Seattle Sounders FC wanted to take another step toward an MLS Cup, just as Garth Lagerwey was looking for the next step up in his career.
Those two desires clicked Tuesday, when the Sounders introduced Lagerwey as the club’s new general manager and president of soccer. He will report directly to owner and former general manager Adrian Hanauer, while otherwise maintaining control of issues such as the coaching staff, player personnel, transactions, scouting, the Sounders 2 USL-Pro team and the Sounders FC Academy system.
“I was looking to be that lead voice on the soccer side, and the Sounders were willing to give me that opportunity,” Lagerwey said. “And now it’s up to me to validate it.”
The primary validation would come through the club’s first MLS Cup. The Sounders have made the playoffs in each of their six seasons and won four U.S. Open Cups and the 2014 Supporters Shield. However, they have never advanced beyond the Western Conference finals.
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“If there was some magic formula, everybody would follow it,” Lagerwey said. “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. (But) 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.”
Lagerwey, 42, comes to Seattle after seven seasons as general manager at Real Salt Lake. The club made the playoffs every season he was there, reaching the MLS Cup final twice and winning the championship in 2009.
However, with Lagerwey’s contract expiring last week, he looked for a club where he could more fully control soccer operations. He found that — and, he believes, even more — in Seattle.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Lagerwey praised Sounders coach Sigi Schmid and sporting director Chris Henderson, and stressed his belief that all will mesh productively.
“I certainly would rather work with talented people and people with proven success,” he said. “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 we can be pretty darn effective.”
Lagerwey said his immediate to-do list includes meeting with staff, preparing for the first two rounds of the SuperDraft on Jan. 15 and other personnel matters.
Before joining RSL, Lagerwey was a goalkeeper at Duke and during an MLS stint from 1996 to 2009. After his playing career, he worked as an attorney and sports journalist.
Now freed of Seattle’s day-to-day soccer issues, Hanauer said he will focus on big-picture business operations.
“I always said that if the best general manager was available, I would hire that person to replace me,” Hanauer said. “I believe Garth is that man. This decision will allow me to focus more time on strategy surrounding the long-term future of our club.”