Q&A: Talking With RSL GM Garth Lagerwey — Part 2

An inside perspective from the Real Salt Lake general manager
by Wes Brown   |   Monday, March 17, 2014

Kingdom of Salt - column on Real Salt Lake (RSL) & the Salt Lake City Utah soccer scene

In Part 2 of the interview with Real Salt Lake General Manager Garth Lagerwey, we shift focus to the RSL-AZ academy, part of the Grande Sports Academy in Casa Grande, Ariz. The conversation takes a natural course to another of RSL’s potential expansions in the form of a USL Premier Development League (PDL) team.

Talks about the location of such a team and what emphasis and place it would have within the RSL structure have been going on for several months now. Lagerwey’s comments are indicative of the overall ethos in the club when it comes to player development. The emergence of RSL-AZ academy products like Carlos Salcedo, Benji Lopez and Jordan Allen has increased demand for playing time for these younger players. The club seems committed to further fleshing out the varying levels of the pyramid to better harness the talent they’re helping to refine.

How do you get kids to go to Casa Grande, Ariz., because I hear it’s miserable?

Garth Lagerwey (GL):  [Laughing] It grows on you. It is the coolest place to grow up and play soccer in the United States. Now, do you have to sacrifice some stuff to do it? Absolutely. It is in the middle of nowhere, it is a Spartan existence on some level. Tatooine … yeah, literally. It looks like Tatooine during sunset. And it has about as much water. But it’s a cool setup.

I’ll say this – I played in the league for 5 years and never had a full-time goalkeeper coach. The prospect of at 14 years old having a former professional coach me 24/7, and how good I could have been … now, granted, I didn’t really have any talent, but I’m saying for a kid who’s chasing the dream I get the appeal because I wish I had that. Would it be hard being away from mom and dad? Yeah. But I sense in a lot of the kids that it’s harder on the parents than it is on the kids.

With that said, I do think that when they start getting into the 17 and 18 [age range] and they’ve been there for 3 or 4 years, I think then we start to see some wobbles in terms of girlfriends or homesickness. But the other thing we’ve done is focus as much as possible on Arizona and Utah kids to mitigate some of that homesickness stuff. And also because those are the kids we’re allowed to tag from a homegrown perspective. The rule is we get eight total out-of-state spots, and the majority of the kids [at Casa Grande] are from Utah and Arizona, which is considered our home territory

Is there still talk of potentially establishing a second academy in Salt Lake City?

GL:  I think that you might have a footprint more similar to a PDL [Premier Development League] team. So one of the things we have to do for these homegrown kids is that for the ones that go to college that we don’t sign immediately, we have to bring them back to train them. There’s a 30-day, every-2-year training requirement. And one of the ways to meet that requirement pretty easily is to start a PDL team. One place to put that PDL team is Salt Lake. So we’ll see. That [decision] will evolve over the next year. That’s dependent on roster size, too. MLS is supposedly going to hire somebody to run the youth development, which means some of the rules might get tweaked. So we’re going to wait and react to some of that, and see, too, what happens in San Diego; what’s the timing, how deep do we want to go down.

One of the strategic decisions you have to make in a new market is do you want to establish your own club, or do you want to partner with the existing clubs. Because you have to balance the business side of having a partnership and buying tickets and buying sponsorships with getting the best talent and identifying it to push it to the first team. It’s always a balancing act, and you really have to get on the ground to assess that. So I think that decision is about a year away.

In terms of specific youth academy stuff in Utah, the short answer is you’d have to build several millions of dollars in infrastructure to do it here because you’d have to have an all-year-round facility, and it’s just a lot cheaper [to keep it only in Arizona]. Not only do we have a business partner in Arizona, but we have a perfect facility that not only our academy can play in, but the first team can go and use. We have a camp there every December to basically identify candidates for the next season. We have preseason there every year. We’re there every summer, and we just hosted an MLS-only series of tournaments there.

Basically, it’s such a good setup there that it’s really hard to think about [spending] 3 or 4 times the price to recreate that here [in Salt Lake City] and have to support that and [Arizona] and pay for a minor league team. From an investment perspective, this [what we have now] works. And it works really well. Don’t mess with it. And if we get San Diego up and running from a minor league perspective, the idea is that you have the pyramid where it starts at 14 years old and [progresses to] 16, 18, San Diego (if we get approval), then the first team. Just like the pyramid everywhere else in the world.

Would you say San Diego would come before the PDL team?

GL:  I just don’t know. San Diego is a much bigger undertaking in the sense that a PDL team you can place together for 10 to 12 weeks per year and you can kind of throw that together [quickly]. If you did that in Salt Lake, you might be able to borrow some staff or share staff with that team for the amount of time that they’re here. You could potentially train side-by-side with the first team.

If you did it somewhere else, you’d obviously have to hire a new staff. The [USL-PRO] team is a completely different enterprise, particularly if you do it in a different city. Now you’re talking about building a stadium; building a practice facility; building an entirely new staff. Now, we’d run it out of here [Salt Lake City], but it’s just a much more massive undertaking to do that right. And if our ownership pursues it, it’s a huge investment, and it’d be a sign that Mr. [Dell Loy] Hansen is committed to the future of the franchise.

A special thanks to a few others who helped spur on this conversation at the media luncheon – Chris Kamrani of The Salt Lake Tribune, James Edward of Deseret News, and Charles Barnard from From the Upper Deck.

NEXT UP: March 22 – Real Salt Lake vs. Los Angeles Galaxy, Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah. 4 p.m. EST, NBCSN.


Harrisburg Area CC
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USSF Licensed youth coach. Founder and manager of Scalliwags United. On-field utility man. Tactics geek. Book worm. Member of the United Church of Kreis with a t-shirt to prove it. Keystone native, future Beehive resident. Proud husband and father of two.