SEATTLE — Garth Lagerwey may not have been the main attraction at the Season Ticket Member Celebration on Sunday, but he used his stage alongside the long player autograph lines to give us some new tidbits about the Paolo Hurtado situation, the academy’s development, and his thoughts regarding the slow starts the Seattle Sounders have endured the past few seasons.
Lagerwey has been previously quoted stating that 95 percent of transfers fail, and it can be frustrating for frequent failure to be a key part of one’s job. Garth reframed it in a positive light, however, as he explained that the club is working toward the types of players and deals that have never — or very rarely — been seen in MLS.
Lagerwey specifically pointed to the acquisitions of Nicolas Lodeiro, one of the top playmakers in South America who was in his prime at age 27 when the Sounders signed him, and Victor Rodriguez, who was on a slightly less rare track from La Liga to MLS. He was also eager to point out that the deal for new left back Brad Smith is uncharted territory for MLS and the Sounders, with Smith being one of the first players loaned to MLS from the Premier League, a league much more likely to loan players down to the Championship than out of the country.
The Sounders’ general manager reiterated that the team is pushing the envelope with many of their transfers, a point well proven by the non-signing of Peruvian winger Paolo Hurtado. Lagerwey provided some more insight into that situation, confirming that the deal was structured for Hurtado to be a TAM player for the remainder of the 2018 season and a designated player beginning in 2019.
Two important things you can glean from that: the Sounders were doing everything they could to maximize the MLS roster rules and their remaining TAM budget, and that Clint Dempsey’s departure or retirement at the end of this season is everything but confirmed. Lagerwey continued to explain that Hurtado had completed his physical and even signed the contract paperwork with Seattle, but his club in Portugal would not sign to complete the transfer because they had received a higher offer from Turkey that the Sounders could not match due to the TAM-to-DP structuring of the deal. This leaves the Sounders’ scouting department with the choice to pursue a big DP move in the winter window or wait again until summer, a choice we’re all certain to await with bated breath.
Another question for Lagerwey during the talk was centered on what he would single out as the thing he’s most proud of from his time with the club as we head into the upcoming GM vote. This vote of confidence happens roughly every 4 years by all the season ticket holders in the alliance, and the second vote in club history — and first of Lagerwey’s tenure — will be happening in the near future.
Lagerwey reminded the crowd that he was brought in to bring the club the one league trophy we hadn’t yet won — MLS Cup — but passed most of the glory of earning that to Coach Brian Schmetzer and the impact he has had on the squad. Instead, Lagerwey focused his pride on the development of the Academy program — the successes they’ve had within the USSDA, in outside tournaments, and in growing the amount of Sounders in the youth national team pools. Lagerwey seemed confident that in three years, we would be seeing more homegrown players making an impact on the pitch for the first team, solidifying what he called the S2 “project” in Tacoma.
A rather comedic break from the content-heavy discussion was in regards to Stefan Frei and his rise to be one of the best (and most underrated) goalkeepers in MLS. Lagerwey talked about how players who come into their prime later in their career, like Frei after he moved to Seattle post-injury, are usually underappreciated. Lagerwey then suggested that it might actually be his fault that Frei is not getting deserved accolades, since Nick Rimando never won MLS Goalkeeper of the Year while Lagerwey was at the helm of Real Salt Lake.
The discussion ended by taking a few questions from the members of the crowd who weren’t focused on taking a picture with Jordan Morris. The topics ranged from the next four year plan to speedy wingers, but the question that elicited the most thorough answer was whether the consecutive slow starts would shift the transfer strategies between the winter and summer windows.
Lagerwey took this question as an opportunity to separate his actions in the transfer windows with some external road blocks that the team has faced, an important distinction for him in the face of a looming GM vote. He went back through the struggles of the 2015-2018 seasons, highlighting their differing causes: an injury-induced lull in 2015, a needed coaching change in 2016, and significant roster turnover due to an aging squad heading into 2017. This season has had its own host of problems — a season-ending injury for Jordan Morris, the World Cup limiting early movement, and some problems with the new high performance director’s visa which hampered his ability to be with the club for all of preseason.
Lagerwey also pointed to Toronto FC as a reference for the struggles with a shortened offseason, indicating that TFC is almost exactly a month behind the Sounders in terms of injuries sustained and are starting a good run of form in league competition.
From his response, it doesn’t seem like the scouting department will be making any panic signings in the winter transfer window because of the slow starts, and that they feel confident with the core that has been established through the active summer windows. Mitigating possible roadblocks and continuing to make moves that they feel are best for the team, whether that be in the winter or summer transfer window, will be key for Garth Lagerwey and the scouting department in their upcoming windows.