Feels Like Home

Feels Like Home

In coming weeks the Sounders FC roster will swell in numbers. There will be 10 players loaded during the MLS Expansion Draft on Nov. 26 and, according to recent comments by majority owner Joe Roth, more acquisitions are in the works.
Just because you’re a first-year franchise doesn’t mean you must act like it.

In coming weeks the Sounders FC roster will swell in numbers. There will be 10 players loaded during the MLS Expansion Draft on Nov. 26 and, according to recent comments by majority owner Joe Roth, more acquisitions are in the works.

When those athletes begin arriving, Chris Henderson wants them to feel reassured, to feel like their home. Because if you feel comfortable in your surroundings, you play better.

“We’ve been preparing everything behind the scenes, so that when we do pick our players and put them together, they’re going to have every resource to be successful,” says Henderson, Seattle’s technical director.

Henderson played 11 seasons in MLS and, although he was never part of an expansion team, he spoke with those who were. It could be characterized as chaotic at times, especially early on.

San Jose had nine months to prepare for its inaugural campaign. Real Salt Lake squeezed its preparations into eight months. By comparison, Sounders FC was launched 16 months prior to its debut in 2009.

“Expansion teams tend to always be a work in progress,” says Henderson. “If we can at least make it feel like this has been a franchise for years, that’s really important for the players.”

Infrastructure is critical, and Henderson says Seattle’s facilities are taking shape, hopefully with time to spare before preseason training.

The team’s training grounds at Starfire (pictured) are taking shape. Construction is underway on the locker room, players’ lounge and fitness center.

“To sit in the lounge and have breakfast before training, then the players have a feeling that this is home,” Henderson says. “Having the staff in place, everything from coaching staff, to the medical staff, the trainer, the equipment manager to the team administrator—that’s big.

Other than the three players already signed and any USL Sounders coming into the fold, the majority of our players are arriving in a new city. Henderson and the team staff will provide them and their families with information for getting settled.

Many players will choose to live close to the training complex in Tukwila, Henderson says, yet they will receive packets featuring resources for everything they need for daily life, be it a realtor, schools or banks.

“I really feel we’re on track,” says Henderson. “Most things are falling into place, but just to be safe we allowed for a one-month cushion before players begin arriving. We don’t like surprises.”

Here They Come
Imagine that you converted your 401k or sold some stock–before the recent Wall Street dive, that is. Gosh, that would’ve been sweet.

Well, just as rich is the notion that Seattle is safely sailing toward its maiden season in MLS, all the while watching seven cities scrambling for the next two expansion spots.

“I am definitely happy to be sitting on the sidelines for this round of expansion,” says Sounders FC Adrian Hanauer. “It is an amazing group of owners and cities bidding for
franchises and any of the groups will make great additions to the league.

“From a Seattle standpoint, a natural geographic rivalry would also be exciting,” he adds. “But, we will have to wait and see how the process pans out.”

Portland and Vancouver, home to Sounders rivals in both the NASL and USL days, are bidding. So, too, are Atlanta, Miami, Montreal, Ottawa and St. Louis.

“MLS was a big idea that is getting bigger and stronger,” says the president of Vulcan Sports and entertainment, Tod Leiweke. “We knew the league was headed towards great things and the significant interest in teams by so many substantial groups is validation of those great things.”

Hanauer knows the sting of just missing the cut. He first tried to bring MLS to Seattle in 2005, when Salt Lake City won out.

Sounders FC is now approaching the first anniversary of its founding. Philadelphia got the nod earlier this year, and begins play in 2010.

Not since the league was launched in 1996 has there been so many markets rushing to get in the door.

“Major League Soccer has been gaining momentum for a number of years,” notes Hanauer. “From the national broadcasting deals to the Adidas partnership; from new owners and great venues coming into the league to the improved quality of play and stars coming to play in MLS. All of these things have added up to an increase in momentum and more interest in our league.”

Step by Step
In North America, the rise to first division status is largely determined by factors off the field. In the Old World, they do things the old-fashioned way.

Making a splash this fall are two relatively fast climbers, England’s Hull City and Germany’s TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. Yes, the infusion of capital made an impact, yet both clubs have proven penny-wise in hiring management and players.

It took Hull City 104 years to reach the top flight. Now they seem to have their sights set on playing in the Champions League.

After winning three in a row, the Tigers have reached third in the Premier League, three points back of heavyweights Chelsea and Liverpool. Since moving into a new stadium in 2002, Hull has overhauled more than 50 clubs in gaining promotion from the .

They finished that first season in Kingston Communications Stadium in the middle of League two, the fourth tier of British football. Back-to-back runner-up finishes got the tigers into the second tier, the Championship, by 2005. Last year they won a playoff to earn a spot in the EPL.

Just as astounding is the ascent of Hoffenheim. Fifteen years ago it was an amateur side, and a rather ordinary one at that. The Hoffe moved up either levels to the nation’s fourth division by 2000. Two years ago, it was in the third level. This weekend Hoffenheim hosts Hamburg, with the winner taking over first place in the Bundesliga.

Hull, then Hoffenheim. Next thing we know, the Rays will win the World Series.

Turn On, Tune In
Sat., Oct. 25
4 a.m. (PT), Setanta, Everton v Manchester United
Why Watch: Record it because Rooney’s in rare form, returning to where it all began

6:30 p.m. (PT), HDNet, Colorado v Real Salt Lake
Why Watch: Winner clinches playoff berth

Sun, Oct. 26
6:30 (PT) Replay, Setanta, Chelsea v Liverpool
Why Watch: The Battle of Britain, for top spot in the EPL

8 a.m. (PT), Fox Soccer Channel, West Ham v Arsenal
Why Watch: Delicious London derby, with Gunners coming off rousing midweek win

1 p.m. (PT), Setanta, Marseille-PSG
Why Watch: It’s considered France’s biggest rivalry, and Marseille’s running 2nd

4 p.m. (PT), Univision, America-Chivas
Why Watch: Yet another heated rivalry, albeit between teams at bottom of their group

Wed, Oct. 29
1 p.m. (PT), Setanta, Liverpool v Portsmouth
Why Watch: Can Crouch return to Anfield in style?

3 p.m. (PT), FSC, Hull v Chelsea
Why Watch: It’s got to rate as the biggest match in Tigers’ 104-year history

Thr., Oct 30
4:30 p.m. (PT), ESPN2, New England v Chicago
Why Watch: MLS Cup Playoffs begin with Revs meeting Fire for 6th time in 7 years

Throw-Ins
Joining the USL Sounders for a first-hand viewing of the River Plate-Boca Juniors derby in Buenos Aires last Sunday was none other than Drew Carey. A Sounders FC minority owner, Carey arrived in Argentina along with several staff members and their spouses from The Price Is Right, all for the sole purpose of seeing one of the world’s most storied rivalries…Incidentally, the Sounders return home Tuesday. They have already won twice on their farewell tour. First came a 1-0 win over a reserve team of Estudiantes de La Plata. Even more impressive was a 3-2 victory over Newell’s Old Boys, third in the first division table and featuring many of their starters…Lake Washington Youth Soccer has been given clearance by the Metro King County Council to build between seven and nine new non-lighted soccer fields on the southern portion of Redmond’s Sixty Acres Park…Washington State broke into the Soccer America women’s national rankings at No. 22. The Cougars travel to Oregon and Oregon State this weekend, then host the Huskies on Halloween. Seattle Pacific (8) and Western Washington (13) remain among the Div. II Top 20. Puget Sound is sixth while Whitworth women are 16th and the men 20th in Div. III…The UW men are paid a visit by UCLA on Friday night at 7 and San Diego State Sunday afternoon at 1.
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