February 5, 2014
Real Salt Lake general manager Garth Lagerwey believes NASL has some MLS talent, but not enough
By Matt Levine
The return of the North American Soccer League has seen some successes as it continues to grow on and off the field. However, the level of talent throughout the league is still a ways off when compared to Major League Soccer.
One club that continues to look at the lower leagues in the United States is Real Salt Lake, which recently signed Luke Mulholland from the Tampa Bay Rowdies coming off a season where he was voted onto the NASL’s Best XI.
RSL has enjoyed success with players from lower leagues such as Paulo Araujo Jr, Yordany Alvarez and Red Bulls midfielder Johnny Steele.
“We have coaches constantly watching the minor leagues [NASL, USL Pro], all of the time, giving us reports and telling us who they like, so it’s really an ongoing project,” RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey said.
In fact, newly appointed head coach Jeff Cassar was the team's minor league scout for the past five seasons.
“He did an excellent job and that’s part of the reason why we’ve had success with some of these kids,” Lagerwey said.
Although the club continues to look, the league isn’t littered with MLS-ready players just yet, according to Lagerwey.
“I think there is a very limited number of players that are good enough to play in the MLS, but there usually are one or two every year," he said.
“The guys we try to sign are ones that have ambition and guys that want to go on to not just RSL, but a bigger stage."
RSL will hope that Mulholland can be one of those players that can build on his reputation as one of the best NASL midfielders, being voted to back-to-back Best XI teams.
As far as contracts with varying rules on cap space between MLS and NASL, the NASL doesn’t have any restrictions. Lagerwey didn’t think it would impact MLS clubs too often.
“I think there will be very limited times that will happen," he said. "What we’ve found is most kids want to play at a higher level. It’s not just that, but they view MLS as a way to showcase their talent for potential moves abroad as well.
“I’d say half a dozen guys make more than they would have, maybe it’s more, maybe it’s a dozen that make more than they would in MLS."
With some of the players joining NASL from MLS, Lagerwey said, ”Often times those are the squad players. They are very good minor league players, just like you have triple A baseball players, that’s kind of their level.”
The New York Cosmos, who re-joined the NASL last year, has increased visibility of the league, but RSL’s GM said that he didn’t feel that other clubs were taking the same strides.
“I have to acknowledge there is more visibility with them," he said. "That being said I don’t think anyone else is able or willing to replicate some of the economics of the Cosmos. Obviously they are spending a lot of money right now.
“They are really trying to elevate the profile of the club, but also the league. Right now it reminds me of the old NASL when it’s the Cosmos and then everybody else."
The Cosmos added more visibility for them and the league with signing Andre Lewis and then loaning him back to the Vancouver Whitecaps, who took him seventh overall in the MLS Super Draft.
Though Lagerwey didn’t want to speculate on what MLS may do to prevent similar situations in the future without knowing the full details of what went on, he did have confidence the MLS will sort it out.
“Obviously if kids want to be in the MLS Draft, it makes sense to sign with MLS clubs. I’m positive that MLS will work to ensure that that happens," he said.