Just over a week after Minnesota United was confirmed as being the newest entrant to Major League Soccer, head coach Manny Lagos is setting his sights high.
"Our vision is to become the best team in North America," he told BringMeTheNews after finishing up with Thursday practice at the National Sports Center in Blaine.
How he'll achieve that, he says, is a job for future years. But the team certainly has pedigree, finishing as spring season champions (only to fall short in the playoffs) in the 2014 North American Soccer League – the second tier of professional soccer in the United States.
It was this pedigree that helped convince the MLS the Loons were ready for the step up, seeing off a rival bid by the owners of the Minnesota Vikings.
"We have a longterm vision to become the best in North America; in the short term in the NASL we have a target on our backs, but our players will embrace and absorb these stresses," Lagos said.
"We have a group that’s put a lot of pressure on themselves to win and there’s no doubt our drive is to do better in the next one."
The new season gets underway this weekend, but United have a bye, so will kick off the 2015 campaign a week from Saturday in Florida against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Lagos would not comment much about the changes the team will undergo over the next few years in terms of personnel, but said they have set their sights on being the best team in the country and "will work within the resources we have."
'Every player wants to be part of MLS'
But captain Aaron Pitchkolan says the current squad is excited about the prospect of playing in MLS against the likes of the Los Angeles Galaxy, the Seattle Sounders and – probably regional rivals – the Chicago Fire.
"I think it’s exciting for the club, there’s going to be great growth here and I think everybody is excited, particularly knowing the team is going to be around for a while," he said.
"I think for a lot of players the goal is to play at the top level and now this team is going to be at this top level. Everyone on the team is going to want to be part of a growing organization and everyone wants to be part of it."
Holding on to stars
Key to the club's success in the next few years and beyond will be holding on to star players Miguel Ibarra and Christian Ramirez.
Ibarra had just returned from duty with Team USA, where he was told by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to "keep doing what he's doing" and his chance on the team will come, having sat out both friendlies against Denmark and Switzerland.
Ramirez meanwhile is coming off a monumental season where he smashed 20 goals in the NASL, which saw him rewarded with a three-year contract in February.
That contract will come to an end about the time Minnesota enters the MLS.
But both Ibarra and Ramirez were typically diplomatic when asked whether they will be pulling on the Loon jersey come 2018.
"We are both under contract right now," Ibarra said. "My main goal now is to win a championship [with Minnesota] as that's something I haven't done yet."
"I'm under contract so until anything else comes up I'm here," Ramirez added. "We're excited to finally put on the field what we have been preparing in training. I'd love to score more goals this year but at the end of the day it's about winning whatever it takes."