Can Garth Lagerwey bring his magic touch to Atlanta United?

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Garth Lagerwey, hired as Atlanta United’s second president Monday, has had a golden touch with franchises he’s operated.

Real Salt Lake won the MLS Cup in 2009. Lagerwey, who joined RSL in September 2007, moved to Seattle in December 2014 and won MLS Cups in 2016 and ‘19, and the Champions League in 2022. Both teams had three other opportunities to win titles but lost in title games.

The teams have been so successful because the players signed have executed.

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It hasn’t mattered if the players were developed, drafted, traded for or acquired as free agents, whether from a few miles away or from as far away as South America or Europe, Lagerwey and those working for him have had many more hits than misses when acquiring talent.

That skill will be key for Atlanta United, which has had more misses, or wait-and-sees, than bona fide hits the past few seasons, which explains why the team has missed the playoffs in two of the past three seasons. Lagerwey’s teams made the playoffs 14 consecutive years. That streak was snapped by Seattle in the recently completed season.

Looking at the rosters on the teams operated by Lagerwey that won the MLS Cup, key players were acquired while he was in the big chair.

For Real Salt Lake, centerbacks Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers, midfielder Will Johnson, right back Tony Beltran, midfielders Jean Alexandre and Ned Grabavoy, and strikers Yura Movsisyan and Stone Mountain native Clint Mathis were signed under Lagerwey.

That team, coached by Jason Kreis, defeated the L.A. Galaxy in a penalty shootout for its first title. RSL was the first team in league history to win the title after finishing the regular season with a losing record, at 11-12-7. Its record didn’t reflect the team’s quality. It scored the second-most goals (43) among the eight teams in the West and finished with a goal-difference of plus-8.

Lagerwey took over in Seattle, and the magic continued.

Key players signed under Lagerwey who were on the 2016 title-winning team were forwards Jordan Morris, a homegrown signee who scored 14 goals across all comps, and Nelson Valdez, midfielders Nicolas Lodeiro (transferred in midseason), Cristian Roldan (a draft pick), Andreas Ivanschitz and Erik Friberg, and fullbacks Tyrone Mears and Joevin Jones (trade). Each of those players made at least 19 appearances across all competitions that season.

That team, led by Clint Dempsey, who signed before Lagerwey’s tenure, finished fourth in the West, with 44 goals scored and 43 allowed. It improved as the season went on, losing only two of its final 14 games.

Among the key players singed under Lagerwey who were on Seattle’s 2019 team were striker Raul Ruidiaz, midfielders Gustav Svensson, Victor Rodriguez and Harry Ship, defenders Nouhou, Kim Kee-hee, Roman Torres and Kelvin Leerdam – along with holdovers Lodeiro, Morris and Jones.

Among the key players signed under Lagerwey who were on Seattle’s 2022 Champions League team were defenders Jackson Ragen and Yeimer Gomez Andrade and midfielders Joao Paulo, Albert Rusnak, Kelyn Rowe and Obed Vargas.

Lagerwey was as successful with gems, such as Lodeiro, Ruidiaz and Rusnak as he was with core players, such as Nouhou, Svensson, Mears, Olave and Borchers.

Atlanta United has shown it will make difficult choices when it comes to releasing or signing players. The team’s issue in the past few seasons seems to be its scouting. It has acquired many players who seem too similar in their skills, particularly in the midfield, or whose skills don’t seem to match the position envisioned.

Seattle has ranked among the league leaders in using analytics to scout players. Atlanta United also has used analytics. Vice President Carlos Bocanegra recently said the team is going to try to improve that area, but that he’s very happy with the scouting department.

It will be interesting to see if Lagerwey agrees.

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