The TNT got about 15 minutes worth of time with Sounders’ general manager Garth Lagerwey today, talking about the 4-6-1 start to the season and what he foresees for the two-thirds of the season yet to come.
On having foreseen a slow start, but this slow? I think we aren’t and we can’t be satisfied with the number of points that we have right now. I think at times we’ve played better than our record might indicate, but of course the only thing that matters is the record. We continue to have confidence in the guys we have out here. One of the other things I said is we would be better in July than we were in March and better in September than we are in July, and I think that’s still going to be true, both from a player-development standpoint – some of the young guys that we’ve integrated into the group have done pretty well for us – so with the addition or additions we still hope to make in the summer. We’re attempting to add two players: one designated player, one TAM-level player. There’s a couple of ways that can shake out, but that’s the goal, and I think if you combine that with the return of Roman Torres hopefully at some point, and you say will the team be better adding three starting-level players – because whoever plays the best is going to play – I think that would make any team better at midseason.
If Obafemi Martins is missed more than expected: It was a big change, and it was a big change right before the season. I think if you remove the guy who was your team MVP and you don’t replace him, that’s not good for your team. And we haven’t scored as many goals, and I think it’s part of the transition of the club in the longer term. I would say that Oba is a symptom of some of the things that we’re trying to be in place over the long term, which is … vertically integrating and player succession and player progressions and having plans in place and more structure in place such that we’re not so one-player dependent. But I think one must concede that Oba was a really important player for us, and when he left that hurt us. Hopefully we are putting things in place that we will not be so one-player dependent going forward. Again, to state the obvious, when you lose a DP, you’re team isn’t going to be as good as when you had the DP, and our plan is still to sign a DP to replace him. It won’t be a one-for-one replacement, but I think it’s going to be a pretty good player and hopefully our group then – that group of three guys – becomes better than we were before the change.
With Oba under contract, are years of contract meaningless: I hope not. But I certainly think players have leverage in certain situations, the club has leverage in certain situations. In Oba’s situation I don’t think we had a choice but to let him go. We got a seven-figure transfer fee for him, which I think was at least some value for what he had at his age.
If management projected good enough record to wait for second transfer window: When the window closed we were 4-4-1. We’ve lost the two since then. The thought was, ‘we’re .500, and if you can stay at that pace you stay in contention, you grind out some results, and I think we have the talent to play at that pace. And if you can stay in contention, you add three starters and hopefully you have enough. Look, there’s definitely a risk in putting yourself in a hole. … We had half a dozen guys – give or take – that we thought were really our top-tier targets. And as it played out, they were all either on teams battling relegation or contending for a title, and as a result none of our top five guys were available. It’s one thing to say if you have a guy and kind of a 1-A guy, and you get one or the other, and one’s free, OK then there’s a decision to be made. But if you’re top five guys aren’t available, then it’s not honestly that tempting, because you’re talking about potentially an eight-figure investment, you’re talking about a contract that’s a multi-year contract. You can’t just make those decisions based on eight or 10 games. Might it hurt us in the short-term? It might. But this is something about really resetting the franchise and trying to put our organization in a good spot for years to come, not just weeks.
If he could see firing Sigi Schmid or any coach in midseason: I’d like to stay focused on the performance of the team. Obviously, for all of us, we have more secure jobs – myself included – if the team wins. That’s what we’re focused on, and we’re focused on the team performing well, and the team continuing to make the most of its talent and to bring in more talent.
If the team is playing up to its talent: We don’t want to be a below .500 team. I think we’re better than that, I think Sigi thinks we’re better than that. We haven’t had some results, and in some games we’ve played pretty well. Hopefully that stuff evens out. We haven’t had great road results, but we have an opportunity going up now to play a couple of Eastern Conference teams on the road in a couple of days and, shoot, a week from now we could be back at .500 with the road woes solved. Look, I’m an optimist, I always will be. I think there’s talent here, and I think Sigi’s won more games than anybody else has, so there seems to be some evidence that he knows what he’s doing.
On his early goal of bringing good practices from smaller RSL to larger Sounders: Understandably people here have had a lot of success and sustained success. And so I had to adapt some of the stuff that I thought coming in and maybe be slower to implement some other things. But I do think that we’re succeeding with the broad-picture things. We’ve really reset the academy to be a bigger focus for the club. We’ve changed that staff pretty significantly in the last six months or so, we’ve added staff. We’re looking to make two hires that are open positions right now. All those are really good things. S2, the results haven’t been maybe what we wanted again, but from the organization’s perspective there are more prospects on that team than last year. We had an older group last year that was probably prepared from day one to come in and win soccer games, but that’s not the point of that team. The point of that team is to develop players and push them up to the first team. I think there are five or six guys on that team right now that could one day play for the Sounders, and that’s (it’s reason for existing). I think we’ve done a better job of using academy players in S2, which again has probably negatively impacted results in the early going, but will also be better for their development. It’s a long way of saying I think that around the first team there hasn’t been as much as an impact, but I think long-term organizationally we’re setting ourselves up for a longer-term success. I think you’ll see that in our DP strategy as well. I think it’s inarguable, some of the broad things we’re doing like trying to work to get younger were necessary: There really wasn’t another choice. That hasn’t mean radical change, but it has meant gradual change. If you’re coming in like me, it’s great to have ideas and principles, but certainly you don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water and just willy-nilly send players out and make decisions that aren’t good uses of resources. I do think that we’re going to continue to evolve over time and move in the direction I want us to go.
On anything he wants Sounders fans to hear: We’re working hard to get better. We’re not satisfied with the results either. We’re not satisfied with the number of goals we’re scoring. But again, we changed a lot of things. … We changed our style of play, we changed our tactical formation. Maybe not as many starters, but in terms of bodies on the team we did make a number of changes there. We stressed developing younger players and giving them a chance on the first team because that’s a more sustainable model. That’s a lot to throw at a group all at once. And I do think that we’ve had some strain from that. What I would tell fans is it’s all part of the plan, and it’s going to sound clichéd and trite, and I don’t mean it like that, but there is a larger vision I would say at work, a longer-term vision of what we all want this club to look like and play like. We’ve taken our step backward I think in the first 10 games of the year and hopefully we can use that to take two steps forward even in this season. I think we’re going to be significantly better at least by the end of summer and I think it’ll be more clear, are some of these young players going to emerge, are they going to be impactful players? I think a number of them have been, and I think a number of them will continue to be. Likewise, I think we’ve gotten good performances from our veterans, but we can get even better ones and create an environment where there’s competition at most positions if not all of them, and again just kind of recommit to all these changes that we’ve undertaken. … It’s more the way I want to play soccer, the way we want to play soccer. I think you’ve seen us start to become a more possession-based team. And you’ve seen us want to pass the ball and keep it on the ground a little bit more. We haven’t turned that into purposeful possession yet, we haven’t turned it into dangerous possession, but I think that’s the next step in our progress, especially as we look to add a couple of attacking players who are hopefully doing things like that.
On if he still expects this team to make the playoffs: Always. There’s never going to be a season where the expectation isn’t to make the playoffs. With our fan base and with our group, our talent here, there is no reason we shouldn’t make the playoff. Don’t get me wrong, it’s going to be difficult, and the slow start is going to make it harder, but nobody’s given up, but that’s always our expectation. Making the playoffs is the bare minimum, and that’s something hopefully we can get the group in a good position. When I say we’re going to be better as the season goes on, the significance of that is we’re not going to be judged on this year based on how we’re playing in April and May; we’ve going to be judged on how we’re playing in September and October, and that’s why: Stay in the hunt right now, hopefully we can do well on this road trip, get back on track from a road-record perspective, start banging in some goals that we think are likely to start coming at some point, add some talent and then hopefully be ready to make a deep run in the playoffs.