If he looks a bit like a nomad, perhaps it’s because he is these days. When Amos Magee walks into the press box of Elizabeth Lyle Robbie stadium, his stubble is thicker than usual, his shirt is rumpled.
I was there taking in Minnesota United FC training on a long lunch when Amos opened the door and pulled off his sunglasses. He was either just in from Washington, D.C. or on his way back, a trip he had been making weekly for months now.
Buy your copy of The Complete Darkness 2017 here.
At this point, the Loons’ Director of Player Personnel was two months into the MLS season and two months away from the birth of his third child. When he was in Minnesota, he stayed with his parents in Saint Paul and then he would jet back to D.C. to be with the family.
“It was hard,” he later reflects, “when I’m in D.C. I want to be in Minnesota and when I’m in Minnesota I want to be with my family.”
When I sit down with him to talk about his whirlwind year it’s almost a year to the week that Minnesota United announced he was moving to the new MLS side from his role as assistant coach for D.C. United. Minnesota’s Sporting Director, Manny Lagos, approached D.C. months before but the club asked him to wait until D.C.’s playoff run was finished.
D.C. United dropped out of the post-season on October 27th, Amos’ signing was announced on November 16th, and the MLS expansion draft—Minnesota United’s first major chance to acquire players—was held on December 12th.
The timeline was borderline suicidal—“A whirlwind,” as Amos admits—“and in retrospect it just wasn’t enough time to do it the way we liked.”
In the year since he was hired, Minnesota United signed 34 players and launched its academy, all of which comes under Magee’s purview as Director of Player Personnel. And for Magee, all this happened while he negotiated the pitfalls of moving his wife to a new job, his kids to new schools, and his daughter being born two weeks before that big move.
All this, but somehow in November Amos seems slightly more rested despite having a four-month old. “It’s definitely good that we’re finally here,” he says. Part of his relief, he adds, “is that we’re starting to make headway as a family and as a club.”
Amos Magee’s return to Minnesota is replete with history. There are no ghosts, but there is a sense of returning to finish a mission. The last time Amos worked in professional soccer in Minnesota, he was the embattled head coach of the Minnesota Thunder.
Amos remembers that year, 2008, with some pain, but mostly with a sort of adult distance. He calls it, for example, “the first sustained failure” of his life. At that point, the Minnesota Thunder were 4-8-5 and sitting at the bottom of the United Soccer League (USL).
A year before, real estate developer and future fraud, Dean Johnson, purchased the club and injected new hopes into the club. The Johnson era began with lofty promises of investment: player signings and a downtown Saint Paul stadium.
“I felt a bit at the time that I’d throw myself on the sword for the good of the organization, but I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t feel in my heart like I was doing the job that was needed to be done.”
Former Thunder player and assistant coach Kevin Friedland describes the sense of expectation of that period: “[Amos] had assembled on paper a very good team with Ricardo Sanchez, Stephen DeRoux, Luchi Gonzalez, and Alen Marcina. We also had a proper traveling preseason for the first time.” But for some reason it just didn’t click, he says, “We hit a ten-game winless skid and went to Puerto Rico and lost and that was the last game he coached.”
When the Thunder flopped out of the gates, Amos saw himself as the broken part in the machine. “I called up Manuel [Lagos] after a loss and said I think we’re stalled,” he says. “At that point Dean Johnson was claiming he wanted to spend money and I said I think we need to look at whether I’m the right guy.”
Before going to Manny, Friedland remembers Amos coming to him and another senior player, saying, “I’m not sure what else to do, what am I missing here?”
Manny tried to fight him at first, but Amos remembers saying, “I don’t know that I have the stomach to see us through some of this.” He wasn’t living up to the expectations of the new Thunder and he was miserable.
“I felt a bit at the time that I’d throw myself on the sword for the good of the organization, but I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t happy. I didn’t feel in my heart like I was doing the job that was needed to be done. I felt the roster we assembled was close and maybe the jolt of a coach leaving who was well liked in the locker room might shake it up and save soccer in Minnesota.” There’s dismissive hand wave. “I had all this crap going on in my head.”
He says Manny eventually saw some truth in what he said and agreed to the change.
In 2006, Amos had taken over the club’s management from the father of modern pro soccer in Minnesota, Buzz Lagos. Magee had gotten his start as a college student in the summers under Buzz’s tutelage. From 1990 to 1993 the Minnesota Thunder were a semi-professional team. Amos would come home from college at Wesleyan University, where he was a Division Three star.
Taking over the Thunder from Buzz Lagos was an almost impossible task. The elder Lagos had started the club and managed it for over a decade. The Thunder finished last place in 2006 and second to last in 2007, so when 2008 started so poorly, Amos felt like he wasn’t quite ready for his first head coaching role.
He departed the club and eventually ended up in Portland as an assistant coach. With the Timbers, Magee made the jump into MLS and helped build that squad until he and his wife, Charlotte, moved to D.C.
FiftyFive.One is now on Patreon. Do you like the independent coverage of soccer news from Minnesota and beyond that FiftyFive.One offers? Please consider becoming a patron.