By Ridge Mahoney
On a conference call with reporters Monday, Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer answered a lot of questions, with which Seattle is rife, without providing many definitive answers.
He dragged out the replies, which isn’t his customary style. He can ramble on, certainly, given the slightest prompting, but in doing so he’s normally informative and insightful. This is a sharp, articulate man, successful on several business fronts, and utterly devoted to his team as well as the game.
When the Sounders were sinking financially and in danger of going out of business in 2001, he transformed himself from recreational player and fan to owner by persuading his family to invest some of its considerable wealth to keep the team, then in the USL, alive. He retained a part ownership in the team when it made the jump to MLS and attends just about every game. Anyone connected to the Sounders knows who he is.
But in this setting, a few days after a stumbling team fell out of the playoffs at the feet of archrival Portland, Hanauer spoke at length while not saying much. “Uhms” got a lot of play, as did “well” and “you know.” One response clocked at 3 minutes and 40 seconds, two more ran over three minutes, and none were shorter than a minute. Significant gaps of silence stretched out the carefully measured phrases. The man sounded concerned and confused and with good reason.
“Clearly this was a very frustrating season for all of us in the organization -- our fans,” he said in his opening remarks. “Probably the most frustrating of the five years that I’ve been with the club, maybe the most frustrating in the 12 years I’ve been with the Sounders. There are obviously lots of different factors that play into those sorts of frustrations and really on Friday morning after the Portland series we went to work on trying to fix those deficiencies.”
He stated that no decisions have been made regarding head coach Sigi Schmid nor the players. The team hasn’t come up with those answers, and Hanauer is also handcuffed by the stark realization that he doesn’t really know how his team won only one of its last 10 games, nor what the hell to do about it. On matters of which he could be honest and forthright, as usual, he was.
“There will be a bunch of questions about Sigi and the coaching status,” he said, “but just like every year in the past we’ve taken some time after the season ends to decompress a little bit, to catch our breath, to meet and talk through what went well and what didn’t go well, and what the solutions are to what didn’t go well. This year will be no different. We’re going to go through that process. We’re going through that process as of now.”
All this sounds terribly moot. If Schmid had the backing of management, one would think said management would be backing him publicly. Hanauer spoke of discussing philosophies and ideas, but the bottom line is winning the league title, which in five seasons Seattle has failed to do. Unless Schmid can restore that confidence with clear, bold pronouncements of how to fix what’s broken, he’ll be gone.
Jettisoning Schmid won’t clear up clouds of concern about why keeper Michael Gspurning lost his form late in the season, or whether rewarding Eddie Johnson’s “pay-me” gesture with a DP salary -- possibly exchanging the slot currently filled by gimpy midfielder Mauro Rosales --- would be a prudent measure, or how the back line looked so inept against the Timbers while surrendering five goals.
At some point, perhaps later this week, there will be meetings with principal owner Joe Roth to discuss the season and what to do going forward. Three weeks ago, Roth -- who rarely speaks to the press -- texted his support of Schmid to si.com thusly: “This guy is the winningest coach in MLS history. I don’t think he’s at fault here.”
How the team was constructed and then re-constructed -- by the midseason arrivals of Obafemi Martins, Shalrie Joseph, Adam Moffat, and especially Clint Dempsey -- only to fall apart in the most critical phase of the season falls squarely on Schmid and his coaching staff, Hanauer, and technical director Chris Henderson.
“I know that everybody is always looking for a hide or a scalp and the head coach makes the big bucks, so the fingers are usually pointed at him,” said Hanauer. “But, I’m the general manager and ultimately it’s my organization, so I don’t see that many fingers pointed at me, which, to be honest, kind of frustrates me.
“I think to myself, I have as much to do with this as Sigi, as Chris [Henderson], as the rest of the coaches, as the support staff, as the players. I know how complicated it is to have a successful organization and win championships.” The Sounders hired Schmid after he led Columbus to its only MLS Cup victory in 2008 and he has since guided Seattle to five straight playoff appearances. It won the U.S. Open Cup in his first three MLS seasons and his regular-season record is 74-44-44. He’s the all-time leader in wins with 187. But in the playoffs, he is 4-7-2 and only once has reached the conference finals (a 4-2 aggregate loss to the eventual champion Galaxy last year).
"To me, he’s done a fantastic job over these five years,” said Hanauer. “That said, this isn’t his first rodeo and he wants to be somewhere where he’s fully appreciated and supported. I want a coach in place that’s full appreciated and supported. We need to take this time to get there. Once we get there, then it’s full steam ahead.”
Hanauer injected some comic relief when asked what grade he would give his team for the 2013 season. “B-minus,” he replied, then added, “Anyone think it’s an F or an A?”
There were no takers at either end of that spectrum, yet while in terms of attendance and business parameters Seattle is top of the class, its postseason grade needs remedial schooling.