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GM Garth Lagerwey Conference Call Transcript

When local and national media members dialed in to today’s conference call with RSL General Manager and V.P. of Soccer Operations Garth Lagerwey, the main purpose was to focus on what the RSL Technical Staff had seen during the adidas Player Combine and how that might translate to a strategy during Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft here in Baltimore. Well, they got that and a whole lot more, including some breaking news on contract extensions, what type of players fit the “RSL mold,” and an explanation on the difficulty of keeping a team together … scroll down for more tidbits from this afternoon’s wide-ranging Q&A session with the media.

 

On Real Salt Lake’s philosophy heading into Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft …

“We’re looking to do what we’ve done for the last three years now, which is try to pick the best player on the board and assume that he won’t contribute at all this year, with the possible hope that, if everything goes well – and the MLS Reserve League will be a big help with this – they can work themselves into the team as the season moves on and will become a really productive player for us by seasons two and three.”

Impressions from the MLS adidas Combine …

“Everybody’s pretty clear about the guys at the very top, the top five or so, and after that it gets pretty average, pretty quickly. I think the one up side may be that this draft will stay ‘average’ for longer than some other drafts have.”

On if Real Salt Lake is looking to fill a need with its top pick (14th overall) …

“I don’t think there’s any specific position we are looking for, and we also need to be mindful of our salary cap situation going into this draft, so you could possibly see us trade the pick.”

On any expectations RSL might have for its draft picks …

“We really try to not put expectations on the kids, I think that’s unfair. Especially with a veteran team like ours, the fact is we don’t expect these kids to play right away … any kind of benefit we can get out of them this year is a bonus and, as a result, we’re going to try to take some kids we think have some upside.”

On the type of player that will fit in with Real Salt Lake …

“The RSL ‘player mold’ starts with having to be good on the ball; if you’re not you just won’t work on our team. Preferably the player on top of that has some athletic ability because we ask our players to run so much and to cover a lot of ground. If you watch Kyle Beckerman and Will Johnson in midfield, and even Saborío up top, they all do a lot of defensive work to set up our offense and our counter-attack. We’re clearly committed to defending as a team, having set the League record last year, so those are the kind of qualities we’ll be looking for.

On the MLS SuperDraft switching to three rounds and the return of the Supplemental Draft …

“I honestly don’t know if we anticipate having more one or two open roster spots on our team, so for us it’s a little bit of overkill, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. As far as the [SuperDraft and Supplemental Draft] split … I think the consensus was that, now that we’re at 18 teams and moving towards 19 and 20 in short order, that, at some point, it gets too long to sit in a room there together. I think it’s budgeted for five or six hours to cover the three rounds, so I think everyone felt like we could get on the phone and knock out the last few rounds in relative short order … give us a couple of days to recover and access and look at what various teams’ needs were following first rounds.”

On the RSL-Arizona Academy program …

“I do think we’re making great strides, and the Residency Academy Program in Arizona is something we’re very excited about. We’ve made progress on our search to replace Greg Vanney, and we may be able to name a replacement as quickly as the next two weeks, and hopefully within the next week; we’ve talked with some exciting people about that.”

On Homegrown Players and their impact on the SuperDraft and MLS rosters going forward …

“The way we run our academy, we assume we’re going to treat the kids well and look out for their futures, but our primary goal is to develop professionals. It’s not a big deal to us if these kids go to college though. I know people are impatient because this Homegrown rule has been in for close to a year and we haven’t signed anyone yet, but at the end of the day the way the Academy system is going to work is that it will create a pipeline of players. So, if we do it right, we’ll get two or three players a year that we might consider to sign as Homegrowns … and them going to college doesn’t impact our rights.

“We had spoken to a player named (Nick) DeLeon from Louisville, who played in the College Cup and is one of our Homegrowns, about potentially coming out, and he turned us down. He didn’t come out this year, but, at the end of the day, we’ll have him next year.  As a GM, you try and take the longer view here and say whether these kids choose to go to school or stay in school, you’ve got to do what’s right for the kid and his family and understand that, over time, all these kids are coming to RSL one way or another. So it’s a matter of being a little patient at the start of this program until we get our first class, and then our second class, and like I said I think we’ll roll from there.

“I think the college draft, in the long term, will get diluted by the number of Homegrown Players that eventually every team will employ. I thought it might happen this year – and there’s been two or three – but it hasn’t hit on a macro scale yet, and I think that will hit next year, where you’ll see up to 10, maybe even 20, of not all the top kids, but some of the top kids, be claimed by MLS teams in terms of Homegrown rights – certainly that’s the future. The League did things this year, like inviting a number of international players to join to Combine, to try and supplement the talent base of the domestic pool.”

On the impact of the international players added to the Combine …

“Jason [Kreis] had seen one of them on a trip to Arizona, and we’ve seen video of all of them, so it wasn’t exactly our first impression. It definitely added to the quality, and I think it’s a good idea and something MLS should continue to support going forward. But the proof is in the pudding, and we’ll see if any of these guys get taken … there was a smaller version of this experiment a couple of years ago and I don’t think any of them were taken. But this is a slightly more experienced group in terms of this year’s international kids, and I do think some of them were decent players.”

On whether one of the international players at the Combine might be a good fit at #14 …

“I don’t know that it does. I mentioned salary cap concerns earlier, so I don’t know that we’re going to take on another salary in this draft. It’s something we’re playing with right now. The foreign guys would count as a minimum salary on our budget, but a salary nonetheless, so that’s what we have to weigh along with the quality of the player. We have one international spot available, so if you pick one of those players you have to use your last international slot so, suffice to say, we’d have to be very, very high on that player to go in that direction … and there are a couple that are very good, so it is possible.”

So does that mean a Generation adidas pick is in order at #14?

“I’m a big believer that you don’t pick a player just because he’s a Generation adidas player. You should pick a player that you think is a good player and that can get the job done, and if there’s a player there that we absolutely love then we’ll take him and we’ll figure out the cap later. But as we get going with the draft we have to weigh, do we take another youngster and understand that that may put a veteran’s job at jeopardy from a salary cap perspective? Or do we maybe look at moves that might help us keep our core together, and that’s a philosophical issue that has to be resolved in the next 48 hours.”

On RSL’s offseason to this point …

“I think we were very fortunate with our Expansion Draft … so in terms of keeping our team intact and trying to win the CONCACAF Champions League and then continuing on and trying to win the MLS Cup Championship, I think we kept our team together.  We knew we needed to replace Robbie [Findley], and we feel we’ve done that by signing [Álvaro] Saborío to a [Designated Player] contract; by extending Paulo Jr.’s loan; by acquiring Arturo Alvarez; and, although we haven’t formally announced it yet, I’m happy to report that we’ve signed Will Johnson to a long-term contract as well. I think that we’ve remained committed to keeping together the core of our team with just some minor tinkering here and there, and we hope we can replicate last year’s successes – I believe we lost four games in the last eight months – in 2011.”

On the challenges of keeping RSL’s core together …

“Most of the veteran guys, under the new CBA, get 10%-12% raises. Well, the salary cap went up 5%, so if you’re trying to keep a team together, that’s going to be increasingly challenging over time as these players hit mandatory raises that exceed the cap. At some point you get forced into making some tough decisions, so you try not to sign contracts that force you to get rid of players.”

On whether the team’s salary budget situation has forced RSL to put players on the trading block …

“I wouldn’t say we’re actively looking to trade any of them, but the salary cap is what it is. Ultimately you’re going to get through the draft and see where you stand in terms of the cap, and then possibly have to make some tough choices.”

On possible contract extensions for Nick Rimando and Nat Borchers …

“We’ve had good conversations with the agents for both players. I would say nothing is imminent, but I am at least cautiously optimistic on both fronts. The important thing is that you try to get something done out of respect for the player. You don’t want this hanging over them as the season begins, so there is an urgency to it. We want to convey to Nick and Nat both that we appreciate what they’ve contributed to the team, but I don’t think it’s the panic stage by any means.  When you get down to the Draft and the Combine, its 24 hours a day and there isn’t always time to sit down about individual contracts. I think it’s actually easier to wrap that stuff up when the guys report and after the draft is done, when we can sit down, clear our heads, and look at what resources we have and what we’re able to do.”

On the role of Arturo Alvarez in RSL’s system …

“Until he shows up in our camp, we’re not sure, but Arturo has indicated to us that he’ll play wherever we ask him to play. We project him as a forward in our system, an out-and-out striker. But we’ll be in a month of preseason and we’ll put him there, we’ll put him some in midfield, and we’ll look at how he works best collectively with our players.

“The word I use to describe Arturo is that he is disruptive – and I mean that in a positive way – on the field. His ability to individually take players on off the dribble is as good as anybody’s in the League, and I think that’s something that we weren’t excellent at. We really wanted to add a disruptive player to our offense that was unpredictable and that we could use to give a little change of pace and translate more of our possession into chances on goal.”