Prior to being hired to fill Chris Henderson’s old role as sporting director, Craig Waibel spent parts of six seasons with Real Salt Lake, first as an assistant and then as general manager. He helped guide RSL through a significant stage of transition, often helping them punch above their weight. It all ended rather unceremoniously in 2019 after a falling out with then-owner Dell Loy Hansen. We reached out to RSL Soapbox to get a better sense of what we can expect as he moves to the Seattle Sounders.
1. What parts of the job did it seem like Waibel most excelled at?
I don’t think Waibel was quite Lagerwey-level at this (but who is?), but the squads were always constructed in such a way that the team was able to take advantages of MLS rules, especially those around homegrown players.
He might have been good at contract negotiation and things of that nature, but it’s actually really difficult to say — Dell Loy Hansen was a meddlesome owner, and he often put a stop to deals that were otherwise going through, weighing in on areas he simply had no expertise. (His refusal to allow the team to sign Krzystof Piatek, for example, is notable. But that’s not on Waibel.)
2. What were the areas of frustration during his time?
I think the biggest one was how many up-and-coming academy players went to European clubs for free. This is obviously something many MLS teams have struggled with, but when Taylor Booth (Bayern Munich), Sebastian Soto (Hannover 96), and Richie Ledezma (PSV) all walked within months of each other, it certainly highlighted the problem.
Other frustrations were, at least in part, related to Hansen’s interventions. GMs are so often the target of blame when things go poorly, and so it was with both Jeff Cassar and Mike Petke’s coaching tenures. I don’t know that either was really up to the job in new-look MLS, but Waibel’s role meant he bore some responsibility in their failures. I think in part that’s because Hansen took cheap options with both of those coaches, leaving other, potentially better coaches out of negotiations.
Finally, Waibel came in without experience in the work of being a GM, and I think there was plenty of learning on the job that had to be done. I kind of blame Garth Lagerwey for leaving on that one. Maybe he should have stayed. (What a sad life we have over here in Salt Lake. Ha.)
3. How did he come out looking in the whole Petke/Hansen situation?
You know, I don’t think Waibel came out looking too bad. The interesting part was that he was quoted in documents in court cases that had him assigning blame to Hansen for a number of things, calling RSL one of the worst places to work in MLS. At the time, it didn’t look particularly great, but I think history has very much sided with Waibel on that one.