Real Salt Lake General Manager Garth Lagerwey participated in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Wednesday morning, answering a wide-range of questions from fans around the league ahead of Saturday’s season opener at LA Galaxy.
Below are a few highlights from Lagerwey’s AMA, which you can find in its entirety here.
Reddit user whitecapsfan2010: What's the RSL secret in bringing success in a salary capped league?
Lagerwey: Consistency and humility. You have to set aside your ego to constantly pick up other teams scraps and rehabilitate them, but it works. And there is a lot of hard work scouting. You must be efficient and you can’t afford mistakes because one bad contract can hurt the group. As a GM never think you have all the answers, always have multiple solutions to every possible problem. Players are human and humans are inherently unpredictable so you need options.
Reddit user rmczerz: How do you react when you hear about teams like Toronto going crazy and getting multiple household name players? Do you think it improves the league as a whole, regardless of whether these types of players only go to a few teams? Along the same lines, what kind of mix between experienced vets who have competed at higher levels and young MLS kids do you think is best for a team and the game?
Lagerwey: Big signings raise the quality and profile of the league. MLS is better than most people give it credit for. If we need to sign stars for people to notice, so be it.
You always need a balance of vets and young talent. Vets are the guys who win you games and you have to win games to keep your job. For smaller clubs like ours, developing young players is critical and our Academy is one of the best in the country. The beauty of Academies is that when we sign kids they have already played in our system and it’s easier to transition them to the first team.
Reddit user wackyguy15: I've always wondered, how do you (and other GMs) keep track of players from all over the world for possible transfers? Do you have a centralized database of info, stats and video? Do you use a network of scouts? Is there a specific area of focus in the world you guys look for folks? Thanks for the AMA!
Lagerwey: We have a network of people we use that are on the ground all over the place. We use Wyscout and Prozone to evaluate various aspects of players through video and data. We tend to look in economically depressed areas or for struggling leagues as you can obtain players below market value, which is our mantra for player acquisition.
Reddit user keepa1: What is one thing that makes Real Salt Lake unique from all other MLS clubs from the view of a player looking to come into the league from overseas? What would entice someone to come to your 'small market' club?
Lagerwey: Culture - the team is the star. Our locker room is very important to us and since we are all former players on both the staff and front office we value the input of our players. We go to great lengths to treat everyone with respect on a daily basis
Reddit user yahakum: I like your mantra (and honesty) - "We tend to look in economically depressed areas or for struggling leagues as you can obtain players below market value, which is our mantra for player acquisition."
I've always thought a fair way to rank leagues worldwide would be on average salary, but now I'm not so sure. How do you think MLS ranks?
Lagerwey: Soccernomics, among other sources found a strong correlation between player salaries and wins. As a former player I always felt MLS didn’t get the respect it deserved. The way to change that is to win Champions League and have the national team do well in this world cup while three of the best players on that team ply their trade in MLS (Dempsey, Donovan, Bradley), as well as a number of other players. In order for MLS to be an elite league we at some point need the best American players to play here. MLS's salary cap is 50 times less than the big 5 leagues, so I don’t think that is a reasonable comparison. However, I do think that MLS can compete with mid-tier teams in almost every other country. If I had to give a rank I'd say much like my law school Georgetown, we are pushing to get into the top 10.
Reddit user GalaxySC: What a normal day like for the RSL General Manager?
Lagerwey: Every day is different which is great. We are managing 30 players and 12 staff on the team side so all kinds of issues pop up, whether they surround media/broadcast interactions, community relations, facilities, travel or simply soccer. GM stands astride the business and soccer aspects of the club so having a clear philosophy linking them is critical to success. For RSL that has been the "Team is the Star" and we apply that across the salary cap as well as our business and fan platforms.
Reddit user Misplays4days: Mulholland has looked really impressive this offseason. How much do you think he'll see the field this year? Also with Alvarez going to Orlando, who is our backup D-mid? Seems like we have quite a few options. Thanks!!
Lagerwey: Mulholland is off to a great start and he and Jordan Allen are both in competition for the 18 right now in the first week of the season which is a really good sign. We have a number of options at d-mid behind Kyle. Cole Grossman dressed in front of Yordany for the last two months of last season. Stertzer may be able to play there as could Joey Dillon. I’d also remind folks that Ned Grabavoy started there in the Champions League final against Monterrey and acquitted himself quite well.
Reddit user antoine474: Following last year’s successes and the departure of Jason Kreis, are you predicting more of the same as last year or decline?
Lagerwey: On paper, from a talent perspective we should be as good or better. We added two players to our top 18 in Allen and Mulholland, the half dozen kids under 23 who played for us regularly last year now have a year in the system under their belts and we were able to retain our veteran core. So long as our young talent can take some miles off the vets during the regular season we will hopefully be fine and reach the playoffs again.
Reddit user amazingcube: Garth, first I would personally like to thank you for your part in building RSL into something that fits the local market so perfectly and represents Salt Lake City in a positive way. There are no shortage of stereotypes or misconceptions about this city and its inhabitants. How do you or any of the staff address concerns from potential recruits who might be hesitant about coming to play and live in Utah?
Lagerwey: I had been in SLC for one day before taking this job so I had no idea what I was getting into. Some of the stereotypes are just silly. It’s gorgeous here and you can do any outdoor activity you can dream up. Traffic isn’t bad, cost of living is affordable. People here care about and are invested in our club. Our players do a tremendous job of showing new guys around the city and introducing them to all the great things about SLC. Kyle Beckerman recently married a SLC girl and I suspect there may be more follow. Our team is relevant and our players matter in the cultural landscape. Some players are always going to pick the bright lights of a bigger city, but if you believe the team is the star, you will likely want to play for RSL.
Reddit user melkahb: Thanks for coming on and doing this, Mr. Lagerwey. The willingness of people at all levels to communicate directly with the fans in this kind of forum is one of the strengths of MLS.
1) You've already spoken to the challenges and techniques needed for smaller-market teams to compete in MLS's increasingly high-spending environment. Going forward, how well do you see organizations like RSL faring as the expectations for high-salaried stars continue to rise?
2) Related, what steps do you think the league and/or owners need to take in order to maintain true parity and squad cohesion? Personally, I feel that allocation money or cap space leniency for keeping veteran squads intact is a good direction, but from your perspective, what's necessary to build and maintain good teams while ensuring largely-even competition?
Lagerwey: 1) So long as you have playoffs, the league will have parity. Big markets will have advantages in the regular season, but the teams are close enough where anyone can win over two legs.
2) Continuity helps us punch above our weight. When players are very familiar with their teammates they can combine to play at a level higher than the individual parts. You need the right culture as a small market club and a true identity. We can’t beat big market teams at spending, but we can focus on youth development and keeping systems in place to solve the problem a different way. We have to think, not simply spend.