It’s not hard to see why Garth Lagerwey is generally considered the best front-office executive in MLS. In addition to becoming the first MLS general manager to lead his team to a Concacaf Champions League title, he’s also led Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders to a combined three MLS Cup victories and six other cup finals. That’s 10 cup finals, six of them in eight years with the Sounders, despite never having one of the league’s top payrolls to work with.
As you may know, Lagerwey is up for a retention vote later this year. Even more than the last time he was up for a vote — in which he sailed to victory with 87% voting to retain him — I suspect this one will be a formality. In the four years since that vote, Lagerwey has added an MLS Cup and CCL trophy in addition to solidifying the talent pipeline.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be back in 2023. In addition to him being up for a retention vote, Lagerwey’s Sounders contract is also due to expire. Perhaps more than any player, pundits expect Lagerwey to be the most sought-after MLS free agent on the market and there are least a few teams who could make tempting offers.
Here’s how this could play out:
Lagerwey to the Chicago Fire
Why it makes sense: Lagerwey is a Chicagoland native and the Fire are owned by the very ambitious Joe Mansueto, who has shown an impressive willingness to spend money on everything from breaking the lease at Toyota Park to scrapping one redesigned logo for another to making Xherdan Shaqiri the highest paid player in MLS. Of course, these decisions haven’t really worked out too well, but maybe that’s why Lagerwey makes sense. Although Mansueto just gave Fire Sporting Director Georg Heitz a vote of confidence, it’s not hard to imagine that Lagerwey would be a very intriguing hire. On top of all that, there were rumors that Mansueto was interested in hiring Lagerwey back in 2019, even if chatter of an imminent move seem to be completely fabricated.
Why it doesn’t make sense: There are a few reasons. One is that the Fire just hired Ishwara Glassman Chrein to be the team president, so I’m a little skeptical that Mansueto is inclined to replace her before she’s even had much of a chance to have an impact on the organization. Even if Heitz were to be replaced, that makes this a completely lateral move for Lagerwey and I just don’t think he’s inclined to do that, even if it comes with a raise and a promise to spend as much as needed on the roster. On top of that, for all the money Mansueto has spent, he doesn’t have much to show for it. This is effectively a complete rebuild and I don’t know why Lagerwey would be interested in that sort of project.
Likelihood of happening: The prospect of returning home and having a bunch of money to spend surely has some appeal, but this doesn’t seem particularly likely to me. I would put it at highly unlikely if for no other reason than it’s likely a lateral move.
Lagerwey to Atlanta United
Why it makes sense: Darren Eales just vacated Atlanta’s president position to take a job with Newcastle United. It’s no surprise that Lagerwey has been among the most prominent names floated as a potential replacement. While Lagerwey has mostly been focused on the sporting side, he has a skillset that seems to lineup with running a broader organization and has suggested he’s interested in that sort of challenge. On top of that, no team can match Atlanta’s transfer budget, which would allow Lagerwey to effectively play at the kind of high-stakes poker table he doesn’t get to play at now. If there’s one team you could argue has a higher upside in terms of potentially dominating Concacaf than the Sounders, this might be it.
Why it doesn’t make sense: Even if Lagerwey was given complete control over the organization — meaning oversight of the soccer and business sides — it’s still a vaguely lateral move in the sense that Atlanta can’t accomplish anything the Sounders haven’t already done. Unlike the Chicago job, there’s also no personal reason for Lagerwey to consider the position, as neither he nor his wife have any family ties to the area and their kids are at an age where moving across the country is probably not preferred.
Likelihood of happening: I wouldn’t rule it out. Professionally, this seems like a pretty good gig and I would imagine Arthur Blank would make it well worth his while. At the very least, I would think one of the first calls Blank made was to the Sounders to get permission to talk to Lagerwey. At the same time, I don’t think the timing is quite right.
Lagerwey stays in Seattle
Why it makes sense: Lagerwey seems to have genuinely embraced the culture and you have to assume majority owner Adrian Hanauer is going to make it very worth his while to stick around. While eight years is an eternity in pro sports, he has enjoyed a ton of success and has the resources to allow all of this to continue. The timing for a departure would also be a little off, considering the Sounders are getting ready to become the first MLS team to play in the Club World Cup, are moving into their new training facility at Longacres the year after that and will be welcoming the world to Seattle as a World Cup host in 2026. These are all things I think he wants to be a part of.
Why it doesn’t make sense: It’s entirely possible he feels as though he’s done all he can in Seattle, doesn’t see much opportunity for internal advancement and is simply ready for a new challenge. They’re all perfectly valid reasons to at least see what else is out there.
Likelihood of happening: I think this is probably the most likely outcome. I’m sure Lagerwey doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Hanauer and Schmetzer on literally every decision, but they seem to have a very healthy working relationship. If Lagerwey leaves, I tend to think it will be for a job outside of MLS rather than one that has many of the same challenges he faces here. As of now, nothing like that seems to be imminent.
What happens if Lagerwey leaves?
I would think one of the first calls Hanauer would make is to Chris Henderson, who left the Sounders 18 months ago and is currently overseeing a rather impressive makeover at Inter Miami. I’d also think that Sporting Director Craig Waibel — who replaced Henderson here — would get some serious consideration. Suffice it to say, I think this would be one of the most sought-after jobs in MLS and the Sounders would have plenty of options.