By Ridge Mahoney
The part of his job that Seattle general manager Adrian Hanauer utterly dreads is fast approaching, and he’s powerless to avoid it.
When the Sounders set foot on CenturyLink Field Sunday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN Deportes) trailing the Los Angeles Galaxy, 3-0, in the Western Conference finals, Hanauer will suffer. An imposing deficit is not the source of his pain; instead, his angst stems from the games themselves. All of them.
“I talk the big talk about staying pretty even,” says Hanauer, whose association with team extends back a decade to its United Soccer Leagues days. “But you can ask anyone who works with me and I’m miserable.”
Anyone would include owner Joe Roth and technical director Chris Henderson and head coach Sigi Schmid, and just about everybody connected to the Sounders. Modest in height and dress, bespectacled in the manner of a dourly efficient accountant, Hanauer is a savvy businessman whose family investments include manufacturing, food production, and technology. He’s sharp, organized, insightful.
Come game time, he undergoes a powerful metamorphosis into extreme fandom. He goes a bit batty.
“My stomach hurts, I turn into a different person,” says Hanauer. “If we lost, I’m just miserable until about 48 hours later. The games absolutely drive me insane. Maybe I’ll stop going to the games and just do all the other stuff.”
He reveled in the Sounders’ first playoff triumph a week ago Wednesday when they beat Real Salt Lake, 1-0, to take the semifinal series by the same score, then plunged back into the abyss at Home Depot Center four days later as the Galaxy rolled to its commanding 3-0 lead.
“Quite frankly, I’ve been mentioning to Chris and Sigi and even Joe Roth recently that I absolutely love my job,” says Hanauer, 46, whose passion for the game began at age 8 as a fan of the old North American Soccer League Sounders. “I love the culture-building, the chemistry-building, the strategy, the player scouting, the contract negotiations, the training sessions. I love all of it. I absolutely have learned to frickin’ hate the games.”
Like its fans and the entire Seahawks/Sounders organization, Hanauer has enjoyed the team’s astounding success at the gate and on the field during its four MLS seasons. Except for those playoff eliminations in years one, two and three. Its first season set a most frustrating tone; after winning the U.S. Open Cup, the season ended as RSL and the Galaxy played for the MLS Cup title on the Sounders’ home field.
Roth set a high standard when Seattle joined MLS, stating his team wouldn’t start out as a loser as is often the case for expansion teams. He has a kindred spirit in Hanauer.
“There’s still owners that are more or less involved, but there are definitely a bunch of owners who are all-in,” says Hanauer of the film and television executive who played college soccer at Bowling Green and Hofstra. “Joe is into it.”
Seattle repeated as Open Cup champion in 2010 and 2011, and also repeated its early playoff exit. It lost this year’s Open Cup final to Sporting Kansas City on penalty kicks, but managed to get past the first round of the playoffs for the first time when it prevailed at Rio Tinto Stadium. Then the misery returned.
“Yeah, talk about roller coasters,” says Henderson, who usually watches the games with Hanauer. “A few days before you play the Galaxy, you’ve gone further than this franchise has ever gone, and then, boom, you go there and they cut you down, 3-0.”
With just one game but a three-goal deficit standing between the Sounders and their first MLS Cup appearance, and a crowd of 40,000 expected at CenturyLink Field, the support staff – especially the maintenance crew – will be on full alert. Henderson, a former U.S. international who played overseas as well as in MLS, works closely with Hanauer but keeps his distance when the whistle blows.
“I do say there’s a few holes in some walls up in CenturyLink, but we do give each other at least one chair space,” says Henderson. “He cares that much, which is great. If he didn’t get as high and low as he does, we wouldn’t have the organization here that we have. He’s so into it and we love that.”
Whether or not the Sounders pull off the incredible and reach their first MLS Cup, Hanauer’s tenure is up for review in a unique manner. As a condition of investing in the team, fellow minority owner and genial funny-man Drew Carey empowered the team’s fans to vote thumbs-up or thumbs-down on whether to retain the GM. As the playoffs unfold, those votes are being cast and tabulated.
Like fidgeting and flailing during a game while powerless to affect the outcome, Hanauer can’t do much about the vote other than ride out the process and wait for the result.
“Someone, somewhere probably knows what the results are, but I don’t,” he says. “We’ve had good participation in terms of the voting. I don’t know whether I’ll still be general manager in addition to an owner or I’ll just be an owner. Not knowing makes it easier.”