Never afraid to have a go at himself, Carl Craig starred in Minnesota United FC’s “Tea Time” segments, musing on myriad topics with a touch of profanity.
Tackling what it meant to be named the club’s head coach last week, Craig spoke less for comedic effect but still to the point. United has big plans. The club is bound for Major League Soccer in 2017 or 2018 and will play in a new stadium in St. Paul. Craig’s two-year contact, meanwhile, is less certain.
Last week team president Nick Rogers said Craig “is going to be our head coach in 2016. Beyond that, we haven’t made any decisions.”
Uncertainty from the top, while a concern, does not occupy Craig’s thoughts. The 50-year-old is focused on other aspects of his first North American Soccer League head coaching job.
“I can only accept an opportunity,” he said Tuesday, speaking by phone from England where he’s on vacation. “If they don’t want to give me longer, that’s their business. To say I don’t care would be false, but I’ll do what I can with the opportunity and hopefully I’ll make a significant impression and move forward when the club moves forward. If that’s MLS, brilliant.”
Moving Craig to coach and his predecessor, Manny Lagos, to sporting director were key steps toward the Loons reworking themselves into an MLS franchise.
Craig became an assistant coach in 2010, the same year Lagos took over as head coach. They won an NASL title in 2011. The team was purchased by Bill McGuire after it lost in the 2012 championship game amid uncertainty about the franchise’s viability.
Meanwhile, Craig’s growth as a coach continued. Minnesota won the Spring Season championship in 2014 and players credited Craig for his efforts. He served as associate head coach last season.
Craig became more vocal in his coaching role the past two years.
“And Manny was very willing to accept that, to listen to my opinion about the good things and not so good things on and off the field,’’ he said. “That gave me confidence and also led to better performance on the field.”
Craig, a native of England, played youth soccer in Newcastle. He trained with English Premier League club Sunderland but “went by the wayside,” he said. A torn ACL ended his playing days in 1990. Four years later he moved to the United States. He has attained national and international coaching licensure.
His preferred style is to let players “do their thing within the loose content of what I want,” he said. As a result, he is known as a players’ coach.
How long will he hold that role in Minnesota? Craig said he can only focus on next season.
“I know fine well in this game if you don’t get results, you get fired,” Craig said.
“They provided me an opportunity. I want to take it. Where it goes is not entirely up to me but then, I don’t think any job is anyway.”