Sounders FC executive Garth Lagerwey is leaving Seattle to join Atlanta United, the two clubs announced Tuesday.
Lagerwey, who had served as the Sounders’ general manager and president since 2015, becomes the second staff member the Eastern Conference club has plucked from Seattle. United coach Gonzo Pineda, a former Sounders player and assistant coach, accepted the position in Atlanta in August 2021.
The Sounders were 117-87-56 and won two MLS Cups (2016 and 2019) along with a CONCACAF Champions League Trophy in 2022 under Lagerwey’s tenure. His contract was up at the end of the year, a structure that includes the input of Alliance Members, which is the club’s collective season ticket holder base.
Lagerwey, a Duke alum and former MLS keeper, joined the Sounders in 2015 and quickly bolstered the club’s academy and signed star mainstays like midfielder Nico Lodeiro, striker Raul Ruidiaz and midfielder Joao Paulo.
“I’d like to thank Garth for all he’s done for Sounders FC over the past eight seasons,” Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer said in a statement. “He helped elevate our club to new heights while also working hard behind the scenes to strengthen our player development pathway, data and analytics departments, academy ranks, Tacoma Defiance roster and much more.
“Garth’s intellect, persistence and energy helped drive the club forward, and I will never forget his vision for capturing the CONCACAF Champions League title and how he energized our fans before this year’s final against Pumas. Many people make up the mosaic of Seattle soccer history, and Garth is certainly on that list of great Sounders that have forged our club into what we all know and love. Congratulations to Garth for taking on this different role in Atlanta, we wish him and his family the best moving forward.”
The Sounders didn’t offer a timetable for naming a replacement for Lagerwey although Hanauer said “the process is underway” in a news release. Hanauer would like to have the position filled before the Sounders open training camp on Jan. 4.
Seattle lost sporting director Chris Henderson to Inter Miami CF in January 2021 and didn’t officially name Craig Waibel as his replacement until April of that year. Waibel will takeover Lagerwey’s responsibilities, including the MLS SuperDraft slated for Dec. 21, until the position is filled.
Hanauer noted the difficulties of change but is “proud of our organization’s stability and consistency.”
Last week the Alliance announced a 90% vote of confidence to retain Lagerwey for four more years. The number of ballots fell nine points short of the required 40% quorum to be considered legitimate, however.
The council congratulated Lagerwey in a news release, adding “his time with the Sounders truly brought immortality, with two MLS Cups, three Generation Adidas titles, and the CONCACAF Champions League Final trophy. The Council was lucky enough to work closely with Garth throughout the years, and we are thankful for his time, insight, and candor.”
Atlanta didn’t submit an offer to challenge Seattle’s negotiations until late last week. The key difference is with United, Lagerwey will oversee every aspect of the organization. Lagerwey only had control of the soccer side with the Sounders. Peter Tomozawa, a minority owner, was named the club’s president of business operations in 2019.
Lagerwey originally joined the Sounders from Real Salt Lake because the position was a step up from being a general manager. He also led RSL to an MLS Cup, winning the championship in 2009 at Lumen Field.
“I wanted to be a president of soccer,” Lagerwey told The Seattle Times in February of why he originally took the Sounders position. “I had a president to whom I reported, and Bill Manning is awesome, he’s gone on to be the CEO of Toronto. So, it was nothing to do with Bill personally, but it was the hope that I could take the next step forward in my career. And I wanted to go to a bigger club if I could because I thought there were more possibilities.”
The Sounders remain the most successful club in MLS since joining in 2009 when counting major trophies. United, which joined the league in 2017, led the 29 teams in average attendance at 47,116 this season and payroll, budgeting $21 million in guaranteed compensation to players, according to figures released by the MLS Players Association.
Seattle paid $16.98 million in guaranteed compensation, according to the MLSPA. Lagerwey was judicious in spending and the only busts, in terms of lack of on-field production, were Spanish midfielder Victor Rodriguez due to injuries and Argentine midfielder Emanuel Cecchini.
“I see the opportunity to lead Atlanta United as a dream come true for me,” Lagerwey said in a news release. “The opportunity to take on the chief executive role at a club with incredible ownership, unmatched resources and infrastructure, and the amazing fan support this club has enjoyed from the start, all made this move the perfect next step in my career. Honestly, it’s the chance of a lifetime and I could not be more excited to get to Atlanta and get to work.”
Lagerwey has been tied to the vacated Atlanta position since August when Darren Eales, the club’s first-ever president, joined Newcastle United. Under Eales, Atlanta set MLS records for attendance and won the 2018 MLS Cup.
“We expect to be a championship caliber team on and off the pitch every year and I’m confident Garth is the right leader to build on a very strong foundation,” United owner Arthur Blank said in a news release. “Help deliver our city and fans what we’ve promised — more trophies and a club they will always be proud to have represent this community.”