To put it lightly, 2013 was not the season Adrian Hanauer had hoped for.
The owner and general manager of Sounders FC, Hanauer had lofty goals for the season, buoyed by the signing of Obafemi Martins and the midseason addition of Clint Dempsey, adding to a team that had reached the Western Conference Championship series in 2012.
However, Hanauer didn’t see the team he envisioned take the field more than a handful of times as Head Coach Sigi Schmid started a different lineup in nearly every match because of injuries, suspensions and international call-ups. The resulting record of 15-12-7 and elimination in the Western Conference Semifinals left Hanauer with a single emotion.
“Clearly this was a very frustrating season for all of us – in the organization and our fans. Probably the most frustrating of the five years that I’ve been with the club and maybe the most frustrating in the 12 years that I’ve been with the Sounders,” said Hanauer, who also owned the USL club beginning in 2002. “There are obviously a lot of different factors that play into those sorts of frustrations and really on Friday morning after the Portland series we went to work trying to fix those deficiencies.”
Those frustrations came to Hanauer on many different fronts.
To start the season, Seattle went winless through its first five matches at 0-3-2. That stretch was followed by a 7-2-1 run that lifted Sounders FC back into contention and by September 13, a five-game winning streak capped by a 2-0 win over Real Salt Lake had Sounders FC in the lead in the chase for the Supporters’ Shield. That would be the last victory, though, and Seattle fell to fourth in the West by the end of the regular season.
“Certainly starting the season as we did puts you in a giant hole in the league, gets everybody on edge a month into the season. Then you add in a little bit of a tense locker room, whether you call it bad luck or bad results, feeling like the results weren’t falling for us,” Hanauer said. “Our team wasn’t settled when the season began. We were still trying to do transactions and get the cap managed and in order. Once we went on the bad run at the end of the season, you could cut the tension with a knife. I think everybody was on edge. It’s just this combination of issues and increased expectations from year-to-year.”
Over the offseason, Sounders FC added several key pieces that would play big roles for the team, re-acquiring Lamar Neagle in a trade with the Montreal Impact and signing former Liverpool defender Djimi Traore. Along with the club’s first Homegrown Player in DeAndre Yedlin, Seattle added three players that would all start 25 or more matches. Yedlin burst onto the scene and was an All-Star selection in his rookie season while Traore was solid at centerback and Neagle was an offensive highlight in a year when the projected starters were in and out of lineup, finishing second on the team with a career high eight goals.
However, what stands out to Hanauer in hindsight is the timing of the additions of Martins and Dempsey.
After his departure from Levante in Spain’s La Liga, Martins flew to Seattle and played against the Portland Timbers on March 16 before even one training session, only to turn back around and fly to Nigeria for matches with the Nigerian National Team. He wouldn’t make his first start until April 20, scoring the lone goal against the Colorado Rapids in the first win of the season.
He finished the year even with Neagle for second on the team with eight goals, but started only 17 matches because of injuries, something Hanauer attributes to the rigorous schedule he maintained over the course of a calendar year.
“I feel bad for Oba because I know he got some crap for not being on the field at the end of the season and for us being able to keep him healthy,” said Hanauer, noting that Martins played 50 games in a 12-month span. “To some degree, no wonder his body was breaking down a little bit. I suppose if I have any regret as far as Oba goes, we probably should’ve figured out a way to shut him down for three, four, five weeks and let him rest his body. Again, another example of a guy coming in not getting a full preseason and having played so many games that he just needed a rest.”
As with Martins, Dempsey’s acquisition saw immediate returns in the win column, but eventually that adrenaline wore off and an injury stalled his season as well, limiting the U.S. National Team star to six starts and one goal.
His signing looked like a shoe-in for big success for the Sounders. Seattle went 7-1-0 in the first eight games after he was introduced in front of a raucous crowd at CenturyLink Field on August 3. But then when the team struggled to regain its identity, it stumbled to the finish line, grasping to a playoff spot after a defensive breakdown in the final stretch of the season.
“The timing sucked, although in some cases transactions happen in a certain sequence or at a certain pace and sometimes you can’t do much about that,” Hanauer said. “That’s on me to go back and think through what I could have done differently throughout the year. Did I make the right transactions? Did we make too many transactions? Did we not make enough transactions? Were there opportunities that we missed?”
Hanauer now looks to Demspey and Martins to be key building blocks for the 2014 season.
“I am looking forward to those two guys being able to put in a full year for us because I think those two guys can do a lot of damage in MLS,” he said.
All told, Hanauer graded the season a “B-minus,” with definite potential for improvement in the 2014 season. The club was able to reach the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, becoming the first MLS club to oust a Mexican club in the knockout round of the tournament. It also posted a club-best home record of 10-2-5.
The club has an MLS record three-straight U.S. Open Cup titles to its credit and has set new attendance records in each season. However, after five years, Hanauer is still vying first and foremost for the MLS Cup trophy and he knows that is the standard set by the fans, as well.
“It feels like there’s more pressure in this town to win a championship than any other town,” he said. “I feel that pressure as a general manager, as an owner and as a fan.”