Garth Lagerwey has worked in and around Major League Soccer for nearly the entire life of the league, dating back to its inaugural season in 1996. And for Real Salt Lake's vice president and general manager, the current wave of MLS expansion isn't just a good idea, it's an utter necessity.
That was one of several interesting tidbits revealed in Lagerwey's interview with the Deseret News over the weekend, as the former MLS goalkeeper turned front-office wiz discussed expansion, player development, the salary cap and his own prospects for a new contract with RSL.
“I’m unabashedly in favor of expansion,” he told the Deseret News' James Edwards when asked whether the league is growing too hastily. “The other major leagues in our country have 30 teams, NFL has 32. We’re at 19. We want to be a professional league in this country and want to be on equal footing with those leagues, and I would be the first to acknowledge we have a long way to go.
“But if you don’t put that flag in the ground and set that goal, you’re never going to get there. So you have to be in the 10 biggest markets in the country. It’s not a debate, it’s not a intellectual discussion, you must be there if you’re going to be relevant.”
Lagerwey noted that unlike those other sports, an enormous international player pool can help fuel soccer's growth in North America without a dip in overall quality.
“The traditional complaint about expansion in any sport is the dilution of the talent pool, but soccer’s different,” he said. “There’s more or less an unlimited amount of soccer players in the world. There’s over 100 professional leagues in the world, almost all of which we can draw from.”
Asked about the prospects of committing his future to the club he's helped build from a cellar dweller into a perennial contender, Lagerwey was a bit cagier, though he underlined his contentment with his current situation. His contract reportedly expires at the end of the current season and he sounds content to deal with the issue at that point.
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“I really enjoy working with [RSL head coach Jeff Cassar], really enjoy working with [club president] Bill Manning, those are long-standing relationships with me and I’m very comfortable with,” said Lagerwey, whose old friend Jason Kreis left Salt Lake's coaching post to join expansion side NYCFC over the winter.
“I’m happy. I like Salt Lake, I like it here. I understand with what happened with Jason why there’s an extraordinary interest level in this stuff. But I think it’s a normal contract like most contracts, and I think most of the time those things are best handled outside the confines of the season.”