The sky is falling in Seattle, or so certain segments of Sounders supporters might have you believe.
On Sunday, ahead of the inaugural match at LAFC’s Banc of California Stadium, Sounders general manager and president of soccer Garth Lagerwey uttered the dreaded E-word while discussing the changing tides in Major League Soccer and the level of investment required to compete in 2018. Rave Green alarm bells began ringing.
"We've got to be efficient," Lagerwey told me on ExtraTime Live driven by Continental. "I think the days of Seattle being the biggest spender in the league are probably behind us. And by the way, that's a good thing.”
Thanks to social media, it quickly became clear that a sizeable portion of Sounders fans did not, in fact, believe what Lagerwey said to be a good thing. For context’s sake, you really ought to watch the entire interview:
Column on the Garth Lagerwey comments on @ExtraTimeRadio LIVE coming soon, but figured I would drop the complete interview with the @SoundersFC GM from Sunday here for context. https://t.co/2f3d2CoqEQ— Andrew Wiebe (@andrew_wiebe) May 3, 2018
To a certain degree, the consternation was understandable. No supporter wants to hear their days backstroking in a private pool of gold coins are over. Nobody in Seattle ought to be happy about their current place in the MLS standings (last in the Western Conference) or the disappointing end to the club’s Concacaf Champions League campaign.
On the other hand, Sounders fans apparently invented being spoiled rotten, in addition to everything else. Go ahead and @ me – I’m only partially joking. Exhibits A through Z below.
How many other GMs in this league can say they’re planning on investing that much in a single Designated Player and have that reveal sound not just plausible but credible? How many GMs would be able to say that with Clint Dempsey and Nicolas Lodeiro already on the roster?
What does spoiled look like?
- Making the playoffs in every year of your MLS existence.
- Best overall record in the league 137-90-71 (482 points) since 2009.
- Winning four U.S. Open Cup titles, one short of the all-time record.
- Back-to-back MLS Cups, winning one, and a Supporters’ Shield.
- All of the above accomplished in nine seasons.
How many other MLS clubs can only dream of that kind of success? It’s no wonder Sounders schadenfreude runs deep around the rest of the league.
On Wednesday, Lagerwey walked back his comments – “I screwed up. I said some things inarticulately.” It’s an election year, after all. His future with Seattle will be subject to an end-of-season vote by the Sounders Alliance, comprised of the club’s season-ticket holders. If 67 percent vote in favor of his dismissal with at least 40 percent of the council submitting votes, that’ll be that.
I have nothing but positive things to say about the Alliance and the democratic power they wield. Sounders fans deserve a voice and a hand in the decision-making process. They’ve earned it. As Lagerwey noted, the club’s supporters are the biggest reason Seattle’s MLS existence has been #blessed from the very beginning.
Want to know what market relevance looks like? Scroll through Sounders Twitter. Check out the front page of the Seattle Times sports section. Watch last night’s local news broadcasts. Listen to Seattle sports talk radio. Browse the ample online network devoted to covering the club. Lagerwey’s comments are big news in Seattle. The Sounders matter.
But so does efficiency, despite the gut reaction that triggered in Puget Sound. Designated Player spending and Targeted Allocation Money may have widened the gap in MLS, but this is still a salary-cap league and spending smart is more important than just spending big. To be the best, you’ve got to game the system, creating advantages with every roster mechanism available.
Lagerwey knows this. His years at Real Salt Lake are a case study in MLS management. In Seattle, he’s dedicated time, money and expertise to the academy, USL team and scouting network. The club’s sports science operation is top notch. They gather, analyze and act on data. Homegrown signings and SuperDraft picks make an impact. And yes, they spend – via TAM and DP slots – and will continue to do so at clip that puts the club near the top of the league.
No, it hasn’t been good enough this year. Injuries have piled up after back-to-back seasons spent playing high-stakes games from January to December. Losing to Chivas and spurning a golden opportunity for continental glory hurt. The roster is aging and not every signing has worked out, though there are still 28 games to see if that changes. That empty DP slot is burning a hole in the club’s pocket, and Lagerwey’s interview Sunday poured gas on the fire.
Now he’s got to deliver, and Lagerwey knows that, too. Come summer, the Sounders need to unveil a new DP, one who can change the complexion of the club, and likely at least one other game-changer. They must find a way to dig their way out of the basement before then, and get the best from the likes of Victor Rodriguez, Magnus Wolff Eikrem, Lodeiro and Dempsey. They’ve got to challenge for trophies.
But then that was always the plan, it’s the bare minimum in Seattle. Lagerwey never said the Sounders were leaving MLS hegemony to the likes of New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Toronto. He never said the Sounders weren’t going to spend big. He never said the club’s ambition was waning. He never said the results so far this year were acceptable.
He simply admitted what we already know: The current era of MLS is nothing short of an arms race, and it gets harder to compete for trophies every single year as the league grows via expansion and clubs up the ante when it comes to players, facilities, support staff, management and, yes, support in the stands and the community.
Because of that support, the sky isn’t falling in Seattle. The sky is the limit, only the Sounders aren’t the only club reaching for the stars.