Minnesota United's next game takes it to the next level

  • Article by: MEGAN RYAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 18, 2014 - 11:17 PM

United will take time out from NASL season to play a team from the English Premier League.

Minnesota United FC's Jamie Watson (left) and Kevin Venegas battled for the ball during a scrimmage at the Savage Sports Dome.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune file photo

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In about a month, Swansea City will open its English Premier League season against arguably the most well-known soccer team in the world — Manchester United.

But before that matchup, the Swans will play a different United on Saturday at National Sports Center in Blaine, becoming the first premier league team to compete in the state.

Not bad for Minnesota United FC — a second-tier professional team hosting the 12th-best team in the world’s richest league.

“You’re putting a product on the field that’s probably in the $100 million range in terms of athlete salaries,” United coach Manny Lagos said of Swansea. “It’s good for us … shows the fans that we’re building something special here, too. That hopefully, we can grow and continue to be a part of the global [soccer] community.”

A former player Lagos had coached is now an agent, promoter and event organizer based in England whom the team caught up with on their March preseason trip. That same person helped Swansea plan its preseason U.S. tour. With the team based in Chicago on its U.S. tour and a friendly set up in Milwaukee, against a Mexican club, he reached out to United for the second game.

United midfielder Jamie Watson said he knew the deal had been in the works but couldn’t help letting his inner soccer fan out when he knew it was official.

“These are guys that we watch week in and week out in the premier league,” Watson said.

“It was really cool to come up with the thought that we’re going to get to actually play these guys.”

Swansea made the initial call, but the Loons had to broker a deal to bring the Welsh team to Minnesota. While team president Nick Rogers couldn’t reveal the details, he said ticket prices reflected the cost.

Regular league match tickets range from $15 to $40. Tickets for Saturday’s game range from $20 to $125.

Rogers said he hopes this game will help the team judge where it’s at against the highest-caliber competition and show fans how serious United is about gaining regard in the soccer world.

“There’s probably a segment of soccer fans that sort of hold their nose up and say, ‘Well, if it’s not premier league or MLS or something, I’m not going to watch,’ ” Rogers said. “When we play an opponent like this, we get a chance to get in front of that audience in a new way and hopefully bring them into the fold.”

While this game is just an exhibition without points at stake, Watson said the Loons are still serious about upping their credibility.

“The premier league already gets the respect that they rightfully deserve. … That’s the standard,” he said. “You never know, if we’re able to get a result and actually beat them, that goes around the soccer world pretty quickly. So we’ll gain some respect in that for sure.”

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