Blue Sky Soccer

Back to Home > News & Features > Interviews
Published on 04/24/2007 8:18 pm   (Last Updated 07/27/2008 11:09 am)
  Send this  Print this
An interview with Manny Lagos
By Brian Quarstad
St. Paul MN (April 19, 2007) -- Blue Sky Soccer talks with Manny Lagos about his first year with the Thunder as well as his playing days, his World Cup experience last summer with XM Satellite Radio and plans for the newly proposed Thunder Stadium.
Manny Lago's holds a cup of coffee as he observes an early morning practice

 

Manny Lagos still looks youthful and fit enough to be playing soccer professionally. But these days, instead of the training wear and uniforms he donned for 15 years, you will most often find him dressed as he was the day I met him to do this interview. Pressed jeans, dress shoes, a dress shirt with the Minnesota Thunder logo on it and sport coat. Oh yeah, and the shades. He's relaxed but there is something about Manny that tells you that he's been in this situation many times before. That he is a seasoned veteran of professional sports and knows how to address people and what to say. It's that certain amount of professionalism and confidence that seems to have found a welcome spot in the front office of the Minnesota Thunder as Director of Soccer Operations.

  

BSS:

-Manny, you've played for teams across the U.S. including New York, Chicago, Tampa Bay and San Jose and during that time you have lived in numerous places. Why did you come back to Minnesota and why the Thunder?

Manny Lagos:

The first question really is why didn't I keep playing, I mean 35 is really young for the level I played at. It wasn't that I felt it was time. I was a midfielder and I have long legs and my last knee surgery was in 04 and I never really recovered from that. I wasn't the same player in Columbus, I wasn't really enjoying it. I loved the organization and fans in Columbus, but I had gotten to the point where that part of my body was deteriorating and I didn't want to just hang on to play a couple more years and be even more frustrated.

The next thing that happened after I retired is I took a couple of months with my wife in Columbus and that was the first time in 15 years that I hadn't been under contract professionally. I took some time to think about what I wanted to do. It was nice, you know? My wife and I dedicated the first 3 or 4 years of our children's lives to my lifestyle which is really nice actually. Three to four hours a day of training, you travel quite a bit but you're home quite a bit too. But we did look at the cites I played in: New York, Chicago, Tampa, San Jose and Columbus. And I wouldn't have changed it for the world as I was exposed to so many different people and unbelievable coaches. But I was ready for that nomadic life style to end. So when I looked back and assessed things, I obviously wanted to stay involved with soccer. And I wanted to use the first third of my life of learning soccer to bring it into whatever transition I wanted to do with my life. Coaching was not what I wanted to do right away. I saw how a lot of foreign players went right into coaching and it felt to me like they just became a former player with that nomadic life style again. You know, you become an assistant coach here for three years, then you move there for three years and to be honest I just wanted to be more grounded.

One of the things that happened is I talked to a lot of different people. My former coaches, Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley, Frank Yallop and I talked to them about the unique qualities that I bring. I was in an interesting situation in that I played for so many clubs and some great coaches. I look back and I played for coaches like Carlos Parreira, Carlos Quiros, Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley and Frank Yallop and I obviously include my father (Buzz Lagos) in that category also. So for me to have that knowledge of playing with those (coaches) I felt very confident about the vision of how a professional soccer team should be run. Also having grown with MLS in the first ten years and seeing what was successful and what was not successful, I felt like I could come back to the Thunder and add a lot of that knowledge and be able to take a well established professional team to new levels both on the field and in the front office.

BSS:

-Was that role of Director of Soccer Operations created for you so you could fit into the organization?

Manny Lagos:

We both (Thunder) negotiated and created it for me to fit into. I am well aware of the Thunder's history with my father with the team. It's not something for ego. I think there was a void that could be filled by my being with the Thunder and representing the Thunder especially with the business community but also I think I can be a nice bridge between the front office and the guys on the field. Even more so this year, I'm going to try to help Amos on the field as assistant coach to up that bridge. There are days when I talk to the guys as an assistant coach role and there will be other days that I talk to them, that I let them know I'm wearing my front office cap.

BSS:

-If you were to write a job description for yourself as "Director of Soccer Operations", what would it say?

Manny Lagos:

It's a tough question because it would have to be in context with Djorn, (Bucholz) who is our General Manager and Amos Magee who is our Head Coach and I think we all see where my role is which is that bridge between the front office and the players. It's obviously one that encompasses on the field as an assistant coach, helping out Amos making sure that I bring a level of training and intensity of helping Amos improve the team on the field. You throw in the front office and it becomes a bit more complicated. But in my mind I would try to figure out a way to help and grow the Thunder to become more of a viable business in a very competitive sports market in Minnesota. That would also include enticing players from outside of Minnesota to come here, live here and play for this team.  Either because I have Major League Soccer ties, and I let players know that this is a great trampoline to move to the MLS. I think me probably more than any other (First Division) person could pick up a phone right now and call almost (all the) MLS coaches and let them know if we think a guy is at that level, that we can help him to move on.

Then on the business side is what I've been doing the last several months and the first thing I did when I got here, I think our camp business is one of the biggest assets we have and we have to grow that. Because we are not going to survive, especially with Bill George leaving, (former owner) without bringing in some real dollars and having a viable business. The stadium doesn't quite do that for us. I like the stadium and love that you guys (Dark Clouds supporters) create a great atmosphere for the team and for the fans but in terms of putting on events and actually taking concessions and parking, the revenues of a modern stadium that a club can take, we just don't have that. That was my next thing when I got here was to use whatever leverage I could use from growing up in this community as a soccer player, watching professional soccer in the 70's to my claim of being a former Olympian to the Lagos name, my fathers background, his influence in the community to try to bring a stadium to the Thunder. Because at the end of the day that is one of the most important ways we can become a viable business. That has actually been pretty successful the last several months.

BSS:

-I think I heard you say once that when you started working for the Thunder that there was originally some confusion between you and Amos. That the two of you were sort of afraid to step on the others toes in the beginning of your working relationship. How did that story go and how did you resolve that?

Manny Lagos:

Well, I think the confusion was more on my end than Amos's end. It started in January 2006 when I was hired. We created a role and I hadn't really felt comfortable yet with that role. And when I got here in 2006 the first thing we decided was that we had to improve our camps. So my first three months starting that January were pretty much devoted to camp marketing, marketing my own name but also getting out in the community so we increased those numbers. And we did! We went from 1,800 to 3,000 campers, the 2nd largest in the Country. Hopefully it will be even larger this year. I've actually moved away from the camps on the marketing side just because I've been so busy with the team side. And then, as much as I wanted to help Amos as the season got closer, I had another difficult decision as I was approached by XM Radio to work at the World Cup for six weeks which I don't think anybody would turn down. It was an amazing experience but I had to take it and Amos understood that and I think that the entire club understood that. It's just like if we had a player on our team that was able to go to MLS, we want him to go. It only adds to the allure of our club and it hopefully means we're developing players and will fill the void with other players because it's the system not individual players. So I went to the World Cup for six weeks and came back and the end of the season for me was basically just shoring up the camp side of things. I really had missed out for 6 weeks of that investment. So I really invested a lot of time and energy for myself and for the business of the camps working those and making sure they were successful for the last part of the summer.

So I really didn't feel like I started until after this first season. I feel much more comfortable with what my role is and you just talked about it with my role with Amos. Now it's much easier. Amos and I can sit down and talk about players. We went on a couple of very important scouting trips together and I think we understand now, that it's OK to step on each others toes now and then. Whereas last year we weren't really sure how that would all work. I would also throw Djorn in there also. The three of us are alright with how we navigate and interlace everything.

BSS:

-How involved have you been with all the new player acquisitions that the Thunder have made this off season? Are there new players in particular that you really have been involved with signing?

Manny Lagos:

Djorn, Amos and I have been involved with all of them. From a personal standpoint I think it was successful. I'll be honest, and at some level this is every sports fans... you know, something to be disgruntled about. But I wish we had a better budget. Some people we went after we just didn't have the financial means that some other clubs do. That's a learning curve for me as well. I need to figure out ways to do that better. But at the end of the day it takes a special player to play for us. More so than the "have's" of the First Division because we really do ask our players to be a personality in the community, we ask them to work camps and we ask them to be great on the soccer field. Those areas are all tough at the professional level. But I think we've done a good job this year of getting good guys. Getting guys that really believe in that overall theme.

BSS:

-So in a sense, the job of a USL player is perhaps tougher than the job of a MLS player. Maybe not what is required of them on the field but what you expect off the field.

Manny Lagos:

One hundred percent!  I mean you start with the fact that these guys gotta go tonight and then play tomorrow night. That would never happen in MLS. Right there there's more expected than an MLS player. (The Thunder were opening their season on the road in Charleston the evening of this interview and turned around to play the Railhawks the following evening, 24 hours later) The players are aware of how proud we are of them for what they do but they also realize that they are our biggest asset. There is no other sport that has access to professional players like soccer.

BSS:

-Because it's not as popular?

Manny Lagos:

Well, it's not as popular but more so that soccer is such a unique sport in that it's not defined by how big you are. You can be tall, you can be short you can be ... well, I guess you can't really be overweight. In basketball and hockey, players are getting a lot bigger and there's football. In our sport I think it's a little more the normal person and it's easier to relate to people. It's not as much of a spectacle when they go and form relationships in the communities.

BSS:

-There are only 5 returning players to the Thunder that were on the 2005 team that your father Buzz coached in his final season. When you and Amos were picking players, what were some of the attributes you were looking for and what kind of differences will fans see with this team than past Thunder teams?

Manny Lagos:

I'll be brutally honest, it just wasn't good enough last year. A lot of those guys were carryovers from two years in a row now with teams that didn't make the play-offs. I always think there has to be change. Now that isn't to say that those guys weren't great players or that they did not provide quality on the field. It just means that group wasn't getting it done.

We also mentioned my father, who to me is one of the best coaches of all time. It's very hard to fill his shoes. It's very hard to figure out a way to put your stamp on the game. I think Amos has done a great job and he's still going to do a great job but it's going to be a hard thing to do. I'll hark back to the level where we're disappointed to not to make the final let alone the playoffs. That's the history of the Thunder and it didn't matter what our player budget was or how much we had to do in the community. Somehow the Thunder found ways to win and be a competitive team year in and year out. We want to get back to that level again.

BSS:

-Were you looking for a particular type of player? Were you looking for speed or size or were you just looking for overall quality?

Manny Lagos:

Well, that's more a question for Amos and his vision for the team and of course I am helping to shape that but if you want to talk in general terms I can tell you that soccer has become a combination of technical and physical ability. I think you'd be foolish to get players who are not athletic nowadays because the game has become so athletic. At the same time part of the conundrum of a coach is figuring out the athletic players combined with a soccer brain. It's a tough thing to find sometimes but I think Amos has found some new players that present options for playing both ways. Sometimes getting behind the ball and playing dirty and battling defensively and other times being creative and getting forward more.

BSS:

-Recently the Mayor of St. Paul, Chris Coleman, announced that he would like to move forward with plans to build a stadium for the MN Thunder. Previously there was talk of the Thunder moving into the new field being built in Minneapolis at the Parade Stadium site. What happened that caused you to shift gears to St. Paul and how much were you involved with that personally?

Manny Lagos:

Well I was very much involved with the shifting of gears. I wasn't very involved with the Parade Stadium initiative. When I got here I was still trying to absorb the information especially at the end of the summer. That initiative was one that I took a closer look at and I met with Parks and Recreation Board of Minneapolis and I'm not going to say that it was an awful meeting but I did not get a good feeling that they truly wanted us as a partner. As we talked about earlier, we can't be a tenant anymore. It just does not make for a viable business in the sports world. You have to have a partnership. So right away we knew that was not going to work. We're a tenant right now in a "high-school." This is something that had to be a partnership and we were actually in a good situation that Parade was on the bubble and in a sense, Saint Paul's vision of what they wanted to do was very similar to what the people at Parade wanted to do. The only difference is, St. Paul believes that the overall picture of soccer in this community, and not just the other sports, is an integral part of St. Paul and that the MN Thunder is very similar to the St. Paul Saints, that they don't want us to leave. Right away, when those two themes were expressed by the Mayors office, I knew that was the right fit for us. Politically, we need people there who feel that were the right niche and I'll be honest, I'm one hundred percent bias, I'm a St. Paul guy. It feels right for us to be in St. Paul.

BSS:

-When did this all start and who where the people involved in getting this stadium initiative started?

Manny Lagos:

Well, obviously the elections helped with the changing of guard at the Mayor's office. The Thunder does have a very good relationship with Capital City Partnership, which is sort of the bridge between the mayor's office and the business world. Now interestingly enough, those two don't always have a great relationship. But we have a decent relationship with CCP. It was initially getting the Mayor's office, and particularly Joe Spencer (Mayors Policy Associate for Arts and Culture) and asking the Mayor what his vision was for the Thunder and does he have a role for us in the community, and that was pretty much it. Once he said we did, we tried to find out what their vision was of a potential events facility. To the fans, I'm not going to use the word stadium and I would appreciate it if the fans no longer called it a stadium because that's sort of a taboo word when you're trying to raise money for something for the community. So this "Events Facility," we were a major player in this and an important piece to them in creating this vision. And that's a really unique thing. Again, that they see value in having the Thunder be a part of the community. And I think that's the circle. It comes back to the fact that this is why we send our guys out into the community and that's why we get the guys with the personality that we do or else they wouldn't want us in the community. I think that's one of the reasons they want us there.

BSS:

-From what I understand, Capitol City Partnership was the key player in getting the Xcel Center built. There a good partner to have. What else needs to happen in order to make this a reality because I take it we are still a long way off from really making this happen?

Manny Lagos:

Well, yeah, it's long and it's not. The fact that there's a site study going on now and the reason that there's a site study now is because the '08 session is when were really, really going to go after the money for this. So the site study has to be done now to present this to the State Legislature to get it voted on. So you're right, it seems like a long ways away but this is stuff that has been put into motion for a reason. I'll also add that, officially, we're really not saying a lot about the stadium until we have the site study done and we have some good images to show our fans and show the community what were talking about to create that buzz and excitement, to bring it to the next level.

BSS:

-Is it still looking like the Xcel coal plant is the primary site?

Manny Lagos:

The two main sites are next to the St. Paul Saints at Midway stadium and obviously the old Xcel energy plant with the smokestack. It's a toss up. I will say that the Mayor's vision seems to be at the same facility as the Saints at Midway Stadium. I see pros and cons of both. I go back and forth. I've driven down to both areas a lot and I love the downtown off the river stadium idea. I also love having the baseball and soccer stadium right there. Essentially right next to the State Fair and pretty close to the freeway. So there's pros and cons to both.

BSS:

-As you mentioned earlier, you were called away from the Thunder rather abruptly last summer to do color commentary for XM satellite radio. Can you tell us something about the experience? What was it like for you as a fan and as a color commentator?

Manny Lagos:

It was unbelievable! I cannot... it was, it was one of the best times of my life. I got to literally talk, live and breathe soccer for ten to fourteen hours a day. And it wasn't like covering youth or pro soccer, it was covering the World Cup! A lot of times I would be on the fifty yard line of a huge World Cup soccer match. (He laugh and shakes his head, as if still in disbelief) Then, we would do a two hour talk show from the stadium afterwards. It was amazing, it was just great.

BSS:

-How did you keep your voice through all that with the long days and all?


Manny Lagos:

I don't know but actually I got strep throat when I got back so the gods must have been with me cause I waited until I got home until I actually got sick. Like I said, it was one of those things where I had to blink. Afterwards I felt I had actually done fairly well and I had a few job offers broadcasting and I told my wife I would never close the door. But it creeps back into the that nomadic life-stye that I talked about before, that I didn't quite want yet. So I turned it down, but I can't say that the bug didn't get me where I might not think about that later.

BSS:

-How much prep time did you have to learn all the players names and how did you do it?

Manny Lagos:

It was pretty brilliant what they did. They have done this in Spanish before but they had never done an English (broadcast) back to the U.S. We were basically on the air for six to eight hours a day for eight days before the World Cup started doing call-in shows. Obviously I did some prep work a couple of weeks before arriving at the World Cup. But I tell you what, if you do a call in show with a group of six guys, pretty much by the time the World Cup comes around, you've answered every question or you've debated every team, every player. So by the time the World Cup started I pretty much knew everything that was going on.

My favorite two games in the World Cup were Mexico vs Argentina and Poland vs Germany. Actually Poland-Germany was my favorite game which was the second game in the first round. Germany, if they won, would qualify for the second round without having to worry about the third game in that round. If Poland lost they would be  eliminated no matter what. So they were battling for their lives. It ended up being 1-0 with Germany scoring in the last 30 seconds.

BSS:

-You seem rather comfortable around the microphone. Where do you think that came from?

Manny Lagos:

I don't know, I'm not sure, good question. (Laughs) I think it's because I'm really opinionated. I really am, I think so. You know it's interesting, I think in some other areas I'm a bit more introverted but when it comes to soccer, I'm pretty confident about my opinions. I don't say they're always right. But I've been successful playing, I've played for a lot of really amazing coaches and they have shaped my vision of the game. I also believe that here, now in the U.S., that it's time to give opinions. You don't sugarcoat the game itself, you don't dumb it down and it's OK to be wrong. It's OK for me to talk to you and say, Mateja Kezman is going to have a great World Cup, which was one of my predictions. And it was one of the worst predictions ever. So there you go! But it's there and that's part of my thing. I think it's alright to throw 'em out and get people passionate about the game.

BSS:

-You retired from soccer in 2005 after a very successful career. If there was one thing or one trait that you would like people to remember you by as a player what would that be?

Manny Lagos:

A lot of people who are younger forget that in 96 I had an awful knee injury that a lot of people said I wasn't going to come back from. Then I almost retired in 98, but I don't necessarily look at that as if I overcame anything. I think I just wanted to keep playing a sport that I loved and that I was good at. So I guess I would say that... It's such a cliche but I stayed focused and said you know what, I may not be able to play at the highest level that I could have before those injuries, but good things happen to you if you keep fighting and persevering. You become a different type of player and in some ways maybe just as successful.

I had the experience of being injured and winning a championship in Chicago. Then going to Tampa and really turning that team and that organization around. Then going to San Jose and winning two championships and being the most dominant team for three straight years in MLS. It was very gratifying being a major player in those teams. But that's a really hard question. I guess from the playing side I was a unique player in the way that I played.  Not your typical body shape and a different way I looked at the game. I combined being a very good athlete with touches that were maybe a little bit different than other players which created something different. Most teams that I played on ended up being successful and I was always proud of that.

BSS:

-Is there anything else you would like to add?

Manny Lagos:

I'm glad we're doing this interview now instead of a year ago. I'm really happy with the choices I've made. I'm excited to be here and we're doing this interview the day of our first away game. I don't know how it's going to go tonight but I can tell you that there's a lot of energy and excitement in our club both in the front office and on the field. The announcement of the A.C. Milan Primavera U-21 team coming here is exciting. We have a lot of potential to do more events like that.

At the beginning of the year the glass is half full, which is how it should be.

 

 


Brian Quarstad writes for Blue Sky Soccer.com and for Craven Cottage Newsround, A Fulham Football Club blog. He may be contacted by sending an email to bq@blueskysoccer.com


  Send this  Print this
 

Comments

Scott
Jun 06, 2008
Thunder to the MLS?

Is there any hope that the Thunder will ever find their way into the MLS???


Add a new Comment




Stealing Your Thunder!

--- Terms of use | Privacy policy ---
All content ©2004-2008 Blue Sky Soccer and the respective posters.
For comments or advertising information please contact ajwatt@blueskysoccer.com