Today Garth Lagerway left the Seattle Sounders, after 8 years as general manager—but before I write this I want to make this clear: this is not the letter crying, "He didn’t break up with me, I broke up with him." Lagerway departed after leading this organization to all the trophies it had been missing and crying for prior to his hire. Since then, the team won an MLS cup away, and another at home. They won the first CCL championship ever of the entire league. Garth signed so many great staff and players… you can’t help but smile and shake your head when you look back at the memories.
But this is not a letter to Garth. I have been thinking about writing this piece ever since the Sounders eliminated themselves from the MLS Playoffs. And today’s news break makes the point more relevant than ever—the Sounders have to recognize the achievements that are behind them and that it is time to move on.
The first time I remember having the thought that the Sounders team had lost their motivation was sometime around July 16th, after they lost three matches in a week, kicked off by a three-goal loss at their home stadium to their rival, the Timbers. It was probably that particular match on July 9th that stuck in each player's (and fan’s) head for a little too long, after Seattle dropped their CCL championship banner high in the rafters and then proceeded to get kicked to the ground by Portland. Everyone was questioning what that sequence did to players’ and fans’ emotions, and what the moment tarnished of a historic banner.
It seems though that after a few months, that despite the fall, we all recognized that no one could take the glory of that CCL run away from us. I know that I will never forget the Spring of 2022 because I was there for every CCL home game—I was in a bar with other cheering fans for every away leg.
And I know the players and staff will remember that accomplishment. But I don’t think they every really got over it, in a sense. Because we all have those successes in our lives, where we feel we have eclipsed the tall horizon we’ve been climbing towards, and then at the top of the hill we pause. If we are lucky to get there, we are thankful—and we see that there may be higher points to reach out there, but they are not on this hill.
What has bothered me, though, is the stagnation. After that bad spell in July, I came to peace with the Sounders turn in form, and I accepted that even if the Sounders were to fail to reach the MLS Playoffs, even though it would break their own Playoff streak, it would not outweigh a good year. But it has bothered me through July and August and autumn and all the way up till today that it seemed like every single fan and journalist had nothing to say about this team except that it must be a fluke. People might pick a player that was out of sync, they might point to one injury too many. But for the players that were on the field losing points every week, everyone I heard from could only shrug and say those were all good players, they would surely bounce back, eventually. Maybe next year.
I am not going to go through the roster for you, but I ask you to think about how many of them have been playing together for season upon season, and how much they have strived for and motivated each other to achieve. Coach Brian Schmetzer often comes to the podium and speaks to the motivation that is back there in the locker room, how he really needs to say very little to remind the players what they are fighting for. Pundits struggle to lay a finger on what exactly the Sounders style of play is, because it is not a style, but a belief. Lagerway’s team has found motivated and gifted players, and Schmetzer’s staff believes in them and puts them in the best place for each of them to succeed. And they let the players express their belief and ambition on the field.
And when you go through the roster, ask yourself what each player really has left to prove. 9 players won MLS Cup 2019 in front of their home fans. A few of them won it in Toronto in 2016. A few other players won the Western Conference Final in 2020. And 23 players won the CCL.
I could go on about why certain people, especially people in sports, need a specific goal to drive themselves, but I think Garth Lagerway has illustrated the point better than I could. The Sounders have reached a tremendous mountaintop. But for many of them, there is little room left for them to climb. There are a few who still have not won an MLS Cup. I expect they want to. Everyone but Frei has never won a Supporters Shield. And not one of them has been to a FIFA Club World Cup. Perhaps those are all things they use to motivate themselves in 2023.
Still, we have a body of work on the field in 2022 that shows us there was something missing for the players. The business of climbing higher in sports can be pretty exhausting. I can’t pretend to say I know what it’s like to reach a high like winning Cups and Championships, but after all the arduous work it takes to win those things, I imagine it’s draining to just get back on the same treadmill again the next day.
So we say to ourselves: these are professionals, they know how to motivate themselves. But look at Garth and ask how he has found his own way forward. He has found a new mountain to climb. I think there are a few players too that are going to come back from a World Cup in December, and they will have seen new mountains of their own. There is another event coming in 2026 after all.
And what about ourselves—what does the view look like for a Sounders fan? What are we left with after our leaders and heroes leave us? I will say that I am still processing that myself—I never really came to terms with Garth’s tenure till today. There are a lot of good players he signed at Seattle—who’s to say he doesn’t sign them again? But one thing I am looking forward to is an era with a new training facility. I grow more and more excited for a World Cup coming to this city. There are going to be new players that come here for these opportunities, and for the crowds at Lumen Field. That’s it for me—I’d say it’s a Seattle game day, with drive and talent dressed in rave green, and a desire to win, more than anything, is the thing I am most thankful for, and what I can’t wait to get back to in 2023.