The Seattle Sounders are old. The fans know it, and we now know that the front office does too. Sounders General Manager Garth Lagerwey hopes to address short- and long-term success for the club by looking at how the Sounders academy operates, especially in its partnerships with youth soccer clubs in the area.
Lagerwey said that, like with a lot of places, youth soccer in the greater Seattle area has been somewhat "Balkanized," meaning that it's essentially made up of smaller groups that work independent of each other. He says that the Sounders especially, "need to do a better job of working together, whenever that's possible." Lagerwey stressed that, in order to compete with teams in markets like Los Angeles and New York, the Sounders need to find as many partners in the Seattle area that are willing to work with them and help close the player production gap.
Despite the "archaic, almost fossilized thinking" of youth soccer in the area, Lagerwey mentioned the recently announced partnership with youth club Seattle United as a kind of model for how the club wants to work with local youth soccer. He said that most youth soccer clubs in the area operate in a very outdated manner, and thus aren't producing the types of players that can cut it at the professional level.
Because of reasons like this, Lagerwey said that the club isn't just focused on youth soccer in Seattle, but that they hope to cast a "wider net" and increase the pool of talent available to the Sounders academy. The Sounders have been moving in this direction recently, notably the partnership with the Twin City Youth Soccer Association in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
The need for good, first-team quality players isn't just for the long-term, according to Lagerwey. "I think we are an old team. Over the next couple years, we need to get younger. We are also a good team, so it's not something that you can attack [immediately] and make radical changes." A big problem, Lagerwey says, is that even the backups on the first team are older players. The academy isn't strong enough to be constantly pushing players in the direction of the first team, and Lagerwey wants to at least have role/squad players coming up to keep first team players on their toes.
Not every player is going to be a superstar, of course. But Lagerwey said that the club needs to produce a greater volume of players that can at least hold their own in MLS, rather than just tread water with S2 after leaving the academy. The whole point of S2 is to get players ready to move on to the first team. Success stories like DeAndre Yedlin, Jordan Morris, and even Andy Craven need to be happening much more than they do currently, says Lagerwey. "We have to make the whole player production system younger and more vibrant."
All of this means that we can probably expect the S2 roster next season to be a bit younger, said Lagerwey. "We really want to focus on prospects with the idea that the [club as a whole] is too old." This doesn't mean older, experienced players won't be signed on occasion, but "you have to have a succession plan at every position...we want to build a roster that is sustainable."