It is a big week for the Sounders FC and Major League Soccer. After eight weeks, Seattle is 3-3-4 and preparing to host the Portland Timbers in the first meeting of the Cascadia Cup for 2011. With the intense northwest rivalry on the top of the mind and the recent rash of injuries to high profile players around the league like Steve Zakuani, David Ferreira, Branko Boskovic and Javier Morales, I thought it was a good time to get a brief state of the Sounders update from owner/GM Adrian Hanauer.
Q: What does this week mean for you, having this game with Portland here?
Hanauer: I love the rivalry. I’m good friends with Merritt Paulson and you always want to beat your friends. But this is year three and maybe I’m too practical, but it’s three points. I want to get three points as badly as I want to get the three points against Dallas and as badly as I want to get the three points against Sporting KC. It’s exciting, because the fans are excited about it.
Q: What do you think of their fast start at 4-3-1? Does that change the meaning of the game?
Hanauer: I’m excited about how they’ve started, other than the fact that now we are playing them and I hope we can put a damper on their fast start. Merritt is a great leader and (technical director) Gavin Wilkinson has done well and John Spencer is a great choice as a coach for that market. They’ve gone out and gotten some great players. They’re going to battle every game and make every game exciting, which is good for the league. It would be great if I could say that they are expansion team and they aren’t that great and it’s almost a sure three points, but that isn’t the case. We’ll have to be on our A game.
Q: Is it more of a fan-driven rivalry than it is on the field?
Hanauer: I think at this point it is more of a fan rivalry because a lot of these players weren’t there. No matter what, it’s going to be a great rivalry because of the proximity and the cities’ rivalries against each other and some of the owners and management. The reality is that we probably have more players that are rivals between us and … Columbus or Colorado at this point.
Q: How do you feel about where the team is at 3-3-4 through 10 games?
Hanauer: I feel ok. It could always be better. Given an 0-2 start, we’re 3-1-4 after that. I think that’s decent – 13 points from eight games and a bunch of those games have been on the road. Having Steve and O’Brian White out for extended periods hurts and is going to necessitate us working harder and smarter to pick up as many points as possible. We’ve talked about having a deep roster and I believe we do have a deep roster. Now it will be up to me and Chris Henderson and Sigi to see if creatively we can do some things to help us get even better.
Q: Has the sting of losing Steve and O’Brian left you yet?
Hanauer: No. I don’t think it will until they are back on the field. Maybe the sting has left, but the stomachache and the feeling of emptiness not having them around the locker room yet is still there. Week by week, once they get back to the club and start rehabbing it will start to feel better and better. But it’s a bummer that both guys are still in the hospital and can’t be with their teammates. It’s been a tough, tough couple of weeks. I’ve tried to let them recover peacefully. I’ve checked in with them via text to let them know that if there is anything we can do as a club, we are there for them. I know they are both extremely anxious to get out of the hospital and get back to a little bit of normalcy.
Q: The timetable for O’Brian’s return has been kind of vague to this point. What is your feeling about when you expect to see him back in the lineup?
Hanauer: I would hate to speculate. It’s such an unusual situation. We’re hopeful that we will get him back at some point in the next couple of months, but we also aren’t going to force anything and the doctors aren’t going to let us force anything – it’s a serious injury.
Q: Does it make it any more difficult not knowing when you can expect him back or what the path is to get him back on the field like other injuries?
Hanauer: Mostly we’re just concerned for his well-being. These sorts of things make you realize that, although sport and our team and winning and losing is important, the well-being of our players is the most important thing. I’ve grown comfortable with letting the process evolve as it will and not being too stressed out day-to-day about when they are going to be back on the field. Stressing out about it is not going to bring them back any quicker.
Q: When you look at the transfer window in July, does the loss of these two players for a long period of time change the type of player you are looking at or even the quality of the player that you are looking at?
Hanauer: In our current structure we really have room to bring one player in. There are transactions and trades that you can do, but that’s the way we’re looking at it now. Certainly with those injuries we’re in the process of reassessing things and the more time that goes by, hopefully that means understanding timetables and needs a little bit better – who’s stepping up and who isn’t? Where do we need to add strength? We have been using that time to reassess our decisions and our search.
Q: You are off to the Board of Governors meetings. What is on the schedule for those meetings?
Hanauer: We meet three times a year and we go through a lot of things – some of which becomes public and much of which doesn’t. It’s all focused towards making our league better and stronger on the field and off the field. There are competitive issues, sponsor issues, broadcast issues, ticketing issues, community issues …
Q: You have had four players suffer long-term injuries on the field. Do you anticipate that will be a topic?
Hanauer: That’s a good question. I would hope that it comes up. It’s something of huge concern to myself. I think that it’s so bad for our league when our exciting attacking players are taken out of commission. It’s something that’s been of concern for me since I got into the league. Unfortunately, now four of the top players are down for probably the season. I know everyone on every team and in the league office is concerned about it as well. I am hopeful that we really look at different opportunities to try to come to sort of resolution and conclusion that point us back in the right direction.
The Sounders FC will kick off the Cascadia Cup match against the Timbers at 8 pm at Qwest Field. The match will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2, with the local radio call on 97.3 KIRO FM.