It’s not hard to see why Garth Lagerwey is widely regarded as the best front-office executive in MLS. As well as becoming the first MLS general manager to lead his team to a Concacaf Champions League title, he also led Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders to three combined MLS Cup wins and six more. cup finals. That’s 10 Cup finals, including six in eight years with the Sounders, despite never having one of the best payrolls in the league to work with.
As you may know, Lagerwey is set for a retention vote later this year. Even more so than the last time he showed up for a vote – in which he won with 87% of the votes 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 a CCL trophy in addition to solidifying the talent pool.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be back in 2023. As well as being set for a retention vote, Lagerwey’s Sounders contract is also set 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 at least a few teams who could make some tempting offers.
Here’s how it could go:
Why this makes sense: Lagerwey is from Chicagoland and the Fires 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 removing a redesigned logo for another passing by Xherdan Shaqiri the highest paid player in MLS. Sure, those decisions didn’t exactly work out well, but maybe that’s why Lagerwey makes sense. Although Mansueto has just given Fire sporting director Georg Heitz a vote of confidence, it’s not hard to imagine that Lagerwey would be a very intriguing recruit. On top of all that, there were rumors that Mansueto was interested in signing Lagerwey in 2019, even though the chatter about an impending move seems to be completely fabricated.
Why doesn’t it make sense: There are a few reasons. The first 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 it a completely sideways 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 that much as needed on the list. On top of that, despite 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 this kind of project.
Likelihood of Occurring: The prospect of coming home and having a lot of money to spend surely has some appeal, but it doesn’t seem particularly likely to me. I would say it’s highly unlikely if for no other reason it’s probably a lateral move.
Why this makes sense: Darren Eales has just left the position of chairman of Atlanta to take up a position at Newcastle United. It’s no surprise that Lagerwey has been among the more high-profile names offered as a potential replacement. While Lagerwey has mainly focused on the sporting side, he has a skill set that seems to fit running a wider organization and has suggested he was interested in that sort of challenge. On top of that, no team can match Atlanta’s transfer budget, which would allow Lagerwey to play effectively at the type of high-stakes poker table he currently doesn’t play. If there’s one team that you could say has a higher advantage in terms of potential Concacaf dominance than the Sounders, it might be that one.
Why doesn’t it make sense: Even though Lagerwey has been given full control of the organization – meaning oversight of football and business – it’s still a vaguely lateral move in the sense that Atlanta can’t accomplish anything that the Sounders can’t do. have 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 children are at an age when he doesn’t. probably isn’t best to move across the country.
Likelihood of Occurring: I wouldn’t rule it out. Professionally it looks like a very good gig and I imagine Arthur Blank would make it well worth it. At the very least, I think one of Blank’s first calls was to the Sounders for permission to speak to Lagerwey. At the same time, I don’t think the timing is quite right.
Why this makes sense: Lagerwey seems to have genuinely embraced the culture and you have to assume majority owner Adrian Hanauer is going to make it worth sticking around. While eight years is an eternity in professional sports, he’s had a ton of success and has the resources to keep it all going. The timing of a departure would also be a little off, as the Sounders prepare to become the first MLS team to play in the Club World Cup, move into their new training facility in Longacres the following year and will welcome the world to Seattle as the host of the World Cup in 2026. Those are all things I think he wants to be a part of.
Why doesn’t it make sense: It’s entirely possible that he feels like he did everything he could in Seattle, that he doesn’t see a lot of opportunities for internal advancement and that he’s just ready for a new challenge. These are all perfectly valid reasons to at least see what else there is.
Likelihood of Occurring: I think that’s probably the most likely outcome. I’m sure Lagerwey disagrees 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 a job that presents many of the same challenges he faces here. For now, nothing like that seems imminent.
I think one of the first calls Hanauer would make would be Chris Henderson, who left the Sounders 18 months ago and is currently overseeing a rather impressive makeover at Inter Miami. I also think sporting director Craig Waibel – who replaced Henderson here – would be given 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.