As the Sounders FC embarks on the offseason after their second season in MLS, Seattle owner/GM Adrian Hanauer took the time last week to reflect on the year behind him and look forward to the year ahead.
The architect of the Sounders two US Open Cup winning teams has a busy winter ahead with the looming expansion draft November 24, the re-entry drafts on December 8 and 15 and the MLS SuperDraft January 13, on top of the possibility of adding players on the transfer market or through the Sounders development system.
All this leading up to the club’s third season in 2011.
Q: What is your assessment of the 2010 season?
Hanauer: We are still a young team. I think that sometimes because of our own high expectations and the success of the first year we forget about that. We do feel like we improved in some areas and that it was certainly successful, but it was not quite enough. We came into the second year thinking that our success was a little more certain than it really was and I think that was reflected in some of the early season results. It was frustrating that the first half of the season wasn’t as good as it could have been and should have been. Then you start thinking about what could have been if we had pieced together a decent first half of the season with the second half we had. Maybe then we win the Supporters’ Shield and we’re having home-field advantage. Things could have ended up a little differently. I think we learned a lot. We had to face some pretty significant adversity. We really didn’t have to face tough times and fold in there a new experience with Champions League and a lack of success in Champions League and that added to some of the learning experiences for the season. But coming out of the season I think we are a much stronger team mentally. I think some of our young players will continue on the great strides they took from year one to year two. That will only improve in year three. We just need to continue to find the right mix of veteran leadership to provide that extra intangible when some of those big games come up. That was something that was lacking in LA. We had a lot of young players that really hadn’t faced that type of game. That’s an area that I think we can improve. And we have improved because we just went through it, but we can also bring in players who have those experiences.
Q: Is the re-entry draft one way to build that element of the team?
Hanauer: You never know what players will be available through the re-entry draft, but through that, through trades and acquisitions on the transfer market, that is an area where we do need to get better.
Q: How much different is this off-season than last off-season for the Sounders FC?
Hanauer: I’m not sure it’s that much different. We had success, but not that much success. I think we have slightly different needs than we did at the beginning of last season. Then depending on what happens in the expansion draft we could have more needs than we did coming into this season. But the night after the game in LA we spent three hours starting to go through it and doing the post-mortem. The next morning in Seattle it continued. So we were well on our way to creating the path to next season.
Q: I think the view of many Sounders fans is that two of the best players in the expansion draft will come from the Sounders roster. How do you respond to that assertion?
Hanauer: That’s a positive and a negative. If we’re that deep that the next star is going to come through our expansion draft, then either we are underachieving or we have the depth to withstand that and excel in the years to come. My hunch is that a lot of teams are sitting around believing that they are really deep and that they are going to lose two players and that theirs are the best players that will be available. Everyone is dreading this and we are as well, but we know that we still are going to have a strong squad next year. It’s two tough parts – losing a quality player and losing someone from the Sounders family. We have a really tight-knit group and it always bums me out when we lose people in the organization, whether it is players, coaches or staff.
Q: Do you expect that most of the players from the 2010 season will be back in 2011? How would you expect to fill the other roster spots?
Hanauer: I think that is the case. We don’t feel like we need to blow up the team. We feel like we’re close. So I would expect the majority of the team back. We accumulated some draft picks, so we have four picks in the first two rounds. Foreign acquisitions are also possible, but more possible now because of the green cards acquired by Montero and Zakuani. There is also the possibility of players coming from our youth system and there are possible trades, but that is not usually a way to add players to the roster as much as it is just an exchange.
Q: You mention the youth system. How do you determine whether or not to sign players from the Academy?
Hanauer: Our objective is to only sign players out of our youth system if they are within a couple of years of stepping on the field and contributing. We aren’t very interested in signing a player and waiting four or five years to step in and contribute because if that is the case he should probably go to college and if he’s ready at that point he is still our homegrown product and we can plug him in at that point. But an evolving tool for us is the reserve league. That will grow in importance over time and will provide that platform for a lot of the youth players. You can get them games through that system then you have the development structure that will be better for developing soccer players than the college system. I think the college system is great for developing good balanced individuals, but if you’re trying to become a professional soccer player, playing soccer for 11 months straight and getting 30 games a year is going to be a better development structure.
Q: So, you’d expect someone more like Tristan Bowen, who trained two years with the Galaxy before seeing significant playing time this season, than Andy Najar, who stepped in right away at 17 and won the MLS Rookie of the Year?
Hanauer: There are more Tristan Bowens that need to ease into it slowly than Andy Najars, who can jump in and be rookie of the year. It’s a big jump from playing U-18 Academy to playing with grown men in a major league.
Q: Where do you see the greatest need for improvement?
Hanauer: I think we’re pretty solid across every position. You’re always looking to upgrade, but to me, the biggest issue is mentality and some experience. Guys that can come in and help get the most out of their teammates. We have room for improvement. We need to be tighter defensively. We need to finish our chances better. We just need to be that much better quality-wise on the field and I think that extra edge is mentality, for the most part. I think this group, given the right mentality, could have achieved more.
Q: What is your outlook for 2011?
Hanauer: I think there is reason to be optimistic for next year, but we’re not going to rest on the current roster. We know we need to make some changes.