BY Art Thiel 06:50PM 11/11/2013

Tensions added to Sounders’ woes: Hanauer

After a tense season crashed and burned, GM Adrian Hanauer said ownership is taking its time on deciding the fate of coach Sigi Schmid and how to handle Dempsey.

Clint Dempsey revealed his Sounders jersey to majority owner Joe Roth and a raucous, sold-out Clink crowd in August before a win over Portland. That was about as good as it would be for the Sounders. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest file

Acknowledging the midseason arrival of Clint Dempsey ratcheted up locker-room tension that helped create “maybe the most frustrating season in the 12 years I’ve been with the Sounders,” general manager Adrian Hanauer said Monday that the fate of coach Sigi Schmid remains undecided.“I’d be lying if I said it was the best locker room we’ve had in the five years I’ve been here,” Hanauer said during a 40-minute teleconference with reporters. “There were some tensions at times. I think with the way our season went, it lent itself a little bit to that tension.

“Starting the season losing, then through a great stretch, then we really struggle at the end. We had players coming and going with national team duty. We add Clint late in the season, adding a new dynamic to the locker room because Clint is a strong personality. He’s going to be an absolutely fantastic personality for this team, but when you inject a strong personality in the middle of the season, it changes the dynamic a little bit.”

Steady roster upheavals, including injuries, were factors in the Sounders’ late-season spiral that saw them plummet from the summit of MLS to a single win in the final 10 games, which included losses in both legs of a playoff series to arch-rival Portland. The collapse led to some fan demands for the head of Schmid, the most successful coach in MLS history.

“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,” Hanauer said. “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 have as much to do with this as Sigi, as Chris (Henderson, sporting director), 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.”

Hanauer acknowledged that his failure to close player transactions prior to the season, and subsequent late arrivals of Dempsey and fellow international player Obafemi Martins, helped gum the works. But Hanauer was not exactly circling the wagons in full protection of Schmid.

“Sigi is a winner,” he said of the only coach the MLS Sounders have had. “To me, he’s done a fantastic job over these five years. That said, this isn’t his first rodeo. He wants to be somewhere where he’s fully appreciated and supported. I want a coach in place that’s fully appreciated and supported. We need to take this time to get there.”

Hanauer danced around whether he “fully appreciates and supports” his coach.

“(We have to be sure we) are on the same page and that there is mutual belief,” he said. “Sigi has to believe in me and the rest of the organization and know that we support him, as well. Because if I told you that I believe in him, but he doesn’t believe in me or us, then I don’t think that’s a good situation either.”

He said he and majority owner Joe Roth of Los Angeles were in agreement to take time to cool down from the collapse before making major decisions. The call will be made over the next two to three weeks, but “we’re not in any massive hurry to make quick decisions; we just want to make the right decisions.”

Questions over Schmid’s fate dominated the conversation so that player personnel matters received short shrift. He did say that Dempsey and midfielders Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans will be backbone of the franchise, but mentioned nothing about Eddie Johnson and Mauro Rosales, over whom the club holds options for next season.

Johnson was plain in his dismay over his $150,000 salary, particularly after the club put out $24 million for Dempsey, including $5 million for this season. But with the MLS’s tight salary cap, about the only way to boost him significantly would be to slot him as one of Seattle’s three designated players.

But logic dictates that before player fates are decided, the Sounders need to decide on their coach. Hanauer a couple of times made the point that the organization runs smoothly, even though Schmid has said privately that he thinks he has a few too many bosses.

“I don’t always agree with everything Sigi does,” Hanauer said. “He doesn’t always agree with the way I do my job. But we’re a super-functional organization where we work collaboratively. If you can call this season a failure, if you call this season underachieving, if you call this season adequate — whatever you say about this season — I know that we’re an organization. We win together, we succeed together, and we struggle and fail together.”

The franchise is also one of the great business successes in modern American sports history, and created much in the way of expectations. But in five years, they have won one playoff series, along with a couple of lesser, U.S. Open Cups.

In the detritus of a season with the most potential yet, the Sounders have a fan base that hopes the bosses didn’t adopt the worst aspect of the aspiration be a Yankees-like colossus: Throwing money at a problem. They threw a lot, hastily, at Dempsey and Martins, and came away in 2013 with zip.

 

 


YourThoughts

  • Gunnar

    Sigi is a complete fool. Too many bosses? He has Roth at 55% and Hanauer at 30% and that is it. No one else matters. This team needs to be blown up and it starts with Sigi, there is a reason he has been a 3 yr guy at other stops.

    • RadioGuy

      Sigi’s coaching has baffled me at times, but I don’t blame him for the team deciding to spend over $40 million in a transfer fee and a four-year contract on one domestic player, then thinking there wouldn’t be locker room chemistry problems with teammates who were earning a COMBINED $6 million with a franchise that had reached the playoffs and set attendance records every season prior to Dempsey’s arrival. Dempsey is a damned good player but he’s no Pele or even David Beckham and it wasn’t as if the Sounders NEEDED him to succeed in Seattle.

      I don’t blame Dempsey either. He’d have been a fool to turn down that kind of money, just has Tottenham Hotspur would’ve been foolish to turn down US$9 million for a player that wasn’t working out for them. Clint may have sold a few more tickets and replica jerseys, but it came at a cost of whatever locker room harmony there might have been. I hang that one on Roth and Hanauer, not Schmid.

    • Jake Reeder

      Interesting how that’s what you picked up from an article that also mentions Hanauer’s own acceptance of much of the “blame.”

  • jafabian

    At midseason I considered this season to be a building block for next season. The principles are there for an MLS Cup contender but changes are needed. If there are players who cannot support a team-first mentality but instead have a what about me approach that needs to change for the frachise to succeed. And right now it’s best for the club to build around Dempsey and Martins.

    So what if the Sounders didn’t acquire Dempsey? They were horrible before he came here, even kicking off the season with 4 losses in March. When he joined them they didn’t lose a match in August and even had a five game win streak and didn’t lose in September. Granted he was injured and had some call ups for the national team but the fact remains they had a losing record before he came here.

    Sometimes I think some players might at times tuning out the coaches. When that happens it’s time for said player, not the coach or coaches, to move on. No one player is bigger than the team or the game.

    • Jake Reeder

      So you’re talking about EJ.?

      • jafabian

        Among others but he’s chief among them. I don’t see why he had to be so public about wanting equal pay. He’s no Clint Dempsey. If he was he would have had a better career overseas than he did. The Sounders are the best option for him, both playing and financially. Not sure if he understands that. Alonso has too much of a temper as well. He hustles like no one else but his red and yellow cards are hurting the team. And that’s been going on for three seasons now.

        • Hammtime

          Agreed. There were times it just seemed like EJ pouted too much or would take a bad shot instead of passing it to an open man.
          I love Alonso but sometimes I just shake my head with all the cards.

          • Jake Reeder

            Alonso had 3 yellow cards this season. Yes, he did have 2, but one was rescinded.

          • jafabian

            He would have had more if played a full season, based on the last two seasons. And there’s no excuse for his end of the season red card.

        • Jake Reeder

          I don’t think he was asking for “equal pay,” but its got to smack a little bit when you’re team brings in a guy getting paid 40 times what you are, but you’re the team’s leading goal scorer. And its pretty arrogant to assume the Sounders were his best option, especially considering that the team had him on the transfer or trade block most of the season.

          As for Alonso, Sigi has largely built the team around him. If you though we were bad at the end of the season, imagine how much worse it would’ve been without him. Given that, I have a hard time accepting that anything he has done the last 3 years has really, genuinely, hurt the team.

          • jafabian

            No, he wasn’t asking for equal pay but he’s certainly hinting at receiving a big pay hike. He’s become the new Freddy Montero. And again, he hasn’t had the career that Clint has had. For him or anyone else having issues with Clint’s salary, get over it. It happens in pro sports. For anyone to have issues with his pay would be like the Broncos having issues with Peyton Manning’s salary.

            The team needed Alonso at the end of the season when they needed to win games or be eliminated from the post season and where was he? Serving a red card suspension. If you look back at the last three years he’s always leading the club in yellow and/or red cards. Again, great player, great hustler. Rein in the ego. If he can’t I bet the club can trade him for good value.

          • Jake Reeder

            I will say that EJ was worth at least as much as Obafemi Martins this season. Probably more. As for Alonso, he missed one match this year due to discipline, and that one match had vey little impact on the ultimate outcome of the season

  • Hammtime

    You could see it on the field as it looked like 11 individuals out there instead of a team. So who was the cancer? I have my ideas.

  • Matt712

    Eddie Johnson’s very public outcry for more money was ill-mannered, ill-timed and wholly ill-conceived. And probably no more coincidental to the derailment of the Sounders’ season than the omission of his name in Hanauer’s comments above.

    • Jake Reeder

      the strong anti-EJ sentiments among pockets of Sounderland residents is fascinating to me. That people would suggest an otherwise innocuous goal celebration no one on the team really seemed to care about somehow lead to the derailment of the season is a fascinating insight into the anti-EJ camp. It is as though the concept of a self-absorbed professional athlete were foreign to us. Self-absorbed strikers are, of course, one of the fundamental archetypes of soccer the world over. That we have one of them seems to genuinely alarm people.

      If you’ve seen the locally produced “American Football” documentary, you get an interesting snippet into what motivates EJ. frankly, its nothing extraordinary, and any coach worth his salt ought to know how to integrate such a personality is into his team.

      There is also the very real possibility that the Sounders were “shopping” EJ most of the season. The fact that he was called into the USMNT for the knockout stages of the Gold Cup in July – right about the time the transfer window was opening, was pretty telling. It’s hard for me to believe that EJ was completely unaware of his essentially being for sale. It’s pretty easy for us to sit back and judge a man based upon how we think he should have reacted to something, quite another to be someone who requires EJ’s level of confidence to perform at his job.

      At any rate, those wishing, assuming, or otherwise expecting EJ to be gone by the start of next season are very likely, if not damn near certain, to get their wish. I just hope we don’t regret the decision next season.

      • Garlicman

        As a committed and faithful fan, my beef with Eddie is not his desire for more money, but rather his not seeming to give 100% effort all the time. As a professional in the top flight, that IS your job! It’s especially evident when you see him next to people like Dempsey and Lamar. When Eddie wants to play, he’s amazing, but when he’s half hearted it is very frustrating to everyone. Just my two cents.

        • Jake Reeder

          ah, yes, the tried and true “EJ is lazy” narrative.

          I would give these “memes” (for lack of a better word) that arise amongst Sounderland residents a lot more credence if I felt they were actually fact-based assessments. We’re a rather finicky lot, and it would make for an interesting anthropological study of our culture to research how these beliefs begin. I can tell you that EJ seems to have inherited the “lazy” mantle from Montero.

          • Joe Fan

            I have no beef against EJ, but noticed long ago that he has a mannerism during games of appearing disinterested or not giving 100% effort. Whether that is actually true or not I don’t know, but I definitely noticed that it appeared to be happening on the pitch.

      • Matt712

        Point taken, Jake. But regardless of Scott Levy’s excellent doc, IMO, EJ went beyond the (not so foreign to us at all) concept of self-absorbed athlete, and into the realm of biting the hand that has fed him and given him the opportunity to resurrect an all but dead pro soccer career. To EJ’s credit, he made the most of that opportunity on the field. What bothers me is his seeming lack of patience off it. My guess is he heard a number he didn’t like. And that’s when the trouble started.

        I wouldn’t consider the ‘pay me’ gesture as an otherwise innocuous goal celebration nor would I assume that no one else on the team really cared about it (whether it was just a one time thing or a series of escalating messages, Tweets and Instagrams of insinuating quotes from Malcom X and the like). This includes the the team’s GM and whoever it was who booted EJ out of practice in late October.

        Your point about the possible shopping of EJ and his subsequent possible reaction is interesting and a good one. Believe it or not, I don’t have a beef with Eddie’s play (or work ethic) on the field. He’s been solid if not spectacular at times. My wish and (possibly naive) expectation was that, moving forward, the Sounders would have this trio of deadly scorers (counting Martins) that, by most accounts, are just fine with each other personally (Johnson even lobbying for Dempsey’s acquisition). But, it’s no small feet to accommodate three egos of that size as well supply the salaries they demand – let alone one prima donna.

        And at the end of the day, who do you think is the odd man out (if there must be one), the guy who just got the 4th largest salary in MLS history, or the the guy who used center stage amongst his teammates and fans to call out his bosses? Either way, EJ was around 22nd in scoring, and team is no closer to the Cup than they were without him. Regret? Regret what?