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GM vote worthwhile even if turnout is low

Even though only about 3% of fans apparently voted to get rid of Garth Lagerwey, the process deserves to be respected.

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6 min read

RENTON — By the established standards of the Sounders’ Annual Business Meeting, Wednesday’s affair was pretty newsworthy. Not only were the results of the GM vote revealed — 90% of voters wanted to retain Garth Lagerwey, but only 31.7% cast ballots — we also got some interesting details about the possible new crest, pretty strong hints that there’s a new jersey sponsor, learned a bit more about the progress being made on the new Longacres facility and even got a few tidbits about the direction of the roster.

Here’s the main things you need to know about what happened:

Garth retained but still lots of questions

I don’t think it comes as a big surprise that arguably the most successful general manager in MLS coasted to victory with 90% of the vote. As much justified frustration there was among Sounders fans at missing the playoffs, I think most realize that the team has been remarkably successful both before and after Lagerwey’s tenure.

A few highlights from Lagerwey’s tenure, in case you needed it: Two MLS Cups, four Western Conference trophies, becoming the first MLS team to play in the Leagues Cup final and, most recently, becoming the first MLS team to win Concacaf Champions League. The Sounders have also managed to win a bunch of trophies at the youth level and the academy has started to produce useful first-teamers at a pretty regular clip. There’s frankly not a ton to complain about.

Maybe more telling about the mood of the fanbase than Lagerwey’s 90% approval is that so few even felt compelled to cast a vote. While I’d personally prefer that more people felt inclined to participate in this unique process, I suspect that’s mostly due to the perception nothing was really at stake. Not voting, after all, was effectively showing approval.

Looking at this another way, there were probably less than 1,000 votes cast calling for Lagerwey’s removal. That’s roughly 3% of season-ticket holders.

I know a lot of people look at that and wonder why we even bother. If the GM is doing such a good job that everyone wants to keep him, wouldn’t it be easier to just skip the whole voting silliness?

Here’s how I’ve been responding to that ever since the first GM vote back in 2012: This was not created for the good times, it was something Drew Carey dreamed up for the lean times. While it might seem inconceivable that Adrian Hanauer would refuse to fire someone who was doing a bad job, it’s not that hard to imagine some future owner doing that. Do you think Timbers fans would have wanted to fire Gavin Wilkinson before he was finally forced out? Would Galaxy fans vote to keep Chris Klein around? How about Atlanta United and Carlos Bocanegra? I can’t say for certain whether those fanbases would have voted to jettison those chief soccer officers, but I’m sure they would have relished the chance to at least try.

I know it’s also been suggested that even if Sounders fans voted to fire Lagerwey that ownership would never go along with it. This is obviously an untested theory, but as far as I understand it, the Sounders Constitution — yes, that’s a thing — is a legally binding document and it clearly lays out what should happen if there’s a vote of no confidence:

10.3.6 No-Confidence Vote. In the event that the GM Vote results in a vote of no- confidence in the GM, the then-current GM shall be removed in accordance with the definition of GM above.

I don’t know what recourse there is for ownership to ignore that, but it would at least be a public-relations nightmare and they’d lose any sense of trust they had. It’s just very hard for me to imagine a scenario where that actually happens.

Garth’s future is still in doubt

The vote aside, it’s definitely important to note that it did not automatically trigger some sort of extension. While Lagerwey said negotiations were ongoing and amicable, my read on the situation is that he’s planning to fully assess his options before signing up for another four years.

As successful and happy as Lagerwey seems to be here, the reality is that he’s still just 49 and has even bigger ambitions. While I think it’s fair to say that any GM job in MLS would be, at best, lateral it is not that hard to imagine a job with even more responsibility. I’m talking about a position like team president, the title his former RSL colleague Bill Manning has with Toronto FC and what Darren Eales had at Atlanta United, before he joined Newcastle.

How does that differ from his current role? In Seattle, the position has effectively been split in two between Lagerwey on the soccer side and Peter Tomozawa on the business side with Hanauer presiding over both as the majority owner. Teams with club presidents tend to have owners who are less engaged than Hanauer, who still is intimately involved in day-to-day operations and even sits on the league’s Competition Committee. That’s where most of the big league-defining decisions get made, and Lagerwey is the exact kind of person who should be involved (but so is Hanauer).

From best I can tell, it’s not like this power-sharing creates much tension. Lagerwey seems to appreciate what Hanauer and Tomozawa both bring, but I still think he wants to know what kind of opportunities are out there and frankly I don’t blame him. Ambitious and talented people are always going to be curious and it’s in all parties’ best interests to at least give him room to explore.

Big plans for 2024

Last March, the Sounders announced plans to move from Starfire to Longacres to establish a new headquarters where the entire operation could finally be under one roof. The move would be timed to the club’s 50th anniversary and would also include a process where they examined their “visual identity.” Things have mostly been moving along on both fronts behind the scenes until Wednesday.

Although the Longacres property still looks pretty similar to the day all of this was announced, that’s going to change soon. The main building that once housed Boeing’s corporate headquarters will soon be gutted so that it can be fully repurposed for the Sounders. Around the same time, the land should start being cleared for the installation of fields, which will now include five training pitches instead of the originally planned four. The grass for those fields is apparently already being grown and should be able to go in soon after the space is prepped. By all appearances, this should be ready in time for the 2024 preseason.

The second part of that celebration was the “March to the 50th” campaign, which sounds like will end up yielding a new primary logo, albeit one that probably looks reasonably similar to the current one. The Sounders shared the results of their exhaustive surveys and interviews that made it clear fans strongly associate the brand with the Space Needle. The name and colors were also deemed relatively untouchable. It sounds like the new mark will probably incorporate some sort of aquatic elements, while also making a much stronger connection to the club’s past.

That’s not quite as bold of a change as I was hoping to see, but I am optimistic that it will be a significant improvement over what we have now. Just for the record, I really fell in love with this design and am hopeful some secondary marks can draw from it:

What I’m hearing

One other potentially significant development to come out of the ABM was Hanauer all but confirming that Zulilly’s time as the primary shirt sponsor had come to an end. It was never entirely clear how long that sponsorship was originally planned to be, but I don’t think many will be shedding tears over it ending.

I’ve since been able to confirm that a new shirt sponsor is, in fact, on the way and I’d expect it to be unveiled alongside the new “community kit” that’s due to replace the Jimi Hendrix masterpiece.

I know people love to speculate and imagine some beloved local brand moving in as the new sponsor, but my the best we can likely hope for is one that doesn’t make us actively recoil. Fingers crossed.

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