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"It's hard for me to have an opinion, other than for better or worse we have to beat them just like they have to beat us. That's the nature of the business."
That's Garth Lagerwey on how closely he's followed Real Salt Lake in 2015. The former longtime RSL general manager became GM of the Seattle Sounders in early January and is now presiding over most-followed club in Major League Soccer.
The first meeting between RSL and Seattle comes seven months into the season, and with tremendous playoff implications for both sides. Seattle (11-12-2, 35 points) has a grasp of the sixth playoff spot. RSL (7-10-8, 29 points) is desperately in pursuit, aiming to keep its playoff streak alive.
Lagerwey spoke to the Tribune Tuesday morning before the news broke later in the day that the club and RSL president Bill Manning had parted ways. Manning became the latest RSL front office figure to leave in the last 20 months under RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen.
When asked whether or not he was surprised by the club's dip this season, Lagerwey took another route.
"I think it's unfair of me to comment on RSL's team," he said. "I kind of can't win. I remember the previous GM commented about the team when I took over. I didn't appreciate that. I got to try and steer clear of the same trap. I talk to Jeff [Cassar] and Craig [Waibel].
"It's their team. I think those guys have done a great job, they're both young in their jobs and I hope they're given time to grow into their roles. Those guys are both really good and they're going to get better and better."
As for Lagerwey, no GM in MLS was busier or accomplished more in fortifying their club. In all, he helped sign six new players since the start of June. Without stars Clint Dempsey (national team duty) and Obafemi Martins (injury) more much of the summer months, Lagerwey felt it imperative to add attacking depth when Seattle went into a sever scoring slump.
They added Austrian Andreas Ivanschitz and Swedish midfielder Erik Friberg, who Lagerwey said will increase Seattle's technical ability in the midfield, adding both are "excellent" passers and servers of the ball. Then Seattle signed Nelson Valdez as a new Designated Player. He scored in his Sounders debut Sunday.
Finally, there's Román Torres. Seattle announced the signing of the Panamanian center back on Aug. 12 as the final piece to a busy summer.
"At the end of the transfer window, we added a center back I didn't think we were going to be able to get," Lagerwey said. "All of a sudden, that deal came together and it was a no-brainer to jump on it and say, 'If this guy's available, a player of this quality, you've just got to do it.' In the short-term certainly with Ozzie Alonso out, it allows us to put Brad [Evans] in the midfield, which I think strengthens two positions by making that signing. And long-term we'll see how it plays out. I think Brad's a very good center back, too. It gives us options and on a really basic level, my job as the GM is to give my coach options and I think I've done that."
The question that followed: Did the moves by L.A. in signing Giovani dos Santos a month after the arrival of Steven Gerrard play a factor in Seattle in bolstering its roster?
"For me, no. It's hard enough to run my team without worrying about what other teams are doing," Lagerwey said. "Including the Open Cup, we lost nine of 10 games, so I think it's beyond debate that we needed to tweak some things. We did our best. It was not my preference and it is still not my preference to do these things in the middle of the season because of all these challenges surrounding adjustment in the middle of the season, but I'm hopeful we can integrate our new guys and bring them along."
His return to Salt Lake this weekend will be both "interesting" and "neat," but Lagerwey spoke glowingly about his move to Seattle and his new job leading the Sounders.
"I've gotten an unbelievable welcome in Seattle," he said. "People have been just super friendly and so positive. They could've entered in a revolt while we went through this [losing] streak and they gave me a chance to do my thing. Obviously we'll see how it plays out. When [fans] see the guys we've added, again with a benefit of the doubt they're waiting to see how we play now, which is really cool because I'm new and I'm not entitled to anything."