It has been a good year for Minnesota United FC.
The NASL club held a successful preseason in England, captured the league’s Spring Season Championship, defeated an English Premier League side in an international friendly, and is currently attracting franchise-record home crowds.
And it’s only August.
For Minnesota United FC President Nick Rogers and his staff, this run of success hasn’t come by accident. When Dr. Bill McGuire, former Chairman/CEO of UnitedHealth Group, purchased the team back in late 2012, it was the beginning of what has been an incredible club transformation on and off the field.
The club was rebranded to Minnesota United FC in 2013, and Rogers was appointed to run its day-to-day operations. Since that moment, United, as the club is commonly referred to, has made incredible progress, going from just another one of the Twin Cities’ many sports teams to one that fans seek out as a priority in the market.
“In areas like the Twin Cities, it can be hard to find your foothold. You have MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, WNBA, minor league baseball, and a huge university to compete with,” Rogers said. “I think the fact that we have been able to overcome some of that is a testament to our commitment and competitiveness, and I think that is generally what has gotten us to where we are now.”
On the field, Rogers is the first one to emphasize the correlation between the product on the field and the buzz surrounding the club. That very fact is why United has gone to great lengths to invest in top-level talent and training programs. Prior to the start of the 2014 NASL season, United traveled to England for a 10-day preseason stint that included playing friendlies against the likes of Derby County FC.
“I think our trips to England and Los Angeles were just a few examples of things we have done to help the first team focus on their goals,” Rogers said. “The England trip galvanized the team a little bit. Being in that environment and culture sort of isolates you in a way that is positive, I think. The time the team spent together during the preseason created a bond that was really important."
United Head Coach Manny Lagos, along with his assistant Carl Craig, did their homework when it came to player recruitment. Rogers credits them with identifying a pair of players who have been particularly key in the team’s run of success.
“Tiago Calvano and Juliano Vicentini have been incredible for us this season. Tiago has been our rock at center back, and he is rarely talked about which is probably good when it comes to his position,” Rogers said. “Juliano has been great as well, and I think those two players have really helped breathe some confidence into our team.”
Whatever the combination of Rogers, Lagos, and Craig has done, it’s working. The club won the NASL Spring Season Championship in June, earning them an automatic berth into The Championship, the league’s four-team postseason tournament. In July, they made waves in the soccer world with their 2-0 shutout victory over English Premier League side Swansea City FC, and since then they haven’t looked back.
The Loons are currently riding a 10-game unbeaten streak, dating back to the Spring Season, where their only loss came against the New York Cosmos in early May. Forward Christian Ramirez leads the league in goals with 12, and has been named NASL Player of the Week three times already this season.
Off the field, the club is making tremendous strides as well. Rogers heads up the business operations, and has more than doubled the club’s full-time staff. The additional resources on the business side have included the presence of an in-house video production team – an asset that Rogers sees as tremendously valuable.
“When I went to Dr. McGuire to talk about some of the things I wanted to do on the business side, video was an area that I found to be an extremely important,” Rogers said. “He supported it, and allowed me to do a nationwide manhunt to find our video producer. It has gone a long way because I think it has shown the type of culture that we’re trying to build.”
Whether it’s inside the confines of their office or out on the field, United is clearly headed in the right direction. Commitment from ownership and buy-in from the front office staff and team have led to a memorable year thus far for United.
“We’re trying to build a club that people in the Twin Cities can be proud of and want to associate with,” Rogers said. “This is something that Dr. McGuire has pushed since day one.”
As for the team’s on-field goals for the rest of the year, Rogers made them pretty clear.
“It obviously was gratifying for us to secure a spot in The Championship early on in the season, but at the same time, we realize that simply getting there isn’t what we’re trying to achieve,” Rogers asserted. “Our goal is to end up with three trophies – the Spring, the Fall, and the Soccer Bowl.”United’s quest for the NASL Fall Season Championship continues this Saturday when they travel to New York to take on the Cosmos at 7:30 p.m. ET. The Loons currently sit atop both the Fall and Combined Standings with a little over two months to play.