“Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”
Those were the words of the late Andy Grove, the former Intel CEO, confidant of Steve Jobs and Time magazine’s 1997 Person of the Year for his innovative work in the growth of Silicon Valley.
The Seattle Sounders, fresh off their first MLS Cup title in franchise history, seem to have bought into Grove’s philosophy. They have been anything but complacent just two weeks into the offseason and have arguably been more proactive than any other team in the league.
The main goal for the Sounders in 2017 and beyond? Get younger and faster, two areas General Manager and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey has preemptively started to address.
“These guys are younger, cheaper alternatives to Andreas Ivanschitz and Nelson Valdez, as two examples,” Lagerwey said in a conference call with reporters on Friday, referencing two players whose contract options the club recently chose not to extend. “It makes it certainly more difficult for those guys to return.”
Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan were the Sounders’ only regular starters under the age of 25, and as many as eight of 11 starters utilized down the stretch in 2016 were over 30. Lagerwey praised the veteran leadership they provided and their on-field contributions, but that level of production from older players is not sustainable. It may help win a title in 2016, but it will become exponentially more difficult to win another with that same group moving forward.
Lagerwey wanted to keep Valdez, but given his age and lack of production in the regular season (postseason success notwithstanding), Lagerwey did not want to do so on Valdez’s Designated Player contract. The Sounders offered Valdez “a massive salary cut,” something hard for Valdez to accept and all but ensures he will not return.
“It seems like it’s going to be very difficult to find an agreement,” Lagerwey said. “I don’t blame him at all.”
The Sounders’ attack was not as varied in 2016 as it could have been in Lagerwey’s eyes. The additions of Shipp and Bruin drastically enhance that while also providing several more years of potential production.
“We really like the promise that [Shipp] showed,” Lagerwey said. “Harry’s the kind of soccer player we’re looking for technically. [He’s] able to keep the ball. He’s a player who will benefit enormously from playing with guys like Clint Dempsey and Nicolas Lodeiro.
“[Bruin] makes us younger and more athletic,” Lagerwey continued, “and I think as a group that’s something that we need to continue to do.”
Seattle is not just turning to outside sources to fuel its need to reload. Lagerwey is an outspoken proponent of establishing an academy and minor-league feeding system to construct a winning soccer culture. If all teams within the organization play and operate the same way, the thinking goes, then a player’s transition and eventual promotion to the first team should be a seamless one.
The Sounders have several key players on USL side Seattle Sounders FC 2 who Lagerwey is especially high on and thinks can contribute in 2017. The Sounders plan to promote 19-year-old fullback Nouhou Tolo to back up Joevin Jones, as well as 23-year-old defensive midfielder Jordy Delem, who has been invited to preseason camp and could back up Osvaldo Alonso.
“I’m really excited about our depth,” Lagerwey said. “We have established starters and we have young kids behind them who are going to get better and push them. That’s the right combination going forward.
“[Delem], for me, was arguably the best player on S2 this year,” Lagerwey continued. “He’s a guy who we see as a No. 6 long term…We’re going to continue to use our academy and S2 and we’re going to continue to push young players up into the pipeline. It is by far our preference to develop players, and develop players within a consistent system so they are prepared when they come up to the Sounders.”
Not every move the front office makes is going to be as successful or impactful as, say, the one for Lodeiro was this past summer. But often times it’s the little tweaks to a championship-winning side that can sustain and replicate its success.
Only time will tell whether Shipp and Bruin live up to what is expected of them in Seattle, but one thing is for certain: They are surrounded by an organization committed to winning — both now and in the future.
“We are excited about every aspect of these kids from a character perspective, a profile perspective, a position perspective,” said Lagerwey. “We believe we’re making our team better today.”