Sounders FC

U.S. Open Cup bidding process leaves Sounders GM ‘skeptical’

SEATTLE – Sounders FC did well by its fans despite its unsuccessful bid to host the U.S. Open Cup championship game, general manager Adrian Hanauer said Wednesday.

Hanauer implied there could be a problem with the secret bidding process in which U.S. Soccer awarded the Sept. 2 game to D.C. United and RFK Stadium.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was frustrated and somewhat skeptical of the process,” Hanauer said. “I don’t think D.C. has played a game in the Open Cup on the road in two years. They had a road through all lower-division teams to get to the Open Cup final. I’m not in the know … enough to be able to raise any real issues, but I’m frustrated and I wish U.S. Soccer would explain why one bid wins over another.”

One spokesman for U.S. Soccer said the bid process “takes in all factors,” and another promised to check on some of Hanauer’s questions.

“Our fans deserve some answers,” Hanauer said. “And, by the way, U.S. Soccer has been trying to raise the profile of the U.S. Open Cup. A game in front of 10,000 fans at RFK I don’t believe is going to raise the profile as much as a game in front of a sold-out Qwest Field.”

D.C. United won the 2008 Cup in front of a home crowd of 8,212.

United’s path to the 2009 title game followed home-field victories against Ocean City of the Premier Development League, Harrisburg City of USL-2 and Rochester of USL-1. Seattle opened the round of 16 at USL-1 Portland, then won at home against Kansas City of MLS and advanced to the title game with a 2-1 extra-time win over Houston of MLS on Tuesday.

Before the semifinals, U.S. Soccer had announced that United would host the title game if it advanced, and that if Rochester advanced it would visit the Seattle-Houston winner.

“I’ve spoken with other teams that have made bids for finals who thought that they were going to win the bid, and our bid was twice – and in some cases up to three times – the size financially of those bids,” Hanauer said. “I’m also fairly confident that if D.C. United’s bid was the same as ours, that they’re going to lose a significant amount of money on the game. That’s a bit curious to me. But yes, without question I’m very comfortable that we made a very aggressive bid.”

Seattle planned to hold the championship game at Qwest, after playing earlier cup games at Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila.

Hanauer said Starfire had been used because Sounders FC prefers playing in a 4,000-seat stadium that’s bursting at the seams rather than a 30,000-seat facility with empty seats.

The club has sold out all of its regular-season home games at Qwest. However, Cup games aren’t part of the season-ticket package and the early rounds of the single-elimination tournament don’t allow much time to promote what are usually mid-week games.

The use of Starfire became controversial locally and across the league. Local fans who couldn’t get tickets were unhappy. And so were all three visiting MLS teams, who complained about Starfire’s artificial surface, which is older and slicker than the FieldTurf at Qwest.

Houston coach Dominic Kinnear was the most pointed.

“I think we need to stop playing on synthetic surfaces,” he said. “I give the crowd a ton of credit: It is a great atmosphere. But all the superficial stuff is below what these guys should be playing on. … We have a guy (Brian Mullan) who has a possible fractured ankle because he gets caught in the turf.”

Sounders coach Sigi Schmid acknowledged that the Starfire surface is inferior to the one at Qwest, but he stopped short of calling it dangerous.

Hanauer said Wednesday that replacing the turf is “a possibility.” He noted that Sounders FC does not own the complex, but that the club and Starfire regularly discuss ways to make it better.

“At some point we might together decide that that’s a good idea, but it’s not going to be because opposing MLS coaches don’t like it,” he said. “It would be because it makes sense for the tournament, for Starfire, for the Sounders and all the more pertinent parties involved.”

Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808