There were two overriding themes at the Sounders FC Alliance Business Meeting on Monday night – contrition and a vow to do better.
The club highlighted the successes of the 2013 season – reaching the playoffs and breaking attendance records for a fifth consecutive season and the individual successes of several players. However, those highlights weren’t as prevalent as the club’s desire to improve on and off the field in 2014 and beyond.
“I think the first thing on my mind is an apology. I’m going to apologize for the way the season ended,” said Majority Owner Joe Roth in his opening remarks. “The passion on the field didn’t match the passion in the stands. That’s horrible.”
With Alliance Council President Paul Cox acting as master of ceremonies, Alliance Members heard from Roth and Owner/General Manager Adrian Hanauer, along with Head Coach Sigi Schmid, Owner Drew Carey, Vice President of Business Operations Bart Wiley and several other figures from the Sounders FC front office, addressing issues in ticketing, the relationship between the Seahawks and Sounders FC, recognizing Sounders history prior to 2009, mass transit, security and even coaching decisions.
However, Roth’s opening remarks set the tone for the evening as the technical staff plotted the course for elevating the level of success that the team saw over the first five seasons.
Last year, Roth talked about doing everything he could to put a winning team on the field. He said the team needed a player of the quality of Robbie Keane to help put them over the top and vowed to find that player. After signing Obafemi Martins in March, then later Clint Dempsey, he brought in those players.
This time around, he talked not about what he could do to help the team with his wallet and instead vowed to change the chemistry of the locker room to more closely resemble the steely-eyed focus on team success brought by the leaders of the team.
“It’s our responsibility, collectively, to put a team on the field that has chemistry. What happened in those last 10 games, there are no excuses. The chemistry of the team both in the locker room and on the field wasn’t there. There were too many players thinking about themselves over and above the value of the team.”
Hanauer went on with an overview of the highs and lows of the season, but had particular emphasis on the things that he sees as needing improvement. Among those that he mentioned were the unsettled roster, earning the fewest wins across all competitions in a calendar year and the worst road record in club history and the failure to win the Cascadia Cup.
To rectify those problems, Hanauer laid out five areas of key focus. Those points of emphasis are defining the Sounders brand of soccer, playing for the badge, optimizing the roster for success, sports science and injury prevention and a continued focus on the youth system.
Without getting into specific roster moves, Hanauer echoed Roth’s notion that there will be roster turnover in 2014.
“We will have a team that you are proud of,” Hanauer said. “We need to get the pieces right.”
One of those pieces is Schmid, who Roth and Hanauer announced last month would be retained for the 2014 season. Speaking publicly for the first time since that announcement was made, Schmid embodied the passion sought by Roth and Hanauer.
Backed already by a résumé of success at the MLS, college and international levels, Schmid also expressed the passion for the club is ubiquitous in the stands at every match.
“I’ve been with three clubs in this league. This is the club is dearest to my heart,” Schmid said. “When we don’t succeed, it tears me up inside.”
Schmid also talked about changes that will occur within Seattle’s roster, noting that Real Salt Lake had several changes in 2013, but kept the core of the team together, something Seattle aims to do as well.
On the business side, Wiley highlighted some of the successes in the organization.
The club has a 92-percent renewal rate for season tickets in 2014. Whereas the club opened up the full stadium for four matches in 2013, five matches will be opened to full capacity in 2014 and there will also be a friendly on the schedule after a one-year hiatus from bringing international clubs to CenturyLink Field. Additionally, Wiley mentioned a plan to have a USL Pro franchise in place for the 2015 season as the MLS Reserve League will dissolve following the 2014 season.
Like the discussion of the team on the field, Wiley emphasized the desire to get better from a business aspect. And while the front office could make all the right moves from a business perspective to keep fans happy, nothings satisfies a fanbase quite like winning.
That continues to be the focus heading into the 2014 season.
“I can’t stand up here and promise you an MLS Cup. But I can promise you a team that expects to be in that final game year-in and year-out,” Roth said. “We have no excuse not to go out and find those players who will commit the way you have committed to us.”