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Garth Lagerwey thinks Sounders can do player development ‘better than anyone else’

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Speaking to the YachtCon: Nights audience, Sounders GM bullish on team’s ability to develop national-team quality 9s and 10s.

SEATTLE — Speaking to the YachtCon: Nights audience on Thursday, Seattle Sounders GM Garth Lagerwey expanded on comments he made earlier in the week regarding the team’s use of the currently open third Designated Player spot.

“I think we may still add a piece or two and one may be sooner than later, but one of the challenges is getting players better than the ones we have,” he said. “It’s hard. We don’t have a guy on paper who we say ‘ah, we have to upgrade him.’ Our guys have been good and they’ve been good for awhile.”

As he has before, Lagerwey pointed to the team’s 15-2-2 record down the stretch last year and that the Sounders have averaged better than 1.8 points per game since the midpoint of the 2017 season.

Although he stuck to his assertion that the spot will likely be filled by a player currently on the roster in the short term, he did open the door to the possibility of filling it with a new signing in the summer.

“You’ve heard us say that we want to be strategic in how we use the DP slots,” he said after suggesting Victor Rodriguez is the most likely player on the current roster to become a DP. “These guys are 3- to 5-year commitments, they are franchise cornerstones and they are longterm investments so we want to get them right.

“The market for them is better in the summer and there are a couple things we want to look at. Our team is pretty good, we don’t say that arrogantly, we don’t say that without risk. We have to stay healthy, etc. etc. But the path we’re on the conservative approach is merited. We’ve had some success with this group and by waiting until the summer on a DP signing it allows us the identify the area where we want the appropriate investment.”

Perhaps more interestingly, Lagerwey also talked about balancing the need to win now with the desire to develop some of the promising talent that is currently in the pipeline. As bullish as Lagerwey is on his current roster, he seems just as excited about the potential that we’re starting to see with the likes of Danny Leyva at Tacoma Defiance.

Balancing short-term needs with the desire for players like Leyva to get genuine First Team experience will be one of the challenges going forward.

“Danny Leyva is the tip of the iceberg, I think we’re looking at a half dozen of these kids coming through in the next year or two,” he said. “If anything we’re excited that our First Team staff has embraced these kids and developed them and spent so much time with them in preseason. They’ve become very much a part of what we’ve done in preseason, we’ve worked on their development.”

With that sort of integration, Lagerwey insists there’s no reason the Sounders can’t become one of the first MLS teams to regularly produce players at the most important positions.

“When we were talking to Tacoma officials we said we thought we could do player development better than anyone else,” he said. “Why can’t we produce 9s and 10s for the national team? Why can’t we produce players at that level? I grant to you that we haven’t and so it’s to some degree an article of faith, but not all of these kids are going to have a linear path where they go from the 15s to the 17s to the 19s to the bench to starting for the Sounders.

“Some are going to go out on loan, some are going to sold out of youth World Cups. There are going to be different ways to get these kids experiences that don’t necessarily involve having to play this one role for the Sounders or you’re blocked. Some of it is us being creative and collaborative.”

At the same time, Lagerwey is trying to avoid the pitfalls so many young players around the world fall into by instituting educational requirements for all the academy players signed to professional contracts.

“When you sit down with these kids, and sign them to a professional contract at 16 or 17 years old, you’re meeting the family,” he said. “I’ve met sisters and brothers and uncles and aunts. You’re investing in their life. That’s why we have educational requirements in all the Defiance contracts. We can’t lead these kids down a path where at 18 or 19 suddenly it’s all over. They have be covered, they have to be accounted for. You try to block off that worst case scenario but likewise you try to keep open that path to being the next Nico Lodeiro or the next Raul Ruidíaz.”