Sandy • The remaining days on Garth Lagerwey’s four-year contract extension — penned in September 2010 — are rapidly dissolving. The main architect of Real Salt Lake’s transformation and builder of the club’s sustained success will reach the end of the 2014 campaign without much of an idea of what 2015 will hold.
In his eighth season as general manager of the club, Lagerwey, along with team owner Dell Loy Hansen, decided to table contract talks until soon after the final whistle of RSL’s 2014 is blown.
A look at Garth Lagerwey
Position » Real Salt Lake general manager/senior vice president of soccer operations
Age » 41
Club » Hired in September 2007 to be RSL’s second-ever general manager
Achievements » Pieced together RSL core that won the 2009 MLS Cup, has made the postseason six-years running and has been a finalist in four respective Cup finals.
RSL at San Jose
O Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
TV » CW30
If that sounds like a familiar resolution, well, it is.
After RSL’s loss to D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup final last Oct. 1, former coach Jason Kreis, in his final year of his contract in 2013, told Hansen he wanted to put off contract discussions until after the season. Kreis eventually left RSL to become the head coach of MLS expansion franchise New York City FC on Dec. 11, four days after RSL fell to Sporting Kansas City in the MLS Cup final.
Those parallels have understandably left much of the RSL fan base on edge. Lagerwey will eventually be free to leave or free to sign another extension. The situation once again puts pressure on Hansen to try and keep one of the premier minds in American soccer on his side. Since Lagerwey’s arrival, RSL has qualified for six consecutive postseasons, won an MLS Cup and gone to four Cup finals. The club’s residential Arizona-based Academy, created under Lagerwey, has won youth titles and is proving to be a pipeline directly to the first team.
Which begs the question so many have wondered: Why hasn’t Lagerwey been re-signed already?
"Once you’re good, you want to talk at a certain time," Hansen told The Salt Lake Tribune. "Garth knows if we win the championship … it’s a better time to talk. Our simple answer is: Things are great. We love where we’re going. I’ve been doing this five years. I’d like to finish this season, we’ve got a two-month window, [then] let’s figure it out. We’ve both agreed that professionally, that’s OK."
At a media luncheon in early March, Lagerwey said he’d like to one day run an MLS club as a team president, a spot currently occupied at RSL by Bill Manning, who was named MLS Executive of the Year in 2012.
"If there are opportunities — and there aren’t any right now — but if there might be in the future, that is something I’d like to consider," Lagerwey said in March. "That is why I say we probably won’t resolve anything contractually during the year."
Six months later, Lagerwey hasn’t changed his tune.
"To talk about [contract negotiations] right now just kind of misses everything we stand for," Lagerwey told The Tribune. "We’re focused on making the playoffs and keeping our streak alive. Winning is hard, and as soon as you start worrying about yourself over the group, you’re in deep trouble. I don’t anticipate having any information on that until after the season. We’ll see how we do and I’m sure we’ll sit down then and have good conversations and see where it leads us."
Hansen said he and Lagerwey concluded that RSL is a franchise that should be set up to have very little change each offseason, while still remaining a title contender. Like he said of Kreis last December, Hansen — in his second year as full owner of the club — noted that he wouldn’t want to hold Lagerwey back should he seek opportunities elsewhere.
"The league is growing rapidly, teams are being added, and a lot of opportunities are there, and for the league, that’s not unhealthy," Hansen said. "Great teams help other people mature. However, all that said, we will kill for Garth to stay here and I don’t think money will ever be the issue. It would be opportunity, as it was, I believe, with Jason.
"You can never take that away from someone and you can’t negotiate it away from them, either."
Asked if any teams have approached him about Lagerwey’s services, Hansen didn’t go into specifics, only noting that it’s league protocol for potentially interested clubs to go through him first before Lagerwey’s deal officially expires.
"Until December 31, they would have to talk to our team before they talk to Garth," Hansen said. "And we follow that. … There’s no surreptitious conversations going on. Garth’s ethical, I’m ethical. We’re going to play by the rules."
Not surprisingly, the battle to keep Lagerwey in Utah could prove to be difficult should suitors from larger markets start to line up once RSL’s season comes to a close. When asked specifically why contract talks were tabled, Lagerwey said, "We’re in a stretch run right now, so I honestly, sincerely believe its wholly inappropriate to have conversations about contracts with players or GMs at this stage of the season."
Like 2013, contract negotiations — or lack thereof — with another one of RSL’s main designers hover over the franchise as it makes another push for its second MLS Cup.
"Garth is the best of the best, and one of the premier GMs and wants to understand where that sits," Hansen said. "I think we have a great situation here, we talk about that, but we both just agreed: Let’s win this year and then we’ll have a conversation."
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