Coming off their most successful MLS campaign to date -- and enjoying remarkable front-office stability over their first six seasons -- the Seattle Sounders are making a rather significant change. Garth Lagerwey was officially hired as the Sounders' new general manager and "president of soccer operations" today, by far the most significant change to a staff that has claimed four U.S. Open Cups, a Supporters' Shield, made the playoffs all six years and posted the second-best regular-season record over that time.
In order to make room for Lagerwey, part owner Adrian Hanauer has vacated his role as general manager and assumed a new position focused on the business side of the operation. Chris Henderson will remain the club's Sporting Director and Sigi Schmid will likely continue to have a fair amount of sway in personnel decisions. Lagerwey will clearly be at the top of whatever flow chart exists, as the release makes clear that he's the head of the technical staff management, player personnel and scouting with oversight over S2 and the academy. His role as general manager will continue to up for a fan vote every four years.
"I always said that if the best General Manager was available, I would hire that person to replace me. I believe that Garth is that man," Hanauer said in a team statement. "This decision will allow me to focus more time on strategy surrounding the long-term future of our club."
How, exactly, the power will be shared among that group is not entirely clear -- and is probably a work in progress -- but Hanauer will relinquish virtually all of his responsibilities on the technical side in order to focus more on the business end of the operations.
"I'm really excited to join Sounders FC," Lagerwey said in the release. "I understand in coming here I am inheriting a trust, and in many ways I'm now a steward of that trust. It's not merely Sounders since 2009 - it's Sounders since 1974. I am humbled by that responsibility and will do my best to live up to those communal expectations in managing Sounders FC as a generational entity that has been an integral part of people's lives for 40 years."
Although Lagerwey's addition has been expected for several weeks -- ever since Taylor Twellman broke the news back on Dec. 15 -- the move did come as a bit of a shock. Not only were the Sounders coming off a Supporters' Shield-winning campaign that saw them fall a tiebreaker short of their first MLS Cup appearance, but their front-office structure seemed set.
But with Lagerwey out of contract after helping turn Real Salt Lake from one of the league's worst teams into one of its most successful during his eight seasons, the Sounders apparently couldn't pass on the opportunity. Lagerwey, 42, brings a former professional player's eye for talent along with a lawyer's keen sense for when to make a deal. Lagerwey spent parts of five seasons as a MLS goalkeeper before receiving his law degree from Georgetown, spending three years practicing law and then returning to professional soccer in a front-office role.
Despite inheriting a team that was in the midst of a last-place finish in 2007, Lagerwey helped remake RSL's roster and get them into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history the following season. RSL won MLS Cup a year later and ended up making the playoffs in each of the seven full seasons Lagerwey was in charge. They did all that while getting the most out of a roster that was middling in terms of salary expenditures, unearthing talents like Kyle Beckerman, Javier Morales and Alvaro Saborio.
In Seattle, Lagerwey will have considerably more resources. The Sounders have always been one of the top spending teams in the league and have shown a willingness to open the coffers even wider over the past couple seasons when they brought in the likes of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, the latter of whom just signed a multi-million-dollar extension.