Garth Lagerwey

Garth Lagerwey: Sounders FC to focus on younger roster in 2016

Garth Lagerwey is well aware of the criticisms the Seattle Sounders faced after coming up short of winning the MLS Cup this season, but he’s not ready to throw in the towel on the club’s core group of players just yet.

The Sounders’ General Manager and President of Soccer said Wednesday during a conference call with media members that while the club will certainly aim to get younger during the offseason, he thinks the team’s group of star players still has a window open to win the elusive first league title in franchise history.

“I think we are an old team, and over the next couple years we need to get younger,” Lagerwey said. “We are also a good team. So it’s not something where you can necessarily attack and make radical changes …

“We’re tying to build a roster that’s sustainable, while at the same time understanding that given the ages of our best players, we have to take another shot at it next year. We have to try to win MLS Cup.”

With an average age of more than 29 years old, the Sounders boasted the oldest roster in MLS last season. The average age of the starting lineup in the first leg of the Western Conference Semifinals against Dallas earlier this month was nearly 30 years old, while the average age of Dallas’ lineup was 24.5.

Lagerwey said the club has concluded all of its exit interviews with players and that the Sounders have until Dec. 1 to make decisions on existing player contracts. He admitted that “a few guys” are mulling retirement, but that those decisions have not been finalized.

Either way, Lagerwey hinted that the Sounders will play an active role during the offseason after a relatively sleepy stretch heading into the 2015 season.

“Do I think some players are going to be different next year? I do,” Lagerwey said. “In all situations like this, my philosophy is you go to the marketplace and you see what the marketplace tells you.”

While he did not comment on specific player moves, Lagerwey said he expects the final roster to number between 27 and 29 players after the club closed the 2015 season with 32 players.

Lagerwey also stressed the need for a more productive academy system and better identification of young talent in Seattle. While the club celebrated the rapid ascent of DeAndre Yedlin from budding local starlet to a fixture with the Sounders and the U.S. National Team, Lagerwey insisted last week at the team’s Annual Business Meeting that Yedlin’s rise should not be the only focal point for the club’s youth development system.

He echoed those thoughts on Wednesday, insisting that while the paths of Yedlin and current Stanford University junior Jordan Morris are tentpole success stories for the club, the real triumph will come from developing a deeper, younger roster.

“We need to get better at producing role players, and league-average players,” Lagerwey said. “Obviously we all hope every player is a superstar, but we have to produce greater numbers of players from our academy and S2 system. We’re making progress, but we have to make the entire player production system younger and more vibrant.”

“We’re really going to focus on prospects with the idea that the group is too old. That doesn’t mean on a one-off basis that you can’t bring in another experienced player, that doesn’t make sense. But what you have to have is a succession planned at every position. That’s what we’re working towards.”

After joining the club in early January, this will be Lagerwey’s first full offseason in charge of the club’s personnel decisions. Lagerwey said that while he’ll call upon the experiences he had in his previous post while building the roster at Real Salt Lake, the Sounders present a different challenge of balancing urgent expectations with long-term goals.

He hinted that the S2 roster will likely get younger and that depth on the first team could be an issue because of younger players on the roster, but that the club will have to overcome immediate challenges with an eye on future success.

“We’re tying to win now, because of the elite players we have, and trying to put us on a path toward more sustainable future,” he said. “It’s gonna be a balancing act, and it’s gonna be a work in progress. And I think there will some bumps along the way … but we have to tweak some of this if we’re gonna get going in the right direction, long-term.”

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