Craig Waibel knows that the bar is set extremely high for soccer operations at Sounders FC.
Waibel, who most recently served as General Manager of Real Salt Lake, was announced as Sounders FC’s new Senior Vice President of Soccer Operations & Sporting Director on Thursday.
A league veteran with ample experience across the American soccer landscape, Waibel joins a club with a rich history of success. And it’s not lost on the club’s newest executive that he will be replacing a club legend in Chris Henderson, who departed Seattle for a Chief Soccer Officer position with Inter Miami earlier this offseason.
“It’s impossible to not acknowledge the fact that he was one of the best in the league at what he did,” Waibel said in an interview with SoundersFC.com. “It’s big shoes to fill, but it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to. At the same time, I feel like I’ve earned this opportunity and now it’s time to run with it and just try to help continue to contribute to the success that so many others have established.”
Following Henderson’s departure, Sounders FC General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey outlined three pillars that have guided the process for hiring a replacement. The ideal candidate would have a strong record of global scouting and player identification, an in-depth background in internal player development, and, most importantly, ties the community and organization.
Throughout his time at Real Salt Lake, Waibel oversaw an era of success that was built upon strong international scouting and integrating Homegrown Players into the First Team. And as a Spokane, Wash., native who played collegiately at the University of Washington and featured for the USL-era Sounders, Waibel certainly ticks all three boxes.
“There are so many great people involved that I don’t feel I need to come in and drastically impact or change anything,” said Waibel. “I need to come in and pull from my experiences to perhaps just hone-in and rub away some of the rough edges of what’s already being done there.”
In addition to offering praise for key members of the club’s soccer operations like Director of Scouting Sean Henderson and Director of Player Development Henry Brauner, Waibel spoke glowingly about the opportunity to work alongside the likes of Lagerwey and Head Coach Brian Schmetzer.
“I could never imagine an opportunity to work for the most successful General Manager in the league,” he said. “Getting to work with and alongside Brian, who has done nothing but win and is one of the most successful coaches in the league, is just an incredible and wonderful opportunity.”
According to Waibel, he is especially eager to contribute to a franchise that has set the standard for excellence on and off the field for over a decade.
“There’s a lot of layers to any sort of sustained success,” noted Waibel. “So much goes into this that not everybody sees. But stability and consistency are not words that every organization gets to use as its character-defining terms. These are terms that define the Sounders.”
Since joining the league in 2009, Sounders FC has collected four U.S. Open Cups, four Western Conference titles, two MLS Cups and a Supporters’ Shield. That level of sustained success inherently comes with daunting levels of pressure and expectations.
Cognizant of the responsibility that comes with the role, Waibel is ecstatic about this opportunity to help maintain Sounders FC’s reputation as one of the elite clubs in MLS.
“It’s an exciting challenge,” he said. “It’s an identity that if you can’t get excited about it, you’re walking in the wrong door. I think similarly, to go into an organization that really wants and has a genuine desire to challenge for championships every single season is an opportunity that every single person in my situation would want.”