Seattle Sounders FC expects to set an Major League Soccer attendance record for the sixth straight season, the club has as much faith as ever in coach Sigi Schmid, and the Sounders would have liked to replace the FieldTurf at CenturyLink Field this season but did not due to their partnership with the Seahawks.
Those are some of the topics covered by Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer this week after the Sounders opened the MLS season with a 1-0 win over defending champion Sporting Kansas City.
Below are highlights of that interview, with some answers edited for length and clarity:
Q: Are you satisfied with the roster heading into the new season?
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“I think we’re encouraged. The pieces that we were really focused on were that core mentality, chemistry, cohesiveness, work rate, which I think we’ve seen signs is headed in the right direction. The overall beauty of the soccer is hopefully yet to come. But to grind out the season-opening win is a step in the right direction. The other thing that
we were focused on in the offseason was getting a little younger, a little more athletic, and I think we accomplished that as well. But none of it means anything until the end of the season.”
Q: Did the disappointing end to 2013 make the changes easier?
“It was probably a catalyst in some way. I think the harder the kick in the teeth, the more likely you are to react. And that was a pretty big kick in the teeth last year. I don’t want to give the impression that the conversations about the kinds of things that we’re going to do don’t start until a kick in the teeth. We had a very good idea of what our intentions were heading in to this year, regardless. Even if we would have won a championship, I think we still would have done a lot of the things. So maybe it was the exclamation point that sort of made it clear which direction we want to go.”
Q: Does Schmid begin his sixth season on any kind of hot seat?
“We have as good a relationship as ever with Sigi, and as much confidence as ever, and as much leash as ever. We made a decision, and that wasn’t a decision like a half-decision with lots of reservation, where two losses are all of a sudden going to create panic for us. We have all the confidence in the world in Sigi, and he has the track record to prove that that confidence in well-founded.”
Q: Do you believe that the Sounders will set yet another MLS attendance record this season, topping last season’s 44,038 per home game?
“I do. We’re mid-34,000s in season tickets; we think we’ll get to 35,000 (after fewer than 34,000 last season). We just released that six-game ticket package: selling lots of those, anticipate great crowds in those all-stadium games. Sponsors are as interested as ever. TV ratings were good locally and good nationally for the opener. So none of the data leads me to think that this is going anywhere than up. That isn’t to say that I don’t still wake up in the middle of the night scared to death that we can screw it up. We need to keep being diligent and focused and fan-centric and do all the things that we think we’ve done in the first five years. But given our opening game was played in a downpour, the energy in the building on Saturday and the attendance leads me to believe that we’re still pretty relevant.”
Q: Has the club decided on its plans for a USL-Pro League team in 2015?
“Yet to be settled but highly likely that we will operate our own USL-Pro team out of Starfire (sports complex in Tukwila).”
Q: What did you think of Toronto coach Ryan Nelsen’s criticism of CenturyLink Field’s 3-year-old FieldTurf?
“I think Toronto doesn’t really have any reason to have any expertise on our turf. I agree with Sigi that turf is not preferable to anyone. But the reality is that we are partners with the Seahawks, and we follow their lead in terms of surface. The reality is that the football guys prefer a field that is a little harder; the soccer guys prefer a field that’s a little softer. ... Sounders-only would err on the side of replacing it more often. Three years to us seems like the absolute maximum; two years better; one year best.”
Q: What do you think of the league heading into 2014?
“I’m as confident as ever league-wide. Attendance was way up for the opening weekend. Ratings were good. Signing new players. A really positive story: the expansion, stadiums still being built and opening. I’m sure some would argue that it’s sometimes better to have a few super teams, but I like our league and the competitive nature. Every week is a battle.”
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org/soccer