In this new series, USSoccerplayers.com looks at how retired National Team players (alumni, if you will) are using their experience and knowledge to develop and grow the game in the United States.
By Tony Edwards - San Jose, CA (Jan 30, 2012) US Soccer Players -- In a clip of highlights from the 2001 season, Manny Lagos, then of the Earthquakes, has the ball deep on the left side in the attacking zone. He is basically mugged by two MetroStars defenders and knocked down, but somehow gets up, wriggles free, strides into the box, where he back heels the ball to Wade Barrett, who curls it into the goal (at about 3:20 of that video).
That's a lot of what Manny Lagos' career has been like. Getting up off the deck and transforming a difficult situation into a winner wherever he's gone. This National Team Alum has transitioned from college to the US Olympic Team, from USL to MLS (three MLS Cups), and to the US National Team. Now, he's back in Minnesota, again creating a winner out of a difficult situation.
After a great career in college and the USL, Lagos signed with the MetroStars in 1996, suffering one of the most horrific injuries in MLS history late in the 1996 season. After a long rehabilitation program, the MetroStars, displaying a knack for dumping skill players that continues to this day, shipped him off to the Fire, where he picked up an MLS Cup in 1998.
With a stop in Tampa, he was traded to San Jose on Draft Day 2001, setting the stage for perhaps the most unlikely championship in Major League Soccer history. Lagos was a dynamo that season before that word meant anything in MLS, scoring 8 times and adding 8 assists, then three more goals during the Quakes' run to the MLS Championship. After winning another title in 2003, he finished out his MLS career in Columbus. Lagos played for the US Olympic Team in Barcelona in 1992, then 9 years later made his first (of 3) appearances for the National Team.
“I was fortunate to be a professional for 15 years, 10 years in MLS, and my body wasn't able to do what I wanted it to do any longer,” he said. “It was in the back of my mind… wanting to be involved, but without any specific plans.”
An opportunity did arise and Lagos became Director of Soccer Operations for the Minnesota Thunder.
“I became involved on the business side, including helping to bring the 'Beckham game' to Minnesota,” Lagos said. “Plus I did some on-field work, but mostly I was working on off-field business. As anyone involved in the game can relate, it's always a struggle on the business side.”
Life in Division Two has its own challenges.
“When the Thunder, I won't say folded, but the owner disappeared, and the Stars started up, I realized I wanted to be involved, but with the on-field side,” he said. “I'm Director of Soccer Operations and Head Coach, and this is my third year. I tell everybody, I'm still learning and working on it.”
Development, Business, and Reality
The most recent example of Lagos turning around a difficult situation was his leading the league-owned (and recently rebranded) Minnesota Stars to the North American Soccer League championship last Fall. Lagos' Stars defeated Fort Lauderdale by a 3-1 aggregate score over two legs.
Displaying the kind of heady play he was known for as a player, Lagos's team brought a lead into the second game, absorbed the pressure, and played a disciplined 90 minutes to bring the trophy to Minnesota. Lagos hopes success on the field leads to success off the field.
“It's been a whirlwind couple of years. We're still a league-owned team and we're hoping the support and the championship run will help us find an owner or ownership group,” he said.
Lagos understands National Team Coach Jurgen Klinsmann's comments about having a longer seasons to aid in player development, but having worked on the business side, Lagos considers the issue from a different perspective.
“Our season in the NASL is seven months long,” he said. “We all want longer seasons. I want longer seasons as a coach. But between our climate and our financial limitations, we just can't have a year-around league.”
He recognizes the strides all the American leagues have made.
“We all, and the NASL in particular, wants to push standards: better players, better teams, better franchises, but we can't sustain paid players all year long. It's better than it was a few years ago and it'll get better, but right now, we can't really consider it.”
As for his own development, Lagos is happy in Minnesota.
“I want to keep challenging myself. Right now, I'm enjoying the challenges here and I'm raising my family,” he said. “But I enjoyed the MLS cities I played in and being honest, at some point I'd welcome the challenge of coaching an MLS team.”
Tony Edwards is a soccer writer living in the Bay area. Contact him at email@example.com.