When Garth Lagerwey took over as Sounders General Manager & President of Soccer in 2015, he worked alongside club leadership to establish a long-term vision for the Seattle Sounders.
Lagerwey and other brass had three main objectives: win multiple MLS Cups, build a sustainable and productive Academy and win Concacaf Champions League as the region’s best club team.
“Goal 1a is going to be to set ourselves up to win the Champions League,” Lagerwey told FOX 13’s Aaron Levine back in 2015. “If we want to be a global brand… If we want to put ourselves on the map, I want to play Chelsea, I want to play [Manchester United], I want to play Barcelona. And I want to play them in the Club World Cup in a meaningful game for a trophy, not in a friendly.”
After seven years of painstaking work across the entire organization, that plan is on the precipice of coming to fruition. The club won MLS Cup in 2016 and ’19 and reached the final two other times. The Academy system is producing top talents, who are seamlessly integrating into the First Team. And when the Sounders take on New York City FC in the CCL semifinals starting on April 6 (7 p.m. PT; FS1, TUDN, 1090 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM | TICKETS), they have a chance to get one step closer to CCL glory.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SEMIFINALS TICKETS ON SALE NOW
We take on reigning MLS Cup champions New York City FC on April 6 at Lumen Field in the Leg One of Concacaf Champions League semifinals. Get your tickets today!
“The club is going to be gauged on its success based on those [three] metrics,” said Lagerwey. “When you talk about the Sounders brand and what it means to the city of Seattle, we have put a lot of resources into this competition. As a general manager, I think that’s what you’re focused on.
“It’s years in the making in the sense that we’ve developed the players to have the depth,” he continued. “We haven’t had 20 good players before, and we do now.”
The closest the Sounders have come to an international trophy was when they lost 3-2 in the final of the Leagues Cup last year to Mexico’s Club León. But the talent gap continues to shrink between MLS and Liga MX, a league that has dominated the current iteration of CCL over the past 13 years. The Sounders returned the favor by knocking out León in the CCL quarterfinals via a robust 4-1 score line on aggregate.
No Major League Soccer team has won Champions League. Only four teams have made the final, and the league is guaranteed a fifth berth as the winner of Seattle and New York City will face the winner of an all-Liga MX battle between Cruz Azul and Pumas.
“It’s an opportunity to make history,” said Lagerwey. “We went into the season and had 28 guys signed before we kicked a ball, the most we had ever signed and more than we had signed in entire seasons before. We got Albert Rusnák. We laid in everything we possibly could so we could take a shot at Champions League.
“We’ve made that priority and that commitment, and now we have to carry it through,” he added. “Opportunities are nice and they’re fun to write about and talk about, but that’s all they are: opportunities. You have to take advantage of them. You’ve gotta go do it.”
The series with NYCFC expects to be a good one. The Cityzens are the reigning MLS Cup champions after winning their first league title last year in a penalty shootout at the Portland Timbers. They boast the reigning MLS Golden Boot winner in Taty Castellanos, one of the best No. 10s in the league in Maxi Moralez and a veteran goalkeeper in Sean Johnson. NYCFC, like the Sounders, have tremendous top-end talent and are one of the deepest teams in the league as well.
“It’s two heavyweights,” said Lagerwey. “We’re going to go at it, we’re going to slug it out. Hopefully we can come out on top and use the depth of our roster to be able to adapt to whatever is thrown at us over the two legs. Then hopefully have a chance to go make history in a final.”
The Sounders have only made it this far in the competition once before, in 2013 when they lost to Liga MX’s Santos Laguna. Advancing and playing in the two-leg final would arguably be the biggest two matches in club history, even more than the four MLS Cups in which they’ve competed, simply because of what’s at stake.
The winner of Concacaf Champions League will compete in the FIFA Club World Cup. It’s a chance for the Sounders, and their brand, to face off against some of the most iconic clubs in the world. Past winners include European giants Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool and Bayern Munich and storied South American clubs Corinthians and São Paulo.
“If you look at the growth of the sport in this country, everything is headed toward the 2026 World Cup [in North America],” said Lagerwey. “What an opportunity to go play against the champions of Europe and Asia and Africa and South America and have a truly global competition.”
Lagerwey knows there is still plenty of work left to be done, but just four matches separate Seattle from reaching new heights within United States soccer. And Lagerwey is confident that this team, this group of players, has what it takes to see it through.
“This is going to be a really hard series with New York,” he said. “It doesn’t come around every day. It’s really exciting to have this opportunity, and we’re all really looking forward to it and really preparing with all of our resources.”