Heading into Thursday's MLS SuperDraft, expectations couldn't have been much lower. The Seattle Sounders were without a first-round pick and this was being panned as one of the shallower drafts in league history. There was talent to be had at the top of the draft, but pundits all agreed there was not a ton of value beyond the top five picks or so.
One of those players was Cristian Roldan, the University of Washington midfielder. The Sounders had tried to get MLS to sign Roldan to a Generation adidas contract ahead of last year's draft, had invited him to train with them during the offseason and took every opportunity they could watch him play.
But Roldan was widely being projected as the No. 2 pick in the draft and the Sounders were telling just about anyone who would listen that they didn't have any plans to make a bold move up the draft order.
Everything changed once New York City FC surprised just about everyone by picking Oregon State forward Khiry Shelton with their pick. Suddenly, figuring out a way to get Roldan seemed plausible. Recently hired Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey immediately got to work.
Using connections and relationships he'd made during the past seven seasons as Real Salt Lake's general manager, Lagerwey approached "at least 10 teams" about making a trade.
"Once Cristian fell past the first couple of picks, we really were throwing around a whole bunch of different deals with a whole bunch of different teams," Lagerwey said.
Lagerwey finally found a partner in his old team, the 11th team to pick after NYCFC.
Although RSL was apparently interested in drafting Roldan -- their new technical director Craig Waibel was an assistant at UW a year earlier -- the Sounders were able to get the deal done by sending the No. 27 overall pick and "just under $100,000" in allocation to RSL, according to a league source.
"We gave up something for him, but we gave up a value," Lagerwey said. "We didn't overpay just because we had a bunch of allocation money from DeAndre Yedlin (whose transfer to Tottenham Hotspur is believed to have netted the Sounders at least $650,000 in allocation). We made an efficient choice and worked hard to get it done."
The trade also had a trickle-down effect. The Sounders had their hearts set on drafting a goalkeeper -- the one position draft analystis deemed deep in this year's draft -- and made another trade in order to pick Northwestern's Tyler Miller at No. 33. The Sounders considered Miller, who's currently on trial with a fourth-division club in Germany, to be the top goalkeeper in the draft. They finished off their first day of the draft by selecting New Mexico right back Oniel Fisher with the No. 40 overall pick. Lagerwey called Fisher the "best outside back at the combine."
To get the Miller pick, the Sounders sent Homegrown Player Sean Okoli to the New England Revolution.
"We did our preparation with the coaching staff," Lagerwey said. "We knew what assets we had if we were going to move something here or there and (Okoli) was an asset we were willing to part with. The focus for us was we wanted to get a goalkeeper, wanted to get Roldan specifically, we got both of those things. Time will tell if they were good moves or not."
While Lagerwey resisted to urge to pat himself on the back too vociferously, he was clearly happy with how everything transpired. Roldan, in particular, was the player the Sounders staff most coveted in the entire draft. Not only had they seen him play more than anyone else -- raving about this technical abilities, his passing, tenacity and versatility -- but they liked his personality.
"He knows our team inside and out and he can't wait to learn from our veteran players," Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said. "He's not talking about competing with them - he wants to compete because that's just his nature, but he also wants to learn from those guys. I think his upside is huge."
All of which made making the trade to get him that much easier.
"The thing we thought we had done better than anyone else was in the information advantage," Lagerwey said. "We thought our staff knew the player better than anyone else did. We had the player in, we knew him as a person as well as a player.
"This isn't the NFL or the NBA where the college game is on national TV every week. You can really use informational advantages and when the coaching staff really believes in a player the way they did with Cristian, I think that's a real good match with that player. It gives him a chance to succeed."
The vast majority of that information was coming from the Sounders coaches and scouts, of course. Lagerwey has only been with the club for a couple weeks and had none of those "informational advantages" that come with watching a player's progress on an almost daily basis and over a couple years. Lagerwey needed to trust the people who were feeding him information.
Similarly, any trade needs some level of understanding between the two teams. That Lagerwey was able to make it happen with his former team was no coincidence.
"We were able to do something you just can't do as business colleagues," Lagerwey said about his dealings with RSL. "We both asked 'What's good for you?' We were candid with one another and we sorted it out."
When Lagerwey finally sealed the deal, he returned to the Sounders' draft table to deliver the good news. It was the first big moment of the Lagerwey era and he had got the Sounders' man. Sigi Schmid leaned over and gave Lagerwey a fist bump, much to the amusement of the other four members of the Sounders' brain trust.
"It's been a really fun week to work with those guys," Lagerwey said. "It's been really encouraging to me to see their breadth and their knowledge. When you talk to these guys, they have so much confidence and they've done so much work. Their choices are so well informed and so well reasoned that it gives me a feeling of excitement."