Real Salt Lake is off to six-game unbeaten streak to start the 2014 season, showing much the same quality form it ended last year with during its run to MLS Cup. General manager Garth Lagerwey is one of the architects of the RSL’s six straight playoff appearances and earlier this week he caught up with Deseret News writer James Edward to talk about all things Real Salt Lake, including his contract — which expires at the end of the 2014 season.
Q: With coach Jason Kreis leaving last offseason, I know the fan base is crazy paranoid about you leaving once your contract with Real Salt Lake expires at the end of the 2014 season. What’s your status? Are there any current contract negotiations going on, or have both parties decided to wait until the end of the year?
A: I really enjoy working with (head coach) Jeff (Cassar), really enjoy working with (team president) Bill Manning, those are long-standing relationships with me and I’m very comfortable with. I’m happy, I like Salt Lake, I like it here. I understand with what happened with Jason (Kreis) why there’s an extraordinary interest level in this stuff. But I think it’s a normal contract like most contracts, and I think most of the time those things are best handled outside the confines of the season.
Q: Real Salt Lake is pursuing establishing a lower division team in San Diego and a secondary Academy there as well. What’s the time frame for that realistically happening?
A: 2016 is the start date for USL, potentially a PDL team at some point. I think we’ll have an affiliate of some kind. You’ve seen these partnerships announced between MLS clubs and minor league clubs; my personal take is it’s more efficient not to have affiliates. When you have a team that needs a player and then you loan them out and get them games.
Q: Last week you had four players called in for the U.S. National Team match against Mexico, and currently you have two players who are with the U.S. Under-20 team and three more with the U.S. Under-18 team. What does that say about the foundation you’ve established and the ability for this club to remain competitive once its current collection of 30-somethings retire?
A: I’m cautiously optimistic about the future. The fact is those are the spine of the team, those are some really big important players who’ve been doing it for a long time. And there’s no question it’s not going to be as simple as whenever they retire, you plug in the next guy and you go; it’s going to need to be replaced by a group. Again, if we add these talented young players at a couple at a time, by the time the core ages out — whenever that day comes — the new guys have been here four or five years and it’s more or less a seamless transition. I’m positive it won’t be seamless or without hiccups, but that’s cool. In addition to that you have to take that core and build around them.
Q: With Orlando and New York joining MLS next year, and Atlanta reportedly a done deal, not to mention Miami and a 24th franchise expected in the next six years, do you think the league is trying to expand too fast?
A: Hope. I’m unabashedly in favor of expansion. The other major leagues in our country have 30 teams, NFL has 32. We’re at 19. We want to be a professional league in this country and want to be on equal footing with those leagues, and I would be the first to acknowledge we have a long way to go yet in terms of some of the revenue generation and in terms of television ratings and all those things. But if you don’t put that flag in the ground and set that goal, you’re never going to get there. So you have to be in the 10 biggest markets in the country. It’s not a debate, it’s not a intellectual discussion, you must be there if you’re going to be relevant. The traditional complaint about expansion in any sport is the dilution of the talent pool, but soccer’s different. But there’s more or less an unlimited amount of soccer players in the world . There’s over 100 professional leagues in the world, almost all of which we can draw from.
Q: There are 12 players in MLS making over $1 million, which was never realistic in the pre-Beckham era of MLS. Will Real Salt Lake ever try and keep up with the big spenders of MLS that way and have a million dollar player?
A: Never say never. Who knows what happens in the next (Collective Bargaining Agreement), who knows where the salary cap goes. Speaking as the GM and not the owner, as the guy who spends the money, I hope we do because I hope the cap goes up where that’s a practical consideration. But if you have a $4 million cap, or $3 million where it’s at now, a $1 million player isn’t real practical in terms of our model. Obviously you have roster rules and DP rules and all that stuff that allow you to put some of those players in. I’ll say this, Mr. Hansen has given us resources that maybe we didn’t have before. But it’s got to make sense from my chair within the salary cap to sign a player like that. Maybe it will. That would be a sign that hopefully the league’s getting better.