TUKWILA, Wash. — Craig Waibel took over as the Seattle Sounders’ third-ever MLS-era general manager about three months ago. Although he had previously served as the team’s sporting director and as such played a significant role in the current roster build, he has put his fingerprints on the team in ways that fans don’t usually see.
Most of Waibel’s work has been done behind the scenes, attempting to rebuild an office culture that took a hit during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic that led to the Sounders going 100% remote.
One of the biggest aspects of Waibel’s directive has been encouraging more in-person interaction beyond scheduled meetings. He keeps his office at Starfire Sports Complex rather spartan, with just a stick-figure picture that he drew himself as one of the only decorations. He says that’s because he doesn’t want it to feel like “his” office, as much as a place where he happens to work and anyone else is welcome to use it.
“I spend a lot of time here with the door open and anyone who walks by I try to fish them into here.”
We sat down last week for an hour-long conversation, the first half-hour or so of which can be heard here:
If you’re interested in listening to the full interview, you can become a paid subscriber to the Nos Audietis Substack (you also get access to regularly updated organizational depth charts, injury reports and tactical recaps). Most of the newsy stuff is in the first half of the interview, but later on we do go more in-depth about the developmental pipeline and discuss his love for pinball and how going to college at UW in the 1990s affected his outlook on scouting players.
Here are some of the highlights from the interview:
No need for a signature signing
Waibel doesn’t seem to be in any rush to prove to outsiders that this is his team and is perfectly happy to see them playing well with a roster effectively constructed by his predecessor.
“If I’m doing my job, in my mind, the team is winning championships, the fans are happy, we’re selling out the stadium and no one knows who I am. That’s the perfect world for me, anonymity with ultimate success. That’s not reality, but if all these other things are adding up, I don’t need hugs, I don’t need pats on the back, I would genuinely rather show up to the stadium and have genuine conversations about how this happened. I don’t need to sign anyone where people go ‘oh that’s Waibel’s guy.’ There’s a huge team here that selects players and negotiates contracts.”
Nearly added a left back in offseason
The Sounders really thought someone would make a big offer for Nouhou and felt like they had identified his replacement: Molde’s Kristoffer Haugen.
“Nouhou had just played three pretty good games in the World Cup. It didn’t work out. For me, I was selfishly happy Nouhou wasn’t going anywhere but we had done all our homework. We really liked the way [Haugen] plays, could come in at the level of consistency but with different attributes. I still text with him because he’s a wonderful human. Some people can cut it off cold, but we tend to not just fall in love with the soccer player, it’s more than that.”
Waibel also effectively confirmed that the team had hoped to sign Japan’s Shuto Machino, who is off to a hot start this year.
What makes a Sounder?
I asked Waibel what characteristics differentiate a potential Sounder from other players, and he suggested it’s someone used to winning.
“Very few players have come here who weren’t winners already. It’s why Wade Webber and Mike Morris do such a wonderful job with Defiance. if you can’t win here, how do I tell Brian Schmetzer you should be on the first team?”