lagos, to dissolve. Manny Lagos became the coach in 2010 when the National Sports Center started up the NSC Minnesota Stars. He remained coach as the NASL became owners in 2011 and weathered the ownership uncertainty through all of last season.

“One thing he’s picked up from me is optimism, that idea that somehow it’s always going to come through,” Buzz Lagos said. “But one place where he’s better than me is that he’s decisive. He knows what he wants and he goes after it.”

When McGuire and Rogers asked Lagos about prospective players to sign, he went right to the top, expressing interest in former MVPs and high-scoring forwards Eitenne Barbara and Pablo Campos. Signing those players, along with goaltender Daryl Sattler, gives United FC new talent to supplement a core group that won a title in 2011 and took second last season.

“What I keep hearing since I’ve been here is that it used to be, ‘This team could win,’ ” Sattler said. “Now it’s, ‘This team should win.’ I like that kind of pressure.”

The skill of blending talent

It takes a certain skill set to mold a low-budget team of blue collar players into league champions. Only one Stars player, defender Kyle Altman, was named to a league all-star team in the past two seasons. It is quite another challenge managing the egos of more prolific players. Buzz Lagos said he believes his son “comes with the background of having been a great player so he earns respect.”

Said Manny Lagos: “I think the key is, the culture of winning stays the same and that is what will get the group to buy in.”

Campos, whose higher-ranked Carolina and San Antonio teams suffered playoff upset losses to Lagos and the Stars the past two seasons, said joining the team helped him understand its strengths.

“There is no team that is going to win if players are not on the same page,” Campos said. “People here are very close. They are friends on and off the field. Manny created a good locker room atmosphere, and that’s why Minnesota was one of the hardest teams to play against.”

Kevin Friedland, a part-time player, assistant coach and member of the United FC front office, said Lagos “was a professional athlete and professional athletes hate to lose. We thrive on pressure. Our jobs are scrutinized by the public. When he’s the head coach, his name is in front of everything. He’s aware you live with the successes and die with the failures.”

Changes to the NASL playoff structure will force Minnesota, a team susceptible to slumps, to find its groove early and maintain it. The season is split into two halves, the spring and fall. Each is essentially a mini-tournament, with the winning team from the spring playing the fall winner for the league title.

“It’s going to be difficult, which is why we went out and got the players we did in addition to the group we have already,” said Djorn Buchholz, vice president of sporting operations and longtime front-office member for the Thunder and Stars. “The season dictates that we have to do something a little different than we’ve done the past two years.”

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Kansas City - WP: J. Guthrie 3 FINAL
San Francisco - LP: T. Hudson 2
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
New Orleans 10/30/14 7:25 PM
Carolina
Dallas 117 FINAL
Orlando 92
New York 80 FINAL
Toronto 83
San Antonio 87 FINAL
Houston 96
Miami 104 FINAL
Memphis 98
Minnesota 113 FINAL
Chicago 112
Phoenix 105 FINAL
Utah 100
Sacramento 93 FINAL
LA Lakers 92
Denver 112 FINAL
Golden State 119
Portland 99 FINAL
LA Clippers 89
Dallas 3 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Tampa Bay 4 FINAL
Winnipeg 2
Vancouver 3 FINAL
Colorado 7
Carolina 3 FINAL
Edmonton 6
Columbus 1 FINAL
Anaheim 4
Connecticut 21 FINAL
(18) East Carolina 31
Miami-Florida 30 FINAL
Virginia Tech 6
So Florida 17 FINAL
Cincinnati 34
Troy 13 FINAL
South Alabama 27
BYU 30 FINAL
Boise State 55
(6) Oregon 59 FINAL
California 41
North Texas 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10:59 PM
Hawaii
(2) Florida State 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Louisville
Troy 10/30/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
Cincinnati 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Tulane
Tulsa 10/31/14 7:00 PM
Memphis
Purdue 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
(17) Oklahoma 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa State
Oklahoma State 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
(10) TCU 11/1/14 2:00 AM
(22) West Virginia
Texas 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Texas Tech
Northwestern 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Iowa
Maryland 11/1/14 2:00 AM
Penn State
Houston 1 FINAL
Chicago 2
Montreal 23 FINAL
Ottawa 17
Saskatchewan 27 FINAL
Calgary 40
Hamilton 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton
Toronto 11/2/14 11:00 AM
Montreal

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who wins and loses in football this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close