For many Sounders FC fans, March 19 can’t come soon enough. For those that have followed the team to two USL First Division crowns with whispers of the MLS in the background and those whose hearts were broken in1983 when the NASL club folded.
Majority owner Joe Roth felt the same way when MLS Commissioner Don Garber announced in November of 2007 that Seattle was awarded an expansion franchise.
Now with the lights ready to shine, he’s not so sure.
“It’s actually coming too quickly. I was ready to start last year, but now it feels like it’s coming about a month too soon,” Roth said at the clubs preseason game against the Colorado Rapids last week. “Between getting players and getting them cleared and getting them off injury it seems like it’s about a month early.”
Roth, the Hollywood producer with a love for the world’s game, combined with former USL Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer, comedian Drew Carey and Seattle icon Paul Allen, through Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, to create an ownership group that has since become the benchmark for expansion franchises.
Since Day One, all have had defined roles and they have all exceeded expectations in fulfilling those roles throughout the process of building the Sounders FC from scratch a mere 16 months ago.
“The roles are exactly as we all figured in the first place,” Roth said. “(Vulcan is) operating the team. Adrian Hanauer as general manager and owner is in charge of players and putting the team on the field. Drew is a combination of cheerleader and the head of the democracy. And my job is overseeing all of it and doing the coordination with the league.”
Carey’s role as cheerleader has never been clearer than it has been this week. With appearances on Live with Regis and Kelly, CBS’s Early Show, CNN and ESPN splattered throughout his calendar, Carey has turned the national spotlight to the club in and out of the sports world.
The host of The Price is Right has played an integral role in involving fans in the process and adding the Sound Wave, a 53-piece marching band, to the mix. He is the chairman of the Sounders FC Alliance, the club’s member association and has made the Sounders FC fan experience unique among American professional sports.
“I was careful because Seattle is not Hollywood and I didn’t want to have a Hollywood influence,” said Roth, who met with Carey over lunch and decided then and there to include Carey’s passion in the ownership group. “But Drew is not Hollywood either. He’s an everyman and a real devoted soccer advocate so I thought he would be an asset and he’s turned out to be much more of an asset than I had planned.”
Carey’s passion for soccer may be exceeded by Hanauer, who was owner and general manager of the USL Sounders for seven years. He vowed to span the globe for soccer talent along with technical director Chris Henderson and has not disappointed, bringing in players from four continents to make up the roster.
“I never thought we’d be bringing in players from around the world,” Roth said. “I figured we’d be getting the expansion players, the college players and the best from the Sounders, but we’ve been getting players from all over the place.”
Roth acted as chairman for Twentieth Century Fox, Caravan Pictures and Walt Disney before starting Revolution Studios, which was an arm of Sony Pictures until 2007. He is now a producer for Sony Pictures and is one of the more well-respected names in Hollywood. He compares the start of the Sounders FC to the movie-making process.
“It’s a little bit like a movie. When you make a movie you hope people will like it. Most of the time it goes OK, sometimes not as well as you like, but every once in a while, for nothing you did, it hits a chord that surprises you and becomes a cultural phenomenon,” he said. “It feels a little bit like that is going on here. Now, we’ll have to play well, but if we play well and put on a good show it feels like there’s an unlimited amount of upside here.”
The Sounders FC open their inaugural season tomorrow at 6 at Qwest Field against the New York Red Bulls. The game can be seen on ESPN2 and will be carried on 97.3 KIRO FM.
Check back tomorrow for the final installment of the season preview.