Sounders FC general manager Adrian Hanauer said he feels “gutted” by the first half of his club’s second season in Major League Soccer.
However, he maintains the Sounders still can turn things around in the second half, which starts at 7:30 tonight when FC Dallas visits Qwest Field.
Hanauer blames several factors for Seattle’s 4-8-3 record: injuries, bad luck, opponent’s best efforts, but most of all a frustrating lack of togetherness from the team.
However, he also believes there are solutions to rescue the season: the possible addition of an impact World Cup player during the international transfer window that opens Thursday, improved health, the addition of striker Blaise Nkufo this week, and young players providing the energy that some returning veterans haven’t delivered.
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When the Sounders are healthy and focused, Hanauer said he would still take them over any other MLS team.
And while he believes he is the right man for the job, he said he is prepared to step aside if he stops believing that.
Here is part of a midseason conversation with Hanauer (some answers edited for length or clarity):
Q: What are you as general manager doing to make the second half of this season better?
A: We are working towards either “a” or “multiple” transactions. We don’t have a lot of maneuverability with the current salary cap and roster size, but we do have some maneuverability. If I (or coach Sigi Schmid or technical director Chris Henderson) feel like there’s a move that will make the team better, we’re going to do it. And more specifically, there are definitely specific players that we’ve been tracking/targeting/communicating with/negotiating with. You never know until it’s done, but I’m extremely hopeful that at least one transaction will be completed in this transfer window for a player that should have impact on our team.
Q: You were in South Africa. Might the incoming player be someone fans saw in the World Cup?
A: It might.
Q: Might the transfer window swing both ways? Could it be that an existing player will leave?
A: It could.
Q: You decided to bring back most players from last season’s roster. In retrospect, did that breed complacency?
A: I’m not sure if I would use the word “complacency,” but I’ve definitely seen something that makes me uncomfortable, which is an assumption that because we were good last year, we would be good this year.
Last year, we were good because we worked very, very hard, and we worked very, very hard for each other as a group. And without putting specifics on it, I have not seen us working as hard for each other as a group this year.
Q: What else is to blame for the bad start?
A: I can name a number of other issues, but they’re all excuses: the fact that teams now know what to expect coming into Qwest Field and people are gunning for us. They get up for games in this stadium. Again, it’s an excuse, because we should get up even more to be in our building.
We got to go to Philadelphia to open their big new stadium on ESPN, so there’s added energy and incentive for the home team. The next week we get to go to L.A. for (Landon Donovan and Edson Buddle’s) homecoming: Again, it’s all excuses.
Early in the season there were some decisions late in games that cost us points; maybe last season we keep those points. The injuries: Last year we were probably a little bit lucky, this year we’ve been a little bit unlucky. But in the end it’s all excuses, and we have to be able to do better.
Q: Is this experience affecting how you will make personnel decisions before next season?
A: When we won championships in the USL days, we recognized that some churn after a championship was necessary to avoid a feeling of deservedness of success.
My perception of last year was that it was a good year as a stepping stone for much more success. And I think maybe somewhere in the subconscious or in the group we maybe inappropriately thought that last year was a high year, as opposed to the baseline.
And so I wouldn’t change my philosophy in that I think having the same group together over a period of time gets the group playing better and will lead to success. But I think maybe (we should have) a slightly more keen ear to the psyche and the mentality of the group coming into the next season, because it’s about mentality.
With this group healthy, in terms of a soccer team, I’ll take this team over any team in the league – assuming our mentality is right.
Q: Given the results, should you feel more imperiled in your job security?
A: Yes. ... I’m gutted about this season. It’s been a rough year. But I can’t bury my head in the sand and hope the problems away. I do spend every waking hour racking my brain about creative ways to change the current path – for this year and the future, because we don’t want to do something stupid to win a couple of games this year but then have that hurt us for the following three years.
But that’s not to say in any way that we’ve given up on this year. I still think that we’ve got a playoff-caliber team. Our crystal-clear focus is getting enough points to qualify for the playoffs. We also have Open Cup and Champions League still to play for.
This thing is going to get right. I hope that I’m part of the solution, but if someone else has to be part of the solution, then I’m certainly open to that prospect as well.
Q: Do you still believe you’re the right guy for the job?
A: Absolutely. But that’s because of the group, not necessarily because of me. We’ve built a good group. Sigi has proven that he can get teams to MLS Cup. Chris is a very qualified technical director. Brian Schmetzer: proven winner. The group that we’ve assembled can do this. And I think one of the strengths of our organization is how we work together as a team, and we need to work together as a team to get this fixed from (majority owner Joe Roth) all the way down to the bus drivers. Everybody has to do double-time to be sure that we get this thing righted and get it righted quickly.
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SOUNDERS FC GAMEDAY
FC DALLAS (5-2-6; 21 POINTS) AT SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (4-8-3; 15 POINTS)
KICKOFF: 7:30 p.m., Qwest Field, Ch. 5, 97.3-FM (1210-AM in Spanish)
HEAD TO HEAD: Seattle is 1-0-2 vs. FC Dallas. The clubs played to a 2-2 draw April 22 at Dallas.
TEAM LEADERS: For Dallas – G 4, Jeff Cunningham; A 4, David Ferreira; S 36, Cunningham; SOG 15, Cunningham; GAA 0.67, Kevin Hartman. For Seattle – G 5 Fredy Montero; A 5 Montero; S 38, Montero; SOG 13, Montero; GAA 1.52, Kasey Keller.
SIGI SCHMID SCOUTING REPORT: “They have stayed pretty consistent in their lineup. They haven’t started Cunningham the last couple of games: They have played (Atiba) Harris up front. They have stayed true to their 4-3-3, and we will be ready for it.”
NOTES: Sounders designated player Freddie Ljungberg will miss the game due to an ankle injury. Also out are Brad Evans, Michael Fucito and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. However, midfielder Osvaldo Alonso could return after missing seven games with a quadriceps strain. ... Seattle has lost three straight league games, five of its past six, has allowed three goals in three consecutive games, and is 0-4-2 against Western Conference opponents. Dallas has won three in a row. ... If Tyrone Marshall is cautioned today he will be suspended from the next game due to yellow-card accumulation. ... Cunningham is second behind Jaime Moreno of D.C. United on the MLS career goals list (125). Ferreira has goals in back-to-back games and has a goal or assist in four straight. ... Dallas midfielder George John is a Shoreline native who played for the University of Washington. ... This will be the Sounders’ 25th consecutive home sellout. Those attending are reminded there also is expected to be a large crowd at nearby Safeco Field, where the Mariners play the New York Yankees at 1:10 p.m.
NEXT: 5 p.m. Thursday at D.C. United, Washington, D.C.
Don Ruiz, staff writer