Manny Lagos sits atop the peak of American soccer. Lagos had a successful career for various Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs, and represented the United States on the world’s largest stage, scoring a goal for the national team at the 1992 Olympics. Today he is the Sporting Director for Minnesota United FC (MNUFC), Minnesota’s premier professional soccer team. Yet throughout all of his incredible experiences, playing youth soccer at the Schwan’s USA CUP remains a highlight for Lagos.
Lagos participated in the original USA CUP in 1985 as a young player from St. Paul with professional aspirations. He fulfilled his ambitions, and was catapulted to national glory on the pitch.
"I love it, I think it's one of the points of pride of our state and it's an international youth tournament that is the pride of the country," Lagos said of the USA CUP.
Lagos continues to build soccer in his home state in his role as MNUFC’s Sporting Director, where he is responsible for all player recruitment, acquisition and development.
Lagos led the club through its historic move to the MLS, America’s top professional soccer league, early in 2017, capturing the enthusiasm of the Minnesota public and proving the genuine passion the state possesses for soccer. He strongly believes in the power of collaboration with the USA CUP to increase excitement and involvement in youth soccer.
“It's special, you have the kids here dreaming about someday becoming professional soccer players, and to have those kids involved and around our pros makes this a very cool experience for everyone involved,” Lagos said.
The Loons have exceeded expectations in their first year in the MLS. The team has posted victories against talented clubs Orlando City FC, Sporting Kansas City, the Portland Timbers, and Real Salt Lake. Christian Ramirez has been Minnesota United’s star so far in the 2017 campaign, leading the Loons in scoring as one of the premier offensive talents in the MLS.
Minnesota United’s connection to USA CUP goes beyond Lagos. Brent Kallman, starting defender for the team, and forward Ismaila Jome are locally-grown products from Minnesota, who frequently rave about their experiences playing at the USA CUP. Many members of the front office have experience playing or coaching in the tournament, and understand its importance to the universe of youth soccer.
“As a past player in USA CUP and now father of two USA CUP players, there is no debate how impactful this tournament is as a transformative experience for soccer players and families. Every summer Blaine becomes the epi-center of soccer,” said Bryant Pfeiffer, Senior Vice President of Sales & Strategy for Minnesota United.
Minnesota United’s move to MLS means that the team no longer calls the National Sports Center (NSC) stadium its home for matches, with TCF Bank Stadium now serving as the match day hub for Minnesota United activity. However, the NSC still hosts the official training facilities for Minnesota United, where the team practices daily, utilizes an extensive weight training area, and inhabits a newly renovated player lounge and locker room.
A handful of USA CUP teams will be selected for a comprehensive behind-the-scenes tour of the Loons’ training facility during the tournament.
Minnesota United will play three games over the course of USA CUP. On Saturday, July 15 at 7:30 p.m., the Loons will host Atlas FC of Liga MX, the top division of Mexican soccer, in a friendly at TCF Bank Stadium. Atlas FC hails from Guadalajara, Mexico, a city that will send two teams to this summer’s USA CUP. However, the two arriving teams are Academy clubs for Club Deportivo Guadalajara (or Chivas), an intense rival of Atlas FC in Liga MX.
During the week, Minnesota United will square off with Western Conference foe, the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday, July 19. All USA CUP games will be completed before kickoff of the game against the Dynamo. Rounding out the weekend is Saturday, July 22’s afternoon match-up with the reigning Eastern Conference champion New York Red Bulls. USA CUP participants are able to receive reduced price tickets for all Minnesota United games.
Minnesota United will hold two open training sessions on field U1 (the stadium) on Friday, July 14 and Thursday, July 20 from 10:30 a.m. to 12 noon. After each practice, MNUFC players will be available to sign autographs on the field, and members of the coaching staff will hold informal Q & A sessions.
MNUFC will maintain a large presence off the pitch at the NSC throughout the USA CUP. The team will operate out of a booth located at the Hub on fields A3 and A4. Minnesota United’s lovable loon mascot, PK, will appear frequently at the booth for photo opportunities. There will also be soccer-related competitions (juggling contests, etc.) and merchandise giveaways held at the MNUFC booth.
MNUFC players will be stationed at the Minnesota United booth to sign autographs from 1-6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 18. MNUFC players will also be making surprise visits across the NSC campus throughout the tournament, so attendees must keep their eyes peeled for MLS stars wherever they are during the USA CUP.
Coaches of USA CUP teams have a unique opportunity related to Minnesota United. At this year’s annual coaches’ party and casino night on Thursday, July 20, Minnesota United FC manager Adrian Heath will join the coaches to celebrate a successful week of soccer and perhaps even impart some of his coaching wisdom. Heath is serving in his first year as skipper for the Loons after five years at the helm of Orlando City FC. He had an 18-year professional playing career in England for an array of English Premier League clubs before transitioning into coaching.
Minnesota United and the NSC hope to collaborate to make the NSC one of the premier soccer destinations in North America. The wide-array of activities presented by MNUFC throughout the USA CUP represent a clear step towards achieving that goal.
“While the club has had a presence at USA Cup over the years, we felt strongly about the importance in intensifying our connectivity as part of our first year in MLS,” Pfeiffer said.
Lagos is confident that USA CUP attendees will have an enhanced experience with a larger MNUFC presence. He hopes to continue to build the strong relationship between the club and the NSC, providing a new generation of young players an impactful experience they will cherish for life, much like how Lagos fondly remembers his own playing days at the USA CUP.
"To have it at the NSC and have the kids around our facility and competing and playing in the USA Cup is very cool. I think our players enjoy the excitement and energy of the tournament,” Lagos said.
Tag(s): July 13, 2017