SEATTLE – Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer agrees his team must start winning games in a hurry if it’s to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time.
In a wide-ranging interview earlier this week, Hanauer admitted he’s “very concerned” about any perception the team is not committed to deploying its full financial resources to win. Hanauer said he’s “absolutely” determined to do what it takes to get back to winning, championship form, but realizes things must change quickly if this season is to be salvaged.
“You can dig yourself holes occasionally and get out of those holes,” Hanauer said. “You dig yourself enough holes and deep enough holes, and eventually you’re not going to get out of the hole.
“So, we have our work cut out for us to get out of this hole.”
Hanauer said he’s “worried but confident” about the goal-starved team overcoming a 2-7-2 start that’s registered just eight points in 11 games. The Sounders overcame early deficits the past two years to reach the MLS Cup final.
“It’s a math problem,” Hanauer said. “We need somewhere between 48 and 52 points and we have eight right now. Over the last couple of years we’ve gone on some pretty good stretches averaging two points per game, so it is not dire yet. But if we don’t start collecting some points, it’s going to get there pretty fast.”
The Sounders resume their regular season at home Saturday against D.C. United, hoping striker Will Bruin and midfielder Victor Rodriguez are healthy enough to help secure desperately needed points in a battle of last place teams.
Hanauer said his team’s pattern since 2016 of weak starts is not a deliberate strategy aimed at “peaking” at the right time.
“For sure not,” he said. “Our model is not to struggle in the first half of the season and then to play well in the second half of the season. Our goal is consistency and playing well from day one. So, we have to figure that out.”
Going forward, he added, the team will meticulously evaluate whether its winter plan was reasonable given how fatigue from consecutive shortened offseasons appeared to strike harder than anticipated. He’d envisioned the Sounders being more match-fit early on than in 2017, largely because their Champions League schedule required it.
“Obviously, things went horribly wrong.”
Jordan Morris blew out his knee in the opening Champions League match in El Salvador. The Sounders had missed on adding talented midfielder Derlis Gonzalez last summer, then balked at signing any other designated player level attackers over the winter – content to build the offense around a healthy Morris despite his struggling to score in an injury-plagued sophomore 2017 campaign.
Hanauer said it’s “certainly a fair question” to wonder whether the Sounders should have added another talented attacker in case Morris stumbled. But a carefully formulated forecast, based on his age, experience and skill set, was that Morris could lead the attack.
“We went into the year assuming Jordan would give us 15 to 20 goals,” Hanauer said. “And assuming that we would have the creative players on the field to get the ball to Clint (Dempsey) in positions that he likes the ball, to help him score six to 10 goals and have a bunch of assists.”
The team looked to Rodriguez and Nicolas Lodeiro for additional goals. It hoped a defensive midfield of Gustav Svensson and Osvaldo Alonso could push Cristian Roldan forward and produce goals from that.
Instead, Rodriguez only played his first game last weekend. Lodeiro has been out two months. Alonso has missed much of the season.
“When Jordan (Morris) went down we absolutely tried to replace him,” Hanauer said. “We just could not find the right fit in that (transfer) window. We also intended to wait until July, because we thought we had the flexibility to then decide the exact type of player we wanted in the July window.
“And so, in hindsight it’s easy to say ‘If we had only had another goal scorer – or another number 9’,” he said. “But if the plan had worked according to plan, we would be looking for a different type of player today than we are.”
Hanauer regrets the phrasing used by general manager Garth Lagerwey in late April, when he said in a nationally replayed interview the Sounders’ days among the biggest-spending teams may be over. He’d been overseas in Europe, but upon reading Lagerwey’s comments online immediately jumped on the phone and had “a really frank conversation” in which the GM admitted to “a poor choice of words.”
Hanauer insisted the team hasn’t shifted its priorities, and that he worries constantly about losing fans over things less serious than Lagerwey’s comments. “I don’t think you lose fans over comments,” he added. “I think you lose fans over performance and doing the right things on and off the field.
“So, I wasn’t so much worried about the comments as I was making sure we are true to our strategy and philosophy, which is to continue to put teams on the field that compete for a championship every single year.”
And Hanauer knows there’s work ahead on that. He hopes to make a couple of “impact” July additions, but it won’t matter this year if the current roster can’t generate more points beforehand.
“I want our fans believing in us organizationally,” Hanauer said. “But really, the proof is in the pudding. Our fans will believe in us by us continuing to put a championship team on the field. And to date this year, we have not. And so, we need to fix that.”