As the dust has begun to settle around Garth Lagerwey’s decision to leave the Seattle Sounders for what seems like an absolute dream job for him as Atlanta United’s CEO, it feels appropriate to look back on his time here.
Yes, he had a lot of success. I think we can say unequivocally that he leaves the Sounders in a better place than he found them. For as much success as they had from 2009-14, including winning the Supporters’ Shield-U.S. Open Cup double the year before he arrived, they seemed to be hitting a bit of a ceiling. If they wanted to break through with a MLS Cup — let alone the Concacaf Champions League — they needed a new set of eyes.
Lagerwey provided that. It wasn’t so much any individual signing, but more a grand big-picture thinking. Maybe his most lasting contribution will be in professionalising the way the academy operated and nixing plans to settle into Starfire, ultimately paving the way for their move to Longacres. But I think he also deserves some credit — or maybe it’s blame — for embracing the reality that sometimes it made sense to sacrifice early-season performances in order to maximize play later in the season and in the playoffs.
Beyond all his contributions to the team, I also appreciated that Lagerwey always seemed to be enjoying himself. On a purely selfish level, I found him exceptionally easy to work with and he seemed to take real joy in helping me — as a proxy for fans in general — better understand the way he thought about things.
I’m particularly grateful to how generous he was with his time for things like YachtCon, which he participated in five times. It wasn’t just that he was willing to sit for interviews, he was basically up for whatever weird ideas we had for him. One year, he watched Cristian and Alex Roldan arm-wrestle and then cracked eggs on an audience member’s head. Another year, he agreed to do our interview while eating hot wings. He also always made time to stick around after his segment, talking to fans and generally just seeming to enjoy himself.
Lagerwey would often joke with me that he had the one job every fan thought they could do better and even admitted he would watch his beloved Chicago Bears the same way. He understood fandom in a way that so many people who work in professional sports lose sight of.
As much as I don’t think I wanted to admit it, I also think I’ve known for quite some time that Lagerwey was always destined to leave the Sounders. For as much as I think he was genuinely enjoying himself here — and had enough conversations with him to believe he fell in love with the region — he also very clearly had aspirations that weren’t going to be met. A lot of people see Lagerwey as a potential MLS commissioner and he at the very least wanted to try his hand at really running a franchise. He’s going to get that opportunity in Atlanta.
How it plays out will be interesting to watch. I am sure he can make them more effecient at how spending Arthur Blank’s money, but they also have plenty of room for improvement. My suspicion is he’s going to have to replace some key figures and hire quite a few people before things really start to turn around.
Maybe it’s my rave green glasses, but I tend to think the Sounders are closer to be contenders. The biggest concerns here are more related to the longterm rebuild of the roster, something I think Craig Waibel is perfectly well qualified to figure out. I won’t be at all surprised if they’re among the league’s best teams in 2023 as long as they can stay reasonably healthy.
Waibel hinted that they’re already pursuing at least one player who can help both in the short and longterm — my guess is a youngish forward who can potentially spell Raúl Ruidíaz — and there will probably be bigger needs next offseason. But Waibel has a proven eye for talent and will have a significantly bigger budget now than he ever had at RSL. I suspect he’ll also be a bit more aggressive in terms of sending young players on loan, and I fully expect the Sounders to make their most signifcant sale of a Homegrown Player in the next few years.
This is a situation where I think it’s entirely reasonable to believe that everyone will get what they wanted and be better off a result.
Everything you need to know
- After talking to Waibel as well as a bunch of people who have worked with him, I’m pretty convinced he’s going to do just fine.
- Waibel had a reputation for sharing hints about potential signings when he was at RSL and started doing the same thing on his first day as the Sounders GM.
- Lagerwey proudly announced “the buck stops with me” on his first day at Atlanta.