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Minnesota United publicly gearing up for MLS with Sunday's priority draft

On Sunday, Minnesota United FC and sporting director Manny Lagos will make their first real steps in MLS. Lagos will be in New York City for the Priority Draft coin toss. Called “the draft of drafts,” the Priority Draft will decide between Minnesota and Atlanta United for which team gets the top pick at the SuperDraft, Expansion Draft, Waiter/Re-entry Draft, and other allocation priorities.

Though it sounds like a bureaucratic process, Lagos is champing at the bit to get started on plans for MLS.

“This is the first roster-building mechanism and I think that’s exciting,” he says. It’s not exciting just for him, though, as fans are increasingly anxious themselves to hear about new player signings and plans for their MLS debut.

Lagos won’t give away his hand in terms of strategy, but says, “We want to be able to control what we can and that starts with winning or losing the coin toss.” It all depends on his Atlanta counterpart, Carlos Bocanegra, and his own priorities, but Minnesota and Atlanta may find themselves gunning for the same picks.

Lagos says he has certainly been studying the 2014 Priority Draft between Orlando City SC and NYCFC for homework. Orlando City came out of that draft with the top expansion draft and SuperDraft picks that they used to get Donovan Ricketts (expansion) and most importantly Cyle Larin. Larin, the Canadian forward, was arguably one of the best MLS SuperDraft pick-ups in recent years and Lagos is well aware.

“Number one picks can be valuable,” he says before adding, “but they can frankly be a bust depending on the year.”

Few of the Expansion Draft picks were as successful. The most notable exception is Tommy McNamara, who was taken 16th in the Expansion Draft and has blossomed at NYCFC.

For this year’s Expansion Draft, the expansion sides will only be able to choose five unprotected players each (down from 10 in 2014). Lagos says that fewer chances to pick up players “puts a ton more pressure on us to really work hard… [We have] to get the types of players and personalities that we feel are going to have an impact in terms of what types of players and what types of people they are.”

In some ways, Atlanta United already have a head start on Minnesota as they prepare for 2017: Atlanta have a manager, players signed to MLS contracts, and a running academy. The Loons, on the other hand, are currently in a dog-fight to secure a playoff berth in their current league, the NASL. “In the short term there are enormous amounts of challenges for this transition,” Lagos says. “Definitely the fact that we’re in an existing league is a part of that.”

But appearances can be deceiving. Lagos points out that the team has been intentionally quiet about MLS plans primarily because they want to try to focus on the team they currently have. Lagos relinquished the head coaching role after the 2015 season precisely to focus on doing the long-term planning that would allow current head coach Carl Craig to focus on the 2016 season.

In his Sporting Director role, then, Lagos just returned from a scouting trip to Sweden and Norway, where he was looking at players, including American winger Josh Gatt. As ESPN and FiftyFive.One have reported, Lagos is also putting together a long-list of head coaching candidates for next season. The Loons’ first MLS signings won’t be unveiled until after the end of their NASL season. Minnesota closes the NASL regular season on October 29th and the weeks to follow will likely hold a cascade of announcements. This weekend’s Priority Draft, however, will likely prove pivotal to many of those decisions to come.

The priority draft will be held live on the MLS Matchday Live – Week 33 pregame show (2 pm ET; ESPN3, TSN2, Facebook, YouTube), with representatives from both clubs in attendance in New York for the event.