In the 18 months since Craig Waibel parted ways with Real Salt Lake, he’s taken some time to himself. The former RSL General Manager and four-time MLS Cup champion as a player needed to step back and reconnect with himself. He spent more time with his family, picked up some new hobbies and learned how to fly fish, all while enjoying watching soccer as a fan, something that made him fall in love with the sport all over again.
Waibel, 45, joined the Seattle Sounders on Thursday as Senior Vice President of Soccer Operations & Sporting Director and is eager to hit the ground running.
The process to hire him, though, was an arduous one. The Sounders spent over 32 hours talking to a dozen diverse candidates from South America, Europe and the United States, and Waibel impressed in each of the three rounds of interviews.
“Craig is arguably overqualified for this job,” said Sounders General Manager & President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey in a press conference on Friday. “He’s already been a No. 1, he’s already been a GM. The thing you get at a place like Salt Lake where you have dramatically fewer staff is you have to do everything. You have to be competent in absolutely everything. It’s a great training tool, it’s a great training environment. I certainly think it helped me, and I would anticipate it’s going to help Craig in the same way.
“We are really lucky to get Craig,” Lagerwey continued. “If I’m honest, I’m really surprised that Craig wasn’t snapped up in any of the other GM searches. This is a guy with a really good track record, a really impressive resume.”
Lagerwey and Waibel worked together briefly at RSL in 2014 when the former was GM and the latter was an assistant coach under then-manager Jeff Cassar. The following year, Lagerwey left for Seattle before Waibel was appointed RSL’s Technical Director and ultimately took over for Lagerwey in Salt Lake City.
Waibel grew up in Spokane, Wash., and spent two years with the Sounders on their A-League team ahead of more than a decade playing in Major League Soccer. He is intimately familiar with the organization and the culture surrounding the Sounders, and he’s also close with Chris Henderson, the man for whom he’s taking over.
“He’s a Seattle legend,” Waibel said of Henderson, who left for Inter Miami CF this past offseason after more than a dozen years with the Sounders. “Chris was here before the beginning, he was here forever.
“He’s one of the names in Seattle...that goes into legendary status,” Waibel continued. “I find it really hard to use a phrase like ‘replace’ because everyone has strengths, everyone has weaknesses and everyone quite frankly presents something a little bit differently. The challenge is what excites me. The challenge of following probably the best talent identifier in the league for so many years in Seattle, that’s an exciting challenge. To come in and continue to build off of what Chris did. It’s a high bar.”
Seattle heads into the 2021 MLS season looking to make its third consecutive MLS Cup appearance and fifth in six years. The road won’t be easy, but the Sounders are confident they have the pieces they need in the front office to guide them there.
“I used the phrase in our release ‘uniquely qualified’ and I honestly think Craig is uniquely qualified for this role, for this position,” said Lagerwey. “To get somebody who is a [University of Washington] Husky, both as a player and a coach, and is somebody who played for [Head] Coach [Brian] Schmetzer back in the day, who is already friends with many members of our staff, it’s a really great fit.”