In some ways the talk Sounders FC President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey gave could be any senior leadership seminar. There were mentions of vertical integration, a six-point plan, structure & process, and cultural longevity. Garth also gave soccer specific elements in his 38 minutes with the 100 or so hardest of die hards that stayed after the win over Vancouver.
Garth, like the fans, was ecstatic about the three points. His excitement forced him to reference notes during his speech as he kept reflecting on the win.
That multi-point plan is;
- Playing Philosophy (proactive, possession based, attack and entertaining)
- Sign Best DP Available
- Playing Identity
- Player Profiles
- Development (Academy to S2 to First Team)
- Five-year Depth Chart
From 2008 to the present the Sounders have talked about those same four elements, but they’ve also drifted from it, most notably in the playoffs when they’ve taken a more reactive posture. Lagerwey says one of the best things he hears from fans is “watching Sounders soccer is fun again.” It’s not just about winning, but the orientation of how the team uses ball and space to return to the four elements that Adrian Hanauer laid out eight years ago.
Sign Best DP Available
At the first-team level, and specifically with the Designated Players without regard for marketing, but just who is the best player for the club. Garth considers Nicolas Lodeiro the third best DP in the history of the league (after Beckham and Giovinco). Seattle will continue to make DP signing decisions not based on the number of eyeballs they may attract, but with the goal of putting points on the table and trophies on the shelf.
Garth considers the crowd and fanbase a huge attraction for talent, calling it the “second biggest in the Americas” he feels the passion of the fans can help draw in more Lodeiro-level talents in the future.
With the playing identity in place the Sounders will only reduce the playing effectiveness of the replacement for the injury as the rest of the squad maintains their standard role. This identity simplifies changes forced by injury or international call-ups. Ideally, according to Lagerwey, it also means fans of the team and neutrals know and enjoy “Sounders soccer.”
That identity will develop over time, but while Lagerwey is in charge it will be centered around a No. 10 that creates using through balls, crosses and intricate short passes with teammates.
Player profiles being developed are role specific, using a combination of statistical analysis and live scouting. They aren’t just about finding good players and value players, but finding players who fit the playing identity and philosophy. There are specific skills needed for the various roles on the field.
An example provided during the Q&A portion points out that Alvaro Fernandez will slot in for Lodeiro when Nico is elsewhere (recently Alvaro’s been the creative right wing as Lodeiro fills Dempsey’s role).
Replacing a talent like Dempsey will have to be collective over the next few games. His talent and fit within the system do not have a simple replacement.
Development from Academy to S2 to First Team
A key element to Lagerwey’s plan is that the Academy and S2 develop the first team replacement-level players. Saying that the Yedlin, Morris, Rowe level talents pop up “every three or four years” the Academy needs to focus, through its scouting locally and abroad, on producing talents that can fit into the “Five-Year Depth Chart.” This is where vertical integration combines with the playing philosophy and identity as they are filling a role they’ve played from U12 to First Team.
Asked about players that have a future with the first team from S2 or the Academy Lagerwey gave a list of six players. The S2 players he mentioned as having a future, and this was on the spur of the moment, so not a complete list, are - Nouhou Tolo, Jordi Delam, Zach Mathers and “there will be others.” He also said there will be more talents from West Africa in the future. He also mentioned three college players - Seyi Adekoya (UCLA), David Olsen (Seattle U) and Kyle Bjornethun (Seattle U). David and Kyle are on the Hermann watch list. He joked that his scouts will be upset at him for only naming three on the spot.
Five-year Depth Chart
With the Five-year Depth Chart in place the organization will not have contracts that block young talent from filling roles in the XI or 18. The vision is that instead, the replacement-level or better talent would grant more flexibility in drafting, player movement within MLS and international signings.
He feels the best talents in the Academy are just 15 years old. They’ve doubled their Academy spending since he took over. Seattle is using homestay and out-of-catchment Academy signings to fill gaps in their Depth Chart.
[Sounder at Heart’s Depth Chart for #TheFuture goes down to the U16 level]
Notes from the Q&A portion
- Fans regularly pushed Garth to make Brian Schmetzer the permanent head coach. Their coaching search will focus on the playing philosophy, identity and likely not include first-time coaches due to the pressure to win here in Seattle. “We’re going to give Brian a chance.”
- Chad Marshall signed an extension
- Zach Scott’s retirement “is a big loss. He’s meant a lot to the franchise.”
- Asked about Clint Dempsey he said, “It doesn’t matter when he comes back as a soccer player. It matters whether he’s OK for life.”
- Roman Torres turned the pregame music back on, convincing Morris to dance with him. Jordan isn’t a good dancer, according to Garth. (The Seattle Times recently wrote about how one of the big changes since Lodeiro joined was that he prefers quiet before gametime.)
- Lagerwey is a huge fan of Joevin Jones, and also recognizes that he needs to work on defense saying “Joevin not always immaculate in the way he defends.”
- Lodeiro is here for the American Dream, so much so that he brought his son onto the field for the National Anthem. That Dream is much of the appeal for foreign signings.
- The referee pool doubled within the past 10 years, but it takes time to improve it at the same rate as the playing level.
- Chris Henderson was recently in Argentina. Kurt Schmid was in France.
- Seattle will have an open DP slot in 2017, but declined to say which contract will move. Oba will not be coming back to the Sounders. Sounders tried to acquire Hiroshi Kiyotake as a Japanese DP, but he signed with Sevilla. The club is trying to stay ahead of the league with number of TAM and DP level players per team.
- General Managers, Technical Directors and Coaches regularly ask MLS for more roster freedom, but usually the ownership group says “no.” “We are getting better players in the league” and they will continue to do so.
- “There will never be promotion and relegation.” The cost of entry for an owner including expansion fee, stadium and other fixed costs is “about $450 million.” You cannot ask them to spend that with danger of going down. He does float that in 10 years maybe there is a viable second division with a system of movement between 1st and 2nd divisions.
“As Americans we should be proud of our country and proud of our soccer league.” People in Europe’s best clubs look to MLS lack of pro-rel with envy and would prefer playoffs as well.