No personality issues, no locker room rifts and rarely is there the constraint of a league salary cap. Just flip a coin for first pick, fill the roster and let the games begin.
However, when fantasy becomes reality, the equation is much different, much more complex. What’s more, when you’re playing the world’s game, then the list of player possibilities is positively endless.
Such is the world of Sounders FC.
There is a blank canvass and a world of players on the palate on which to dab the brush.
It’s science. It’s art. Sometimes it’s a gut feeling.
In Seattle’s case, building a team began with Adrian Hanauer tapping Chris Henderson for technical director. Soon will come the coach, and all will be of like minds.
“We want to build a management team where their philosophy is in alignment,” says Hanauer. “Then we all try to decide if the players are in alignment with us.”
There is no single blueprint for how to build a successful team. Some are built through spine, the middle of the lineup from back to front. Others originate with defense, or a key veteran or a gifted young gun.
Man in the Middle
In signing Kasey Keller, Sounders FC brass has yet to show their hand because he fits several of those scenarios. He’s a leader, on and off the field, who anchors the middle of the defense.
Alan Hinton, who built both successful and entertaining Sounders teams of the past, says getting Keller was key.
“I’ve always admired him, from the day he went to the lion’s den and played at Millwall,” Hinton says. “Their fans scare the daylights out of everyone, but he went to that tough part of London and came out great.
“Really, everywhere he’s gone have been tough jobs, but he’s done the job and always been extremely positive,” adds Hinton. “Building a club around people like Kasey Keller is pretty smart.”
Hanauer realizes that these are human beings and not robots. Not every individual will be in lock-step with others.
“There’s occasionally room for a troubled genius because they’re out there,” he says. “A philosophy doesn’t have to be rigid; you’re managing people and individual cases. Sometimes what makes them so successful is what makes them different: their drive, their passion, their quirkiness.”
It’s in the Details
Paramount to making sound decisions is getting good information.
Henderson has assembled bountiful files on MLS players, those he played with or against over 11 seasons and those he scouted while an assistant coach at Kansas City. Those files remain open and have now expanded to include those players he and Hanauer have seen on their missions abroad.
Henderson’s notes go beyond ‘fast with good left foot.’ There are details on how the player runs, how he times his runs and they work in conjunction with other players.
They research his past, both on and off the field. They ask around about his friends, his offseason activities and his history of keeping fit or recovering from injury.
Ideally, Henderson and Hanauer will get to spend quality time with each prospect. “A couple days with the players is optimal. Next best, flying in to see the player for a short visit.” In some instances, they may need to settle for a long conversation or contacting numerous teammates or ex-coaches who can provide ample feedback.
Bottom line: “We won’t sign a player without information,” Hanauer says.
Getting to Know You
In putting together the record-setting NASL Sounders squad of 1980, Hinton personally knew most of the key acquisitions. It was important to him and it was important that the players also learn about him and Seattle. They trusted him and, once here, they thrived.
“I see many of those guys—Roger Davies, Tommy Hutchison, David Nish—and they all say it was the best times of their life. They loved Seattle. They still do.”
Getting comfortable in a new city, in turn, helps a player fit into the team. With several USL Sounders expected to be signed by the MLS club, the holdovers can help ease the transition for the new arrivals.
Of course, not every player signed is going to start, let alone play a prominent part.
“We want leaders, but not everybody can be a leader,” Henderson points out. “They just need to play their role.”
In the end, despite all the interviews and volumes of information collected on individuals, Hanauer says perfection is the goal, yet not every shot always hits the mark.
“The players we sign may not have every characteristic we’re looking for, and we’re not going to get it right every time,” admits Hanauer. “But even with 80 percent, we will have a solid core for the team.
“Maybe those core guys will convince the outsiders to join them on the inside, to get them rowing in the same direction,” he says. “The more guys that we get rowing in the same direction, the better this team will be.”