Adrian Heath - Manny Lagos - Minnesota United - holding scarf
Courtesy of Minnesota United Communications

Minnesota United acknowledge first-year growing pains in roster building

SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Manny Lagos will be the first to admit that Minnesota United’s transition to MLS has been a “learning curve.”

The club did not begin signing players to MLS contracts until after they completed their final NASL season last year. As a result, a quickly-assembled roster sputtered out of the gate. A late-March trade for Sam Cronin and Marc Burch helped right the ship, but the club is still sitting below the playoff line.

With more time under their belt, Lagos is confident in the lessons the whole technical staff has learned thus far in MLS.

“For us, we’re looking at the challenge of hiring a coach in late November and building our roster of 26 players before the preseason,” Lagos told MLSsoccer.com in an exclusive interview. “That was six to eight weeks. The scope of how you can sign players in that tight window got us to learn lessons on how we hone in on our process.”

While many players on the initial roster were already in their prime, Lagos believes that Minnesota’s biggest acquisitions are still entering their best years. Their first signing of the summer, Sam Nicholson, left Scottish club Hearts at age 22 with over 100 appearances to his name. Ethan Finlay comes to Minnesota with 150 MLS appearances under his belt. A deadline day loan with a purchase option, Lagos sees Costa Rican Jose Leiton as a type of move that fans can come to expect in future windows.

“He’s versatile on that left side, he’s tricky with a cleverness about him,” Lagos said of Leiton, who made his international debut in this summer's Gold Cup semifinal against the US national team. “The bigger scope of this acquisition is us looking at young talent in different markets that we think can translate to MLS. We want to try and find that kind of value on our roster.”

One other move in the frantic final day was Minnesota’s loan of Rasmus Schuller to Finnish side HJK. Signed with Targeted Allocation Money ahead of the season, injuries and inconsistent play relegated the Finnish international to the bench. Earlier in the window, the Loons declined the purchase option on goalkeeper John Alvbage. However, Lagos sees Schuller as a key part of Minnesota’s future.

“It’s a sign that we have a player we believe in with great quality and talent. Certain players that come into this league don’t always hit right away. It’s an example of us helping a player get his confidence back to help him be on this roster next year. Looking at Rasmus and other players who had success later in MLS, sometimes having a taste [of the league] and going out to get their head straight is a great opportunity.

"We’re not saying we have the answers on this one, but we’re acknowledging that he hasn’t played as well as we’d have liked him to.”

Minnesota also signed defender Michael Boxall (already with 3 starts this summer), rookie goalkeeper Alex Kapp, and added striker Brandon Allen on loan from New York Red Bulls. The six new faces cover all areas of the field. But did Minnesota check off all items on their summer shopping list?

“Yes,” Lagos affirmed after a long pause. “It’s a tough answer, because you’ll always say you wanted to achieve more. We certainly got better in the short and long-term with these signings. We feel like we’re finding the core that’ll allow this team to build in a healthy, sustainable way. Fans should be excited that we’re able to add pieces more specifically now instead of a blank canvas like eight months ago.”

However, the sporting director was quick to affirm that the moves weren’t done this season. While the transfer window is closed, free agency and loan options are still in play until mid-September. As the team looks to improve for this year and beyond, Lagos won’t rule anything out.

“We’re not done. There are still some markets that haven’t closed yet. There’s still some possibilities, for sure.”