If Nick Rogers has his way, the loon will stay. The president of Minnesota United FC expects many facets of his team — including the club’s name and logo, coach Manny Lagos, and some players — to make the jump to Major League Soccer when United moves up to the top professional league in America.
Many details about the move remained uncertain Wednesday, when MLS announced that Minneapolis had been awarded an expansion franchise in the 20-team league. Rogers said he cannot guarantee that everything about the club will remain intact because it must pass muster with MLS as part of the transition into the league. But since Bill McGuire bought United in 2012, the organization has been remolding itself, with an eye toward preparing for bigger things.
Rogers and Lagos have upgraded the roster, adding MLS-quality players who could stay with the team when it moves up from the North American Soccer League. With young stars, recent success and a growing fan base, Rogers is aiming for a smooth transition.
“My hope is that everything stays,’’ Rogers said. “I think we’ve built a great brand, and we have a great fan group. I don’t know why we’d change any of that.
“The culture we’ve started to build, I think there’s a distinctly Minnesota feel to it. The north is rising, as we like to say. This is Minnesota’s club, and we want to keep it that way.’’
Lagos, who played for the Minnesota Thunder and for five MLS teams, has coached the club since 2010 and was named NASL coach of the year in 2014. Rogers said he saw no reason why the club would not retain him when it moves to MLS, given his success and Minnesota roots.
Lagos said he hopes to stay, eager to help the club chase the goals it has been setting since McGuire became owner.
“We have a high-level team and a fan base, and all these things are going to help [with the transition],’’ said Lagos, who coached United to a league-high 55 points last year. “We have a great group of guys and a great belief in what we’re doing here.’’
United could join MLS as soon as 2017, but the timetable has not been set. Rogers said he and Lagos will consider the upcoming move as they sign players in the future.
The team already has budding stars. Forward Christian Ramirez was named the NASL’s young player of the year and scored a league-high 20 goals in 2014; recently, he signed a contract extension through 2017.
His partner on the pitch, Miguel Ibarra, was twice called up to the U.S. national team last year and was named the league’s most valuable player.
In February, the club signed Brazilian midfielder Ibson, who has played with a number of major clubs in Europe and Brazil.
“The first thing I noticed as a player was that they were ready to commit and ready to put the resources forward to make a move like this,’’ said midfielder Aaron Pitchkolan, in his third year with the team.
“They wanted to get players in here who were ready to contribute to the team now and in the future. I think it’s very likely you’ll see players make the jump [to MLS].’’
Ramirez said playing in MLS would be “a dream come true’’ and added that he loves playing in Minnesota, for a team he views as well-positioned for the move up. “We showed it last year,’’ he said. “We beat Swansea, a Premier League team, during the summer. I think the product is there on the field. It’s just a matter of having the MLS name behind us.’’
Brian Kallman, a United defender and Woodbury native who also played for the Thunder and the NSC Stars, said a strong core of young players and limited roster turnover set the stage for last year’s success. He predicted the team will stay on that course as it prepares for MLS, and Kallman believes the winning culture that is being established will be a huge advantage when United moves to a higher level of play.
At 30 years old, he isn’t sure he will be around for the transition, but that hasn’t dimmed his excitement.
“In my career, I’ve seen MLS teams that have come from the second division step in and have a lot of success,’’ Kallman said. “I just see it going huge here.’’