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updated: 7/5/2011 12:07 PM

Lagerwey credits roots for his success

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  • Real Salt Lake has made a habit of winning since Elmhurst native Garth Lagerwey, left, took over as general manager in 2007. His roster includes several players with ties to the Chicago suburbs.

      Real Salt Lake has made a habit of winning since Elmhurst native Garth Lagerwey, left, took over as general manager in 2007. His roster includes several players with ties to the Chicago suburbs.
    Real Salt Lake Communications

  • Real Salt Lake general manager and Elmhurst native Garth Lagerwey joined the club after a successful career as a lawyer and soccer player.

      Real Salt Lake general manager and Elmhurst native Garth Lagerwey joined the club after a successful career as a lawyer and soccer player.
    Real Salt Lake Communications

  • Miami Fusion goalkeeper Garth Lagerwey, right, saw action in this 1999 game. After retiring from MLS, Lagerwey made it back to the league to become general manager of the Real Salt Lake franchise.

      Miami Fusion goalkeeper Garth Lagerwey, right, saw action in this 1999 game. After retiring from MLS, Lagerwey made it back to the league to become general manager of the Real Salt Lake franchise.
    Associated Press/1999 file

 
 

It kind of figures. Here is Real Salt Lake general manager Garth Lagerwey, a suburban Chicago guy, and he's stockpiling Chicago-area players.

Ned Grabavoy (New Lenox), Chris Schuler (Aurora), Will Johnson (Woodridge) and Rauwshan McKenzie (Hoffman Estates) all found their way to Utah, thanks to Lagerwey, an Elmhurst native. Is it a coincidence?

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Well, yes and no.

"I talked about how you grow up in a sports culture here and that helps you, but people here work hard and you fight for things," Lagerwey said in a recent interview at Toyota Park, where a depleted Real Salt Lake squad played the Chicago Fire to a scoreless draw.

"There's a certain common personality that I know I identify with but we want for our group."

Lagerwey also goes out of his way to credit his Chicago-area upbringing for his success in MLS.

"Look, growing up in Chicago was part of my training," he said. "You're watching the Bears and the Bulls and the Hawks, the Cubs and the Sox, you learn stuff. Really.

"What do the Bears do with Payton? What do the Cubs do with whomever along the way? You only get the media accounts, but still, it's part of you.

"This is such a sports town that I think you can't help but soak up a lot of common-sense sports lessons or axioms to help you form your judgments going forward. It's really cool to come back and see.

"You know, the Fire wasn't here when I grew up here. To see them back in this community, it's really neat. I feel like in some small way we were all a part of it."

The funny thing is, Lagerwey didn't want to be a part of soccer at first.

"I told my dad I wanted to be like (former Bears safety) Gary Fencik and run people over for a living, and he said, 'well, why don't you try this soccer thing first?'"

Out of that conversation, the travel soccer club Team Elmhurst was born, and so was a soccer career.

Lagerwey played goalkeeper at Duke, where he met current RSL coach Jason Kreis. He played five years in MLS, got a law degree at Georgetown, did some color commentary on MLS games on television and wrote a humorous guest column for SI.com.

"I'm very, very fortunate that it's not just a job that I like," Lagerwey said. "I have training in media through my TV stuff. I have training in law, which helps in contracts and negotiations.

"Obviously, I'm a former player, so I know that part. I've got a really cool job where I can do all those things, and that's really neat. It's really rewarding. I'm really lucky."

His work as a lawyer helped him get the RSL job. He met RSL owner Dave Checketts when he helped Checketts' group buy the NHL's St. Louis Blues. That work led to Checketts offering him the RSL job.

It was a good move for both. Under Checketts, Lagerwey and Kreis, RSL has become a model MLS franchise.

"It's been a lot of fun," Lagerwey said. "When I came in '07, we were the worst team in the league. And we won a title in '09 and almost won the continental championship in April this year, so those are good things and hopefully progress for the future."

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