A Day for Minnesota Soccer Fans to Celebrate
“We sat in this very room not even two years ago, January 2011, with this day in mind,” said Djorn Buchholz, Minnesota Stars FC CEO. Buchholz was speaking at the well-attended Minnesota Stars FC press conference on Thursday afternoon that introduced millionaire Dr. Bill McGuire as the new owner of the team. He was referring to the day when the North American Soccer League officials traveled to the state and held a press conference in that very same room at Brit’s Pub in downtown Minneapolis, to announce that they were going to take over the team and fund the Minnesota Stars for several years in hope of finding a new owner.
“I believe it to be one, if not “the” most important day in the history of Minnesota soccer,” said Buchholz. He was of course talking about the imminent announcement that was soon made by NASL Commissioner David Downs that McGuire, who made his fortunes from developing the small Minnetonka firm of UnitedHealth Care into one of the largest corporations in the US, was the new owner of the team. With the announcement it was assured that professional soccer in Minnesota will carry on for the 24th consecutive season in 2013.
Buchholz led the team through those last two years and he’s seen his share of ups and downs with professional soccer in Minnesota. He first rose to the general manager position with the Minnesota Thunder only to see the team fold in the late fall of 2009. He left to become the CEO of the Austin Aztex who then moved to Orlando. Buchholz moved back to Minnesota to take the CEO position with the Stars. He led the team through that two year journey as a league-owned organization which won the NASL Soccer Bowl in 2011 and lost in a penalty kick shootout in 2012, all while having the lowest player budget in the league.
“I couldn’t be more proud or happy that the organization, the coaching staff, players, and everybody that has come out to our games, our fans, the Dark Clouds, that we’ve been able to get to this point. It’s an incredibly exciting day but I also think it’s the beginning of an era of soccer in Minnesota,” Buchholz said.
Downs first presented McGuire with a Stars jersey with the new owner’s name on the back and the number 13 to represent the year that McGuire’s team will participate in the NASL, then introduced the new owner to a loud and long applause.
“As was pointed it out in a blog story, the history of participating or understanding soccer does not go long with me,” said McGuire in his opening remarks. “This is more an evolving interest and most of you are much further down the path. The one thing I do recognize is commitment, opportunity, good resources and good people and they all exist here. This team has preformed extraordinarily well.”
McGuire went on to draw parallels between taking over the Stars and when he took over UnitedHealth Care in 1989 and turned it to the largest health care organization in the nation. “It’s a bit of deja vu,” said McGuire. “It had a number of its own challenges, was fledgling, but had great potential, great assets and great people. Perhaps more importantly it was an opportunity to bring together many other great people who wanted to go forward and improve, grow and create something that would be lasting and significant in the community as well as the nation. That story ended up very well. I have nothing less than similar aspirations for us with this organization.”
Downs, who was responsible for reaching out to McGuire’s daughter Marissa and son-in-law Nick Rogers, said the press conference was emotional for him. The outgoing NASL commissioner explained to the crowd how his own daughter and Marissa were college roommates and how he initially contacted the family just to see if they knew of anyone who might be interested in acquiring the team. Downs, who unlike McGuire is a soccer fan and has followed the sport since a child, said he has been to Minnesota 11 times over the past several years while acting out his duties and seemed to take a personal interest in saving the Stars.
“I’m sort of emotionally drained,” said Downs. “It has been such a long project for me and one that I took on with such a personal vengeance. I did not want to watch this team go under, under my watch. Instead I’m giving it a chance to flourish long after I’m forgotten in this league. I cannot tell you how thrilling that is for me personally. The fact that there is a small personal connection between our families is a nice touch. But the reality is I’ve been blown away with how sharp Dr. McGuire is and how much savvy he will bring to this project. I sensed this would be a great thing to get them involved in this business, but now I know it for sure.”
Stars coach Manny Lagos said the event also had him in an emotional state and he choked up when taking the podium and talking about his father Buzz Lagos and his legacy that lead to this day. Buzz worked as young man scouting for the Minnesota Kicks, created a legacy of soccer at St. Paul Academy high school and went on to form and coach the Minnesota Thunder for 15 years.
“There’s been a lot of people that have created an amazing legacy of soccer here in Minnesota,” said Manny Lagos. “There’s a base of commitment to this sport on all levels. I think today is a day that honors that.”
Buzz Lagos, who many look to as one of the pioneers of the professional game in Minnesota, attended the event and said he was very pleased with the news. He was also relieved. Lagos said the anxiety he lived with for years, of never knowing whether the team might survive from year-to-year, is over.
“There’s always been a nervousness — I lived it for a lot of years,” said Buzz Lagos. “Are we going to be around next year? Now it looks like we are going to be around next year and a lot more years beyond that. It’s a wonderful feeling for Manny and also for me.”
“I’m extremly excited today,” said McGuire’s son-in-law Nick who will be involved in the running of the team. “It’s something we’ve been working on the last number of months and I’m overjoyed that we’ve gotten to this point and we are now in control of the team. I don’t have a defined title yet but at this point the organization is so small that titles mean more to people on the outside than on the inside. There is so much work to do and everyone is going to have to be prepared to take on different roles.”
Rogers said he was encouraged by the heavy media turnout at the press conference and was thankful for the fans that showed up as well. “Today’s turnout exceeded all of our expectations. I was very pleased to see the number of people that showed up here today. I think it shows the interest in soccer and the real shot in the arm the McGuires’ involvement is going to give to this team and hopefully to the sport more broadly.”