ST. PAUL, Minn. – With Friday's confirmation that Minnesota United will join Atlanta United as one of two MLS expansion teams in 2017, the Loons will now officially begin the important task of building a roster for their inaugural season in the top flight.
As the team’s technical director, Manny Lagos is up for the challenge.
“We’ve been preparing for this moment for a while,” Lagos said at Friday's announcement. “We’re an existing club that has a day-to-day functioning soccer franchise. But at the same time we’re excited about the future of the Minnesota United, and about the process we will continue to follow so we can be successful.”
The club, which currently competes in the North American Soccer League, now has just over four months before preseason begins in January. Lagos admitted that it’s a tough balance to improve the club both in the short term and in the bigger picture, but he doesn’t feel unprepared for the transition as they join the MLS Western Conference next year.
“We are excited about our roster and how our contracts are structured. We want the process of building the club to be done the right way,” said Lagos, himself a 10-year MLS veteran and former US national team midfielder.
As Lagos and head coach Carl Craig continue to build, here are several ways they’ll fill their roster.
In 2014, Orlando City SC and New York City FC participated in a “Priority Draft” in late September to sort out who would go first and second in eight different orders, including the Expansion Draft, Allocation Rankings and the MLS SuperDraft. Fans should expect the same to occur for Atlanta and Minnesota United.
Lagos confirmed that they expect to be a part of an Expansion Draft this offseason. The last Expansion Draft, between Orlando City and New York City in 2014, was held in early December. Previous editions have featured productive starters like Tommy McNamara (NYCFC, 2015), Sebastien Le Toux (Philadelphia, 2009) and Brad Evans (Seattle, 2008).
With all three DP slots available, Minnesota have the opportunity to bring in marquee talent. Lagos said the club doesn’t have a set agenda for these spots yet, but assumes they’ll be used to “help make us competitive from the start.”
Minnesota will have priority on bringing their current players along to MLS. This year's squad includes MLS veterans like Jeb Brovsky, Danny Cruz and Ben Speas. MNUFC also have one of the United States’ hottest strikers in Christian Ramirez, who leads the NASL with 13 goals and won the league’s Golden Boot in 2014. He has 46 career goals with the Loons in two and a half seasons.
Other players to watch include fullbacks Justin Davis and Kevin Venegas, who signed long-term contracts with the club that alluded to an MLS option before this season, as well as center back and Woodbury, Minnesota native Brent Kallman.
With a short timeline, Minnesota will have to be very active over the next six months. Lagos and Craig will assess their current roster while following players both inside MLS and beyond.
The club is also hard at work to establish a foundation for the future, including setting up a development academy and a USL partnership within their first two seasons, though nothing has been finalized.