Here is the text of a 15-minute conversation I had with Garth Larerwey, introduced this afternoon as new Sounders general manager and president for soccer.
On how this came together: I think it was a pretty open book that my contract was up at the end of the year. So when the season came to an end, I got permission from Mr. Hansen (owner Dell Loy Handen) here at RSL to speak to other teams, and one of the teams I was interested in speaking to was Seattle. And I had the tremendous good fortune that they wanted to speak to me as well. That was cool. I had interacted with Adrian at various points on league committees and things like that – you see people around. I liked him and had a very positive impression of the club and thought it could be a very good opportunity, and again, was fortunate enough that Adrian felt similarly about me and thought it might be a good fit. I’m really humbled to be able to join an organization that has had so much success. The way I’m thinking about it is just if I can and the folks that are already there – there’s a ton of talent in the front office and on the coaching staff, as well as on the field – but if we can all collectively make everybody 1 percent better, hopefully that’s enough to tip this thing over the edge and bring the Sounders that elusive MLS Cup and hopefuly some success in Champions League – even more success than they’ve already had.
On incorporating his vision with those of Sigi Schmid, Chris Henderson and other existing Sounders personnel: Chris and I played together – going back – for a couple of weeks in Colorado. You’ll learn if you dig back deep enough and dark enough that I was a fairly mediocre player during my time in the league. I say I had to keep moving before people figured out all of my deficiencies. I played for Colorado for about six weeks is preseason when Chris was there and overlapped him in Miami at the end of my career when Chris was coming in, and I was still on that team for preseason – although I don’t think Chris and I were ever on an active roster together, but we were in the trenches in preseason camps, so we have an existing relationship. He’s a guy I have a ton of respect for and is really talented. I’m really excited to work with him. And I think Sigi’s track record speaks for itself. He’s been doing this 20 years longer that I have, and he’s won everything. He’s got one more MLS Cup than I do, and hopefully working together we can win some more. I’d like nothing better than that. People I guess get worried about egos and placating everybody, and I just look at it as a collaboration. I thought that the reason we succeeded at RSL over time was through group effort. Jason (Kreis) and I had a 25-year friendship, and that was a very strong foundation upon which to build. But we needed everybody: We needed (RSL president) Bill Manning on the business side, and Dave Checketts on the ownership side and later Loy Hansen and later Jeff Cassar on the field. I’ve done this job now with a couple of coaches. This will basically be my third head coach in three years, so I have idea of how to manage different styles of folks. I certainly would rather work with talented people and people with proven success. I think that’s an exciting job. That’s not something that I would shy away from and I think if we put our heads together I think we can be pretty darn effective.
On why this job was appealing: I wanted to work directly with ownership, if I had that opportunity. I had a wonderful boss at RSL for seven years in Bill Manning – a guy who’s been executive of the year a couple of times, and I learned a ton from Bill. I really was looking forward, though, to taking the next step, and it clearly wasn’t going to be at RSL. Bill has done an awesome job here. I was looking to be that lead voice on the soccer side and the Sounders were willing to give me that opportunity, and now it’s up to me to earn it and to validate it and to come in – now that I’m reporting directly to ownership – I do view that as a step forward. One of the first things to do is to vertically integrate the clubs. All of the teams – RSL, Sounders a couple of others – that have launched these USL teams – need now for somebody to come in with a strategic vision and to implement academy to S2 to first team. What does that progression look like? What’s the strategic plan? How are we benchmarking success? How are we moving this along? Those are long-term things. Those are five-year plans, to try to increase the overall depth of talent on the squad and frankly to create salary cap efficiencies. When you’re able to sign players that are homegrown, sometimes there is some financial upside to the club for doing that as well. Those are kind of the bigger-picture issues. But on some basic level the Sounders are really interesting because they’re one of the best clubs in MLS. I’ve had some folks as me, ‘Why didn’t you want to go start over with another club?’ At RSL we really started from nothing, and I’ve done that. Certainly not me, but we created a club in RSL that was competitive on and off the field, and we built and academy and we had our vision on how to do things here. I think it will be a pretty cool challenge now to see if I can do it on a much bigger scale. The Sounders is a larger club. They have a lot more revenue. They have a lot more tools. They have a lot of talented people. They have a lot of assets, and a good manager, a good leader, can hopefully incorporate all of those assets and have everybody pulling together and that can be a pretty powerful force.
On reaching the goal of an MLS Cup: They haven’t had success in the playoffs, but they’ve had a ton of success in Open Cup. If you look at are they built to win big games, are they built to win knockout games, the fact is they’ve had some success at that. They’re the only team to knock off a Mexican team over two legs in the Champions League. So they’ve had some success. Sigi has won titles with other teams: in LA and Columbus. Some of this comes down to you want to be as good a team as you can, you want to be as deep a team as you can, you want to compete every year. And I think sooner or later you’ll get over the top. It’s not inevitable. It’s really really difficult. I speak from experience. In RSL we won in 2009 and we honestly thought our team was better in 2010 and 2011 than the 2009 team, but we couldn’t win it again. Some of it was just bad luck. That 2011 final we had both of our center backs injured. But explaining things like that can also come across as excuse making. I simply say that it’s really hard. If there was some magic formula, everybody would follow it. We’d just roll the ball out, follow the formula, plug the players into the spots they’re supposed to go and go from there. Can you keep everybody healthy over the course of the whole season? Can you get your guys playing their best at the right times? Can you get the right matchups? All that stuff goes into it. It’s really, really hard, and there’s only one winner at the end of the year. That’s the title that’s eluded the Sounders, and hopefully when we put our heads together and work together we can win it.
On his immediate schedule and to-do list: I’ve been in the Sounders office for parts of two days, so just literally have kind of met people and said hello. Looking forward to really getting started. Over the next two days I’m sure I’ll spend a lot of time digging into what their college scouting looks like. The college draft is about 10 days away now, and I’m sure that they’re well prepared, but I obviously don’t know what they know yet on that front. The first couple of days will be incorporating that, getting ready for the draft. The Sounders don’t have a particularly high pick, but hopefully you can build the depth of the organization. I’m thinking about S2 as well as the Sounders. So if we can get that off on the right foot. And being in Florida (MLS combine) together with the whole staff is going to be a really good opportunity for me to work with everybody and see how everything fits together and begin to lay out what my leadership style is. Those things are personal and practical in the short term. I know that they’ve announced the Mears signing already, and they have a number of things in the works, and I need to get up to speed on that. I’m sure I’ll have ideas that I bring to the table on that stuff. I’ve been able to sit down with Sigi and have coffee with him and say hello and get to know each other a little bit, but we haven’t had any of the hard conversations yet: the strategic conversations, the stuff where we really dig in. We’ve talked about the roster in board strokes, but the next step will be sitting down with Sigi and with Adrian and with Chris and with everybody and say, OK, what’s the plan. Let’s make a coherent strategy whereby we incorporate all these ideas. We incorporate all these players that we’ve spoken to and prioritize how we’re going to spend our money and know what we’re going to chase and what we need. I’m sure there will be some discussion, and we’ll try to reach consensus. You layer over that the uncertainty from the CBA and nothing is really cut and dried this year. Nobody knows what the salary cap is going to be, nobody knows what the roster size is going to be. So to some degree it’s a more nebulous challenge than arguably it’s ever been before, speaking of any GM. So in that sense it could be a good time for me to come to the club because you could have to craft Plan A, Plan B, Plan C depending on how things come out and try to implement a coherent strategy to implement that plan.