On Tuesday, Atlanta United presented Garth Lagerwey to the media and the supporters as the club's new President & CEO. The established soccer executive held a press conference at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in only his second week in the job, after he was officially announced the Tuesday before.
Here are the eight things we learned from Lagerwey and Arthur M Blank Sports & Entertainment (AMBSE) CEO Steve Cannon. You can watch the complete press conference at the bottom of this article.
Cannon on how the search for the new president went global
“This is a brand new chapter. We cast a very wide net because this search was very important. How do you take a super club like Atlanta United and make sure that you can position it for future success? And this is what we feel that we’ve done with Garth. We hired a company called Sportsology, I engaged a team of executives that included our head of HR Tim Goodly, and Arthur Blank was heavily involved. We went from a wide net that was global in nature: South America, Europe, the United States, MLS. We looked at a very broad swath of top talent, which is a real testimony to the brand of Atlanta United that this was such a desirable and sought after position that we got validated from all corners of the soccer globe."
"So we went through a process that started with a long list of candidates that went down to a shorter list of about seven that we interviewed, first virtually, and then finally we brought a small group for a pretty extensive array of interviews. Through that thoughtful process Garth was unanimous, and all the participants in that process felt that Garth brought so much to the table.”
Cannon about what Lagerwey brings to Atlanta United
“Garth brings an unbelievable track record across multiple years and multiple clubs. He is a winner, he’s won MLS Cups for two different teams, the first-ever Concacaf Champions League trophy for Major League Soccer. So, what he brings in terms of soccer credentials are unrivaled. But we’re more thrilled about who he is. We’ve got a high bar at AMB Sports & Entertainment, you’ve got to be a good at your job but you’ve got to be a good human being, you’ve got to be a collaborator and work in the Blank Family of Businesses that’s all about trying to make the world a better place.”
Cannon on what the expectations are for Lagerwey
“We expect to win championships, we expect to compete within MLS every single year. Arthur has stated that from day one, and he’s provided the resources and we’re going to continue to provide them. Garth will have the time to assess and begin to chart that next chapter in Atlanta United’s history, but one that includes winning, competing, playoffs and championships.”
“We also want to run a championship business. We’ve got a new Apple TV deal that’s going to challenge everyone across Major League Soccer, as we have the number one global brand that’s now our distribution partner as we grow the beautiful game in the United States thinking ahead to the World Cup in 2026.”
“Finally, we want to win in the community. We want to be an impact player inside of Atlanta, inside of the community and use the platform that is Atlanta United for positive and for good.”
Lagerwey on why he decided to come to Atlanta United
“It is phenomenally exciting to be here. It is an opportunity of a lifetime for me. I worked 15 years to get an opportunity to be a CEO, and to run both the business and soccer sides of an organization. To work for Arthur, for Steve, and to work with our leadership team of Dimitrious [Efstathiou], Georgia [O’Donoghue], Carlos [Bocanegra] and Gonzalo [Pineda] to establish a new foundation for Atlanta United and build from the success that’s come before. This opportunity has unlimited potential.”
“There’s a ton of positives here when you look at the talent on and off the field in terms of the personnel, the fanbase, the enthusiasm for the team and the support they’ve had historically. My job is to come and be thorough, go slow and move fast. Which is to say come in and do an analysis, do a deep dive to understand both the business and soccer aspects of the organization, and once we’re prepared and have all the information we need, go forward and make decisions."
“We’re trying to get to sustainable success. Atlanta United came in and rock it right out of the gate, they had an inevitable decline in some respects because of how phenomenal the start was, I don’t know if anybody would have kept up that rate. We’re going to try and make this sustainable, and that requires a foundation and a block by block approach to building this thing up.”
Lagerwey on working with the current Front Office
“I’m not coming here to be the General Manager, I’m coming here to be the CEO to run the entire organization and understand and lead the process of the entire group. I’m supposed to make everybody better, that’s my [modus operandi] as a manager, as a leader. I’m going to try to influence everybody who works with me or for me, and I’m going to try to use the resources of AMBSE to learn from them and make the overall operation better."
“One of my abilities is taking the talents within an organization and figuring out what the right structure and process is, and aligning everybody to firing up to their maximum potential. That’s not to say that I’m not going to come in and disagree with something that’s been done or said. In the case of Gonzalo, obviously, we know each other really well as we worked for a couple of years in Seattle already. Dimitrious and I worked together in the Chief Soccer Officer (CSO) committee when he worked for the League, so those are very good starting points in terms of building those relationships. I’m going to come in and I’m going to get their opinions and identify what their strengths are and build around those.”
“Carlos and I also know each other, we’re not as connected personally, but we’ve worked together in the same committee [CSO] and we have lots of friends in common. Darren was a friend of mine for many years, we played together in the immortal 1995 Hampton Roads Mariners.”
Lagerwey on finding success when signing Designated Players
“This is a League leading organization within MLS, a League leading organization within the NFL. I’m really excited about all the expertise there is here, the resources that are here and nobody has ever told me to come in and limit anything. We are going to go through our Designated Player (DP) policy and look at where we’ve spent and to see if we can be effective and more efficient. We’re going to try to maximize our resources, because if we maximize your resources in a salary cap system that’s going to get you better players, if you have better players you’ll probably win more games.”
“Atlanta signed a couple of good [Designated Players] in the past. Miguel Almirón, Pity Martínez left for almost $20 million in terms of the sale, and both of them won trophies. You have Thiago Almada now who’s in the Argentina National Team, which is the first time that’s ever happened in MLS history. It’s not about being young or being old, they’ve got to be good players, and the one commonality that I see in my career is that I’ve always been permitted by ownership to sign the best player, not a star or someone with marketing potential.
Lagerwey on why he left Seattle Sounders
“I’ve been a General Manager for 15 years and it’s a different job. In Seattle you have an incredibly accomplished owner in Adrian Hanauer who was the GM before I came in and took over, they’re highly capable and the CEO role is not something they have. To Adrian’s credit he was always open with me about that, ‘if you want to move forward in your career that opportunity very likely won’t be here’. So, this is a step forward for me to be able to come and run the business and soccer side.”
Lagerwey on the importance of data to find players
“I’m a big believer in objective evidence and data. It’s wonderful for everyone and me included to have an opinion, but the lawyer in me will always say ‘but why?’. In Law School you have to argue for and against to every question, and that’s the culture that I want to have here: have an opinion but also understand what’s on both sides of that argument and try to make the best decision for the group collectively. We’re going to be data-driven, one of the things we’re going to look at is our analytics support where we only have one person. If you look at the foundation of some other clubs around the world, this is an area with an opportunity to build out. Before spending vast amounts of money, I certainly want it to be supportive by data and not just my opinion coming from the West coast”.