TUKWILA, Wash. – Don’t count Seattle Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey among those surprised to see the Rave Green playing for another MLS Cup when they take on Toronto FC at CenturyLink Field Nov. 10 (3 pm ET | ABC, Univision, TSN, TVAS).
Lagerwey’s Sounders didn’t receive much love as an clear title contender going into the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs, likely due to an up-and-down regular season that never saw the team kick fully back into gear following a blazing hot start.
But the GM has told anyone who would listen throughout the year he believes the roster he constructed was built to do exactly what it just did: Blaze through the Western Conference playoffs and a make a run at another championship. Coming off Tuesday’s epic road upset of Supporters’ Shield-winning LAFC, the Sounders now find themselves in the position of playing a final in their own building for the first time ever, with a chance at bagging their second MLS Cup in four years.
“I think this is the best team we’ve ever had in Seattle,” Lagerwey told reporters at Starfire Soccer Complex Friday. “I’ve said from day one of the season. I still believe it. You mix that preparation, the excellent preparation, with excellent talent and excellent character of staff and players, I think that’s been our formula that’s allowed us to have sustained success.
“Now we’ve got to go win this thing.”
This year’s MLS Cup Final will take place in the venue Lagerwey won his first league title as the GM of Real Salt Lake in 2009, when RSL triumphed in penalty kicks over the LA Galaxy back when the title match was still played at a neutral location.
Reflecting back on his memories of that victory, Lagerwey said he sees parallels between that RSL squad and the Seattle one that will be playing for the title this year.
“That was my second year doing this and we were a massive underdog in that game and we come to Seattle, this huge stadium and the place was packed and it was rocking,” Lagerwey recalled. “I probably didn’t appreciate it as much then, but I realize now with my current experience that Seattle fans hated the Galaxy already then, so we had all these random people cheering for us. I walked in and it was kind of like, “Really? This is going to be great!
“But then in that game, we had [Javier] Morales and Will Johnson both go out in the first half with injuries and replaced by [Clint] Mathis and [Ned] Grabavoy. And the message I took from that was, ‘Never give up.’ We were the underdogs in that situation and the ethos of that team reminds me a lot of this team. It’s a group that believes they can get it done.”
It also represents a chance for Lagerwey to get the better of an opposing front office and coaching staff he knows quite well. Lagerwey worked with both TFC president Bill Manning when he held the same post at RSL, and head coach Greg Vanney when he was RSL’s Academy director from 2008-2011. He was also a classmate of TFC general manager Ali Curtis at Duke, and the two have remained friends since their college days.
On Friday, Lagerwey credited Vanney with being “instrumental” and deserving “full credit” for helping spearhead an Academy program at RSL that became one of the most effective in the league at funneling young talent to the first team. Bringing a second MLS Cup to Seattle is obviously the foremost priority on his mind, but Lagerwey did quip that a victory over his old co-workers would be a nice personal cherry on top, should it come to fruition.
“My old boss runs TFC, so for me, I want to beat Bill Manning,” Lagerwey said. “It comes down to that. …There’s tons of connections between the clubs, I have a ton of respect for those guys, a whole bunch of talented people over there.
“It’s almost like the perfect completion to the trilogy now,” he added. “We’re playing one in Seattle and we’ve got to win and see if we can assert the upper hand. And I think, again, if you’re able to win this game, you get some real respect in terms of MLS teams that have accomplished something. But if you don’t, then you’re a footnote.”