Atlanta United hires Garth Lagerwey as president

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Garth Lagerwey, considered one of the shrewder and more successful franchise presidents in MLS, is Atlanta United’s president.

The club announced Tuesday that it hired Lagerwey to replace Darren Eales, who resigned to become CEO of Newcastle in August. Lagerwey is scheduled to be introduced at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Nov. 29, but he started Tuesday. He will oversee the first team, Atlanta United 2 and the academy.

It was thought that Lagerwey was off the market after he was reelected by season ticket holders as Seattle’s leader last week. The offer from Atlanta United was made to Lagerwey on Friday. He accepted it during the weekend, and the contract was completed Monday.

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“I see the opportunity to lead Atlanta United as a dream come true for me,” Lagerwey said in a statement provided by the club. “The opportunity to take on the chief executive role at a club with incredible ownership, unmatched resources and infrastructure, and the amazing fan support this club has enjoyed from the start, all made this move the perfect next step in my career. Honestly, it’s the chance of a lifetime and I could not be more excited to get to Atlanta and get to work.”

First as general manager at Real Salt Lake and then as general manager/president at Seattle, Lagerwey’s resume is impressive: One Champions League title earlier this year and three MLS Cups, 2009 with RSL and 2016 and 2019 with Seattle. The Sounders played for the title two other times. RSL played for it one other time. Franchises led by Lagerwey qualified for the playoffs 14 consecutive seasons. His RSL teams twice played for the Champions League title.

Lagerwey’s was the consistent name put forth by Atlanta United supporters when Eales resigned after leading the Five Stripes to one MLS Cup, a U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup.

“Our foundational goal from day one in Major League Soccer has been for Atlanta United to be a contender for MLS Cup each year, so we set out to find a leader with deep knowledge and experience in the league and a proven track record of success,” said Arthur M. Blank Sports and Entertainment CEO Steve Cannon, who served as Atlanta United’s interim president and led the search, in a statement from the club.

“We have certainly found that leader in Garth Lagerwey and could not be more thrilled to have him take the reins of our team. His body of work in Seattle and Salt Lake City speaks for itself. His experience as a player in the league and time as an executive who has developed a keen understanding of both the soccer and business sides of running an organization made him the perfect fit as we move forward with Atlanta United.”

Lagerwey inherits a franchise that has failed to make the playoffs in two of the past three years despite having among the largest payrolls in the league. According to totals released by the Major League Soccer Players Association in May, Seattle’s payroll was sixth highest.

The team has struggled identifying difference-making talent at the high end of the MLS salary structure and in the middle. Designated Players Ezequiel Barco and Pity Martinez failed to consistently produce. Martinez was sold. Barco will soon begin the second year of a two-year loan to River Plate. Luiz Araujo, signed during the 2021 season, struggled last season. Thiago Almada played well enough last season to earn a call-up to Argentina’s World Cup squad. Among the lesser-paid players scouted and signed, Matheus Rossetto, Santiago Sosa, Franco Ibarra, Emerson Hyndman, among others, have struggled with injuries and production.

Lagerwey also must help Carlos Bocanegra, the team’s vice president and technical director, decide what to do with Josef Martinez, who is considered the face of the franchise but who has gotten into disagreements with several Atlanta United managers, including current leader Gonzalo Pineda, who was an assistant with Seattle before becoming Atlanta United’s manager.

Lagerwey isn’t the type of general manager to throw money at problems. Academies at Real Salt Lake and Seattle have produced numerous quality players and won championships.

“I have enjoyed getting to know Garth through this process, and it has become obvious why success has followed him throughout his career,” Blank said in a statement. “We expect to be a championship-caliber team on and off the pitch every year, and I’m confident Garth is the right leader to build on a very strong foundation and help deliver our city and fans what we’ve promised – more trophies and a club they will always be proud to have represent this community.”

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