UPDATE: The Sounders made the news official on Thursday.
In an offseason defined almost exclusively by bringing in players with existing ties to the Seattle Sounders or the region, it only makes sense that someone with local ties would replace Chris Henderson as sporting director.
That person will be Craig Waibel, Sounder at Heart confirmed with a source knowledgeable of the hiring. The news was first reported by Kristian Dyer, but had been hinted at by Garth Lagerwey during his appearance at YachtCon: Back to School. The news is expected to be made official this week.
Not only did Waibel play collegiately at the University of Washington and for the USL Sounders on three separate occasions — including one with Brian Schmetzer — but he also worked with Lagerwey at Real Salt Lake. Waibel ultimately succeeded Lagerwey as RSL’s general manager in 2015, a role he served in until 2019 when he and the team parted ways in the midst of the Mike Petke lawsuit.
In addition to being a familiar face to many within the organization, Waibel does bring some interesting experience. After playing two seasons with the USL Sounders from 1999-2000, he embarked a 10-year MLS playing career that included a pair of brief loans back to the Sounders. Most notably, he spent eight years with the San Jose Earthquakes and then Houston Dynamo, where he won a combined three MLS Cups. He’s tied for fifth all-time with four MLS Cups as a player.
Waibel then started his coaching career as an assistant with the University of Michigan before being hired by Jamie Clark at the University of Washington. He spent two seasons with the Huskies before joining RSL as an assistant in 2014, where Lagerwey was then the GM.
After Lagerwey joined the Sounders ahead of the 2015 season, Waibel took over the GM duties at RSL and oversaw one of the top academies in MLS. Among the notable homegrown Players to make their RSL debuts under Waibel were Sebastian Saucedo, Justen Glad, Aaron Herrera, David Ochoa and Corey Baird, all of whom have played for youth and/or senior national teams. The RSL Academy also had several particularly notable get away from them before joining the MLS outfit, Taylor Booth (Bayern Munich), Sebastian Soto (Norwich City) and Richie Ledezma (Jong PSV) among them.
Waibel also helped oversee the launch of the Real Monarchs, which began play in his first year as GM. The Monarchs were consistently among the more competitive MLS affiliates in USL, winning the Western Conference in 2017 and finishing in the top 4 three times in six seasons.
At the first team level, RSL were consistently a playoff team under Waibel despite not being among the league’s big spenders. That was largely due to an ability to mix quality homegrown signings with budget friendly veterans.
In addition to filling Henderson’s role as one of the team’s top talent evaluators, Lagerwey suggested Waibel will also be tasked with helping smooth out the talent pipeline from the academy to the first team.