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Grading Garth Lagerwey’s performance after three offseasons

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That MLS Cup sure helps, but there aren’t many moves to really second guess.

Mike Russell/Sounder at Heart

It was a little more than two years ago that Garth Lagerwey was hired as the Seattle Sounders GM and President of Soccer. It didn’t happen all at once, but just seven of the 26 players currently listed on the Sounders roster — and certainly less than half of the 2017 starters — were here when he took over. After his third offseason, the Sounders are very much his team.

Around this time last year, we went through each of his moves and assigned a letter grade at the end. The result was a B-. Our readers gave him a C+.

Going through three offseasons worth of moves one-by-one seems a bit much, but now seems like a good time to go through another extensive review. Like last year, I’m breaking the moves down into four broad categories: Signings, departures, trades, and draft picks. The difference this year is that I’ll just be pulling out highlights and lowlights. Let’s go.

Signings

Biggest success: There have been some obvious successes here, most notably Nicolas Lodeiro. Lagerwey deserves credit for sticking by his guns on this one, gambling that the team could recover from whatever hole they dug for themselves while they waited for the Uruguayan to become available. Although he was under intense pressure to make a signing earlier — as the team struggled mightily — he powered through and was ultimately rewarded.

Lesser successes: No one could have possibly predicted the injury that cost Roman Torres more than half of 2016, nor could they have foreseen how fully he’d recover. In the end, though, this was a great move that took a lot of hard work to push across the finish line. Jordan Morris also probably belongs in this category, even though Lagerwey will readily admit he had very little to do with actually closing the deal.

Biggest flop: Nelson Haedo Valdez probably did enough to redeem himself, but the reality is the Sounders spent a Designated Player spot and a few million dollars on a player who only contributed one regular-season goal in a year-and-a-half. Aside from him, most of the flops are lower-end-of-the-roster types, gambles that didn’t really pay off.

Judgement: The biggest gamble Lagerwey made was waiting on Lodeiro, and we could be having a very different discussion if the Sounders had come close but ultimately missed the playoffs this year. For the most part, though, Lagerwey has played it pretty safe, opting for players who the Sounders had scouted extensively (Andreas Ivanschitz, Valdez, Erik Friberg and Alvaro Fernandez all fall into this category) or were simply low-risk veterans expected to mostly come off the bench (Herculez Gomez, Nathan Sturgis, Troy Perkins, etc.). Grade: B+

Departures

Biggest success: It feels funny to say now, but given everything we know it might just be the decision to let Obafemi Martins go to China. Sure, it probably doomed the Sounders’ first-half of the season, but it also opened the door for them to sign Nicolas Lodeiro, who is the main reason they won MLS Cup. Plus, who knows how much of a lasting effect keeping a disgruntled Martins around would have had.

Biggest flop: Losing Andy Rose for nothing still stings a bit. Sure, it can be argued that most of his minutes ended up going to Cristian Roldan and the Sounders should still have Rose’s MLS rights, but he’d absolutely be a useful asset on this team.

Judgement: On the whole, there aren’t too many players who left of their own volition who deserve second-guessing, and Rose might be the only one I’d take back without question. Grade: A

Trades

Biggest success: There were a couple moves made this offseason that could end up being big, but it’s hard to see them being more important than the move to get Joevin Jones. That cost the Sounders the No. 16 pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft and some Allocation Money. They ended up with one of the most dynamic left backs in the league, a player who contributed two goals and six assists in about 3,100 MLS minutes. Three of those assists came in the playoffs, and he converted an absolutely cold-blooded spot kick in the MLS Cup shootout. Oh, and he’s 25 and under club control for the foreseeable future.

Lesser successes: Moving on from Marco Pappa, while weirdly still criticized, ended up being pretty astute. The Sounders got some value for a player who was clearly having some off-field issues, was due a big raise, and then struggled to stay healthy in 2016. He’s now in Guatemala and the Rapids don’t really have anything to show for it. The moves to get proven MLS contributors Harrison Shipp and Will Bruin this offseason for seemingly very little also look like good decisions.

Biggest flop: As with many trades, it’s not as easy as it may look, but dealing away Lamar Neagle hasn’t looked any better in retrospect. Neagle may not be a frontline starter, but those nine goals and six assists would have looked pretty good in rave green.

Other flops: It doesn’t look nearly as bad as it did this time last year, but getting virtually nothing for Kwadwo Poku still doesn’t look great. He was eventually sold to Miami FC for $750,000, an amount that probably netted New York City FC about $500,000 in General Allocation Money.

Judgement: In researching this story, I had originally planned to list the trade of Eriq Zavaleta as a flop, given that he was a starter for the MLS Cup finalists. But that trade actually netted the Sounders the second-round pick they used on Tony Alfaro, who looks like a solid addition. That also seems pretty indicative of the trades, Lagerwey has made: even the ones that aren’t great have worked out OK. Grade: B

Draft picks

Biggest success: Hard to beat the decision to take Cristian Roldan with the No. 16 pick in the 2015 draft, as he was one of the breakout stars of the second half of last season and could have a USMNT future.

Lesser successes: Alfaro, Tyler Miller and Oniel Fisher were all taken in the second round and while they may never be stars, they promise to provide much-needed depth in the years to come.

Biggest flop: Every player the Sounders have taken in the first two rounds of Lagerwey’s three drafts will likely be in the organization this year. Hard to call any one a "flop."

Judgement: If there’s one category to point to as an area of obvious success under Lagerwey, it’s the draft. It’s entirely possible that seven players on the first-team roster in 2017 will have been picked in the Sounders’ past three drafts. That’s a remarkable record, even if only one of them is an everyday starter at this point. Grade: A

Other stuff

It’s still probably a bit early in the Lagerwey era to pass any kind of meaningful judgement on the academy, but that seems like it’s in okay shape. TopDrawerSoccer.com recently ranked the Sounders as the seventh best academy in the league, drawing specific attention to their ability to bring in players from outside their immediate catchment area. There are still some grumblings about how much opportunity the Sounders give players from their academy, but the talent level seems very good right now. To this point, the club signed nine HGPs and two directly to S2. Lagerwey is responsible for six of those signings.

S2 is a bit more of a mixed bag. On one hand, there are a handful of players who clearly benefitted from the USL team, namely Alfaro, Miller, Fisher, and Zach Mathers. But the turnover of their roster has been astounding, with no one spending more than two seasons there and many more players being jettisoned after just one year. In their defense, there haven’t been any glaring misses, but the optics aren’t great. Still, not something I’m ready to include in the grade.

Overall

Although the Sounders have gone a perfectly unremarkable 29-27-12 in the regular season under Lagerwey, that MLS Cup sure does change perceptions. And if his main job is personnel, it’s hard to see any obvious mistakes and there are plenty of moves that look really good in retrospect. As we head into year three, he’s also transformed what was one of the league’s oldest teams into one that will likely have an average age of 26 or younger (not exactly young, but much more in line with the rest of the league). He also deserves some credit for not overthinking the coaching search, and giving Brian Schmetzer a real chance to claim the job.

By averaging out his grade in the four categories, we get a B+. That seems fair.