GM Garth Lagerwey Conference Call Transcript

Wide-ranging Q&A session covers Combine, SuperDraft, team-building and much more

When local and national media
members dialed in to today’s conference call with RSL General Manager and V.P.
of Soccer Operations Garth Lagerwey, the main purpose was to focus on what the
RSL Technical Staff had seen during the adidas Player Combine and how that might
translate to a strategy during Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft here in Baltimore. Well,
they got that and a whole lot more, including some breaking news on contract
extensions, what type of players fit the “RSL mold,” and an explanation on the
difficulty of keeping a team together … scroll down for more tidbits from this
afternoon’s wide-ranging Q&A session with the media.

 

On Real Salt Lake’s philosophy
heading into Thursday’s MLS SuperDraft …

“We’re looking to do
what we’ve done for the last three years now, which is try to pick the best
player on the board and assume that he won’t contribute at all this year, with
the possible hope that, if everything goes well – and the MLS Reserve League
will be a big help with this – they can work themselves into the team as the
season moves on and will become a really productive player for us by seasons
two and three.”

Impressions from the MLS adidas Combine

“Everybody’s pretty
clear about the guys at the very top, the top five or so, and after that it
gets pretty average, pretty quickly. I think the one up side may be that this
draft will stay ‘average’ for longer than some other drafts have.”

On if Real Salt Lake is looking to
fill a need with its top pick (14th overall) …

“I don’t think there’s
any specific position we are looking for, and we also need to be mindful of our
salary cap situation going into this draft, so you could possibly see us trade the
pick.”

On any expectations RSL might have
for its draft picks …

“We really try to not
put expectations on the kids, I think that’s unfair. Especially with a veteran
team like ours, the fact is we don’t expect these kids to play right away … any
kind of benefit we can get out of them this year is a bonus and, as a result,
we’re going to try to take some kids we think have some upside.”

On the type of player that will fit
in with Real Salt Lake …

“The RSL ‘player mold’
starts with having to be good on the ball; if you’re not you just won’t work on
our team. Preferably the player on top of that has some athletic ability
because we ask our players to run so much and to cover a lot of ground. If you
watch Kyle Beckerman and Will Johnson in midfield, and even Saborío up top,
they all do a lot of defensive work to set up our offense and our
counter-attack. We’re clearly committed to defending as a team, having set the League
record last year, so those are the kind of qualities we’ll be looking for.

On the MLS SuperDraft switching to
three rounds and the return of the Supplemental Draft …

“I honestly don’t know
if we anticipate having more one or two open roster spots on our team, so for
us it’s a little bit of overkill, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to
it. As far as the [SuperDraft and Supplemental Draft] split … I think the
consensus was that, now that we’re at 18 teams and moving towards 19 and 20 in
short order, that, at some point, it gets too long to sit in a room there
together. I think it’s budgeted for five or six hours to cover the three
rounds, so I think everyone felt like we could get on the phone and knock out
the last few rounds in relative short order … give us a couple of days to
recover and access and look at what various teams’ needs were following first
rounds.”

On the RSL-Arizona Academy program …

“I do think we’re
making great strides, and the Residency Academy Program in Arizona is something
we’re very excited about. We’ve made progress on our search to replace Greg
Vanney, and we may be able to name a replacement as quickly as the next two
weeks, and hopefully within the next week; we’ve talked with some exciting
people about that.”

On Homegrown Players and their
impact on the SuperDraft and MLS rosters going forward …

“The way we run our
academy, we assume we’re going to treat the kids well and look out for their
futures, but our primary goal is to develop professionals. It’s not a big deal
to us if these kids go to college though. I know people are impatient because
this Homegrown rule has been in for close to a year and we haven’t signed
anyone yet, but at the end of the day the way the Academy system is going to
work is that it will create a pipeline of players. So, if we do it right, we’ll
get two or three players a year that we might consider to sign as Homegrowns …
and them going to college doesn’t impact our rights.

“We had spoken to a
player named (Nick) DeLeon from Louisville, who played in the College Cup and
is one of our Homegrowns, about potentially coming out, and he turned us down.
He didn’t come out this year, but, at the end of the day, we’ll have him next
year.  As a GM, you try and take the
longer view here and say whether these kids choose to go to school or stay in
school, you’ve got to do what’s right for the kid and his family and understand
that, over time, all these kids are coming to RSL one way or another. So it’s a
matter of being a little patient at the start of this program until we get our
first class, and then our second class, and like I said I think we’ll roll from
there.

“I think the college
draft, in the long term, will get diluted by the number of Homegrown Players that
eventually every team will employ. I thought it might happen this year – and there’s
been two or three – but it hasn’t hit on a macro scale yet, and I think that will
hit next year, where you’ll see up to 10, maybe even 20, of not all the top
kids, but some of the top kids, be claimed by MLS teams in terms of Homegrown
rights – certainly that’s the future. The League did things this year, like
inviting a number of international players to join to Combine, to try and
supplement the talent base of the domestic pool.”

On the impact of the international players
added to the Combine …

“Jason [Kreis] had seen
one of them on a trip to Arizona, and we’ve seen video of all of them, so it
wasn’t exactly our first impression. It definitely added to the quality, and I
think it’s a good idea and something MLS should continue to support going
forward. But the proof is in the pudding, and we’ll see if any of these guys
get taken … there was a smaller version of this experiment a couple of years
ago and I don’t think any of them were taken. But this is a slightly more
experienced group in terms of this year’s international kids, and I do think
some of them were decent players.”

On whether one of the international
players at the Combine might be a good fit at #14 …

“I don’t know that it
does. I mentioned salary cap concerns earlier, so I don’t know that we’re going
to take on another salary in this draft. It’s something we’re playing with right
now. The foreign guys would count as a minimum salary on our budget, but a
salary nonetheless, so that’s what we have to weigh along with the quality of
the player. We have one international spot available, so if you pick one of
those players you have to use your last international slot so, suffice to say, we’d
have to be very, very high on that player to go in that direction … and there
are a couple that are very good, so it is possible.”

So does that mean a Generation
adidas pick is in order at #14?

“I’m a big believer
that you don’t pick a player just because he’s a Generation adidas player. You
should pick a player that you think is a good player and that can get the job
done, and if there’s a player there that we absolutely love then we’ll take him
and we’ll figure out the cap later. But as we get going with the draft we have
to weigh, do we take another youngster and understand that that may put a
veteran’s job at jeopardy from a salary cap perspective? Or do we maybe look at
moves that might help us keep our core together, and that’s a philosophical
issue that has to be resolved in the next 48 hours.”

On RSL’s offseason to this point …

“I think we were very
fortunate with our Expansion Draft … so in terms of keeping our team intact and
trying to win the CONCACAF Champions League and then continuing on and trying
to win the MLS Cup Championship, I think we kept our team together.  We knew we needed to replace Robbie [Findley],
and we feel we’ve done that by signing [Álvaro] Saborío to a [Designated
Player] contract; by extending Paulo Jr.’s loan; by acquiring Arturo Alvarez;
and, although we haven’t formally announced it yet, I’m happy to report that we’ve
signed Will Johnson to a long-term contract as well. I think that we’ve
remained committed to keeping together the core of our team with just some
minor tinkering here and there, and we hope we can replicate last year’s successes
– I believe we lost four games in the last eight months – in 2011.”

On the challenges of keeping RSL’s
core together …

“Most of the veteran
guys, under the new CBA, get 10%-12% raises. Well, the salary cap went up 5%,
so if you’re trying to keep a team together, that’s going to be increasingly
challenging over time as these players hit mandatory raises that exceed the
cap. At some point you get forced into making some tough decisions, so you try
not to sign contracts that force you to get rid of players.”

On whether the team’s salary budget
situation has forced RSL to put players on the trading block …

“I wouldn’t say we’re
actively looking to trade any of them, but the salary cap is what it is.
Ultimately you’re going to get through the draft and see where you stand in
terms of the cap, and then possibly have to make some tough choices.”

On possible contract extensions for
Nick Rimando and Nat Borchers …

“We’ve had good
conversations with the agents for both players. I would say nothing is
imminent, but I am at least cautiously optimistic on both fronts. The important
thing is that you try to get something done out of respect for the player. You don’t
want this hanging over them as the season begins, so there is an urgency to it.
We want to convey to Nick and Nat both that we appreciate what they’ve
contributed to the team, but I don’t think it’s the panic stage by any means.  When you get down to the Draft and the Combine,
its 24 hours a day and there isn’t always time to sit down about individual
contracts. I think it’s actually easier to wrap that stuff up when the guys
report and after the draft is done, when we can sit down, clear our heads, and
look at what resources we have and what we’re able to do.”

On the role of Arturo Alvarez in
RSL’s system …

“Until he shows up in
our camp, we’re not sure, but Arturo has indicated to us that he’ll play
wherever we ask him to play. We project him as a forward in our system, an
out-and-out striker. But we’ll be in a month of preseason and we’ll put him
there, we’ll put him some in midfield, and we’ll look at how he works best collectively
with our players.

“The word I use to describe
Arturo is that he is disruptive – and I mean that in a positive way – on the
field. His ability to individually take players on off the dribble is as good
as anybody’s in the League, and I think that’s something that we weren’t
excellent at. We really wanted to add a disruptive player to our offense that
was unpredictable and that we could use to give a little change of pace and
translate more of our possession into chances on goal.”