Chris Coulter - Sounders Photos
Adrian Hanauer has been one of the most successful MLS General Managers, but he has not been without his missteps. The Seattle Sounders are a good team, but perhaps they could be a great team with the right man in charge. This is the case for Hanauer Out.
Let me preface this with a big fat caveat: This is not my opinion. I will be voting to "Retain Hanauer" or "#HanauerIn" depending on how you choose to look at it. I think you should too. But, in the name of discussion, I am writing this article to prevent that unfortunate phenomenon known as groupthink and make sure that the other side is heard. The arguments herein are (mostly) rational arguments for "Lack of Confidence" or "#HanauerOut." They are the arguments I think a voter would turn to if she decided she wanted to vote Hanauer out and needed something to justify it. Please keep in mind that I largely do not agree with these. I've got plenty of counter-arguments at my fingertips, and I'm sure you do too. But some will vote no, and this is why I think they might. So, without further ado, here is the case for Hanauer Out.
1. No MLS Cup or Playoff success
This is the glaringly obvious one. There is no shying away from it. The Sounders have been inarguably one of the most talented teams in the first three seasons in MLS and have made the playoffs each year, but have been inexplicably stymied every time. They have yet to win a playoff series. Even Year 3 was not really any better than years 1 or 2, as the Sounders dug themselves a massive hole when they put in a horrible performance at RSL, falling 3-0, leaving themselves the Herculean task of breaking down a 90-minute bunker for 3 goals. Think about that: the Sounders, already a team known for playoff busts, put in one of their worst performances ever in arguably their most important game of the season so far. They nearly managed to come back in Seattle, but they did not. The Sounders lost; RSL won. Despite all their successes in the Open Cup (they still have not lost in regulation), the Playoffs vex them.
The Sounders, as an organization, have the support, infrastructure, and situation to be a championship caliber team. They just need to have the pieces capable of getting them there. Nothing should be more important (except, perhaps, the Champions League), and Sounders fans should not settle for second best. The person with the most control over the Sounders' chances at a title is the person who puts the team together. In Seattle, where soccer is as much of a major sport as anything else, our team should be held to a higher standard. And, especially if our team has another sad and early exit from the playoffs, we need someone better in charge.
2. DP Flops
The Sounders have not been shy about using the DP tag. They have had six over their short history. Only two can really be called successes, but those two, Fredy Montero and Mauro Rosales, were not initially brought onto the team to be DPs. Ignoring Tiffert, as it is too early to tell with him, Freddie Ljungberg, Blaise Nkufo, and Alvaro Fernandez were a mixed bag of disappointing and promising. Each had their nice moments: Freddie's Player of the Month award, Nkufo's hat trick, and Flaco's flashes of talent at LM. But Freddie and Blaise both left under a cloud of controversy. Freddie in particular never seemed to live up to the hype or the price tag. Him and Fredy were often in each other's space, and his hotheadedness didn't help the Sounders' early reputation with referees. A player with his pedigree probably should have been better. Nkufo was here only very briefly, and his exit on the opening day of the 2011 season was an indicator that he probably was not a good fit for the team in the first place. And Flaco, who was great at times, never really seemed like a DP. He was often on the bench, and probably would have played far less if not for Zak's horrific injury. With the Sounders' reach, you have to think they could have done better with the DPs they have brought in to be DPs. Perhaps Tiffert is a step in the right direction, but too little, too late.
3. The DPs that could have been
A rumor connecting a potential DP to the Sounders is nearly valueless at this point. There have been many. Some warranted, some purely speculative, some simply made up. You have to wonder what Djibril Cisse could have done for the Sounders in 2011. You have to wonder what could have happened if the Sounders had lured Henry to Seattle (I know they play similarly, but players of their caliber can work together). You have to wonder what would have happened if the Sounders had targeted someone different than Nkufo, maybe getting Prince Tagoe a year earlier. These are realistic players the Sounders have targeted and who could have vastly improved the Sounders' talent level. Hanauer should have gotten it done.
4. Depth over full-strength excellence
The Sounders are a deep team. No one disputes this. The number of players who have seen significant minutes this year is incredible. But the Sounders have always seemed to build themselves to prioritize depth over top-level excellence. Perhaps these are not mutually exclusive goals, but the fact remains that there is a timeshare at CB, that we initially had two starting LBs, and the LM position has been a revolving door (Zak's injury acknowledged). The only time I have seen the Sounders sacrifice a bit of depth in order to increase full-strength excellence is with the EJ trade. They have been a team with many very good players all competing for playing time, but have somehow not been able to translate that to playoff success. You have to wonder what would have happened if the Sounders had traded from depth last year and upgraded the Target Forward position as they did this year.
5. Injury woes
Perhaps this is not Hanauer's fault at all. Injuries happen. Many are random. Some are not. But the Sounders, over the course of the past four years, have often been an injury ward. And, to an extent, this can be blamed on the guy in charge of personnel. Hanauer has often been willing to bring in players with significant injury histories. You can't really avoid them, if you are going to construct a roster under a salary cap, but it doesn't help. Hanauer has also constructed a roster that relies heavily on finesse. Oft-injured finesse players, like Evans, Rosales, and Johansson, are great when healthy, but that is an important caveat. The Sounders also lack the physical presence to impose their will and protect their players. There is no Conor Casey, or George John, or Jamison Olave, or Steven Lenhart, or Chad Marshall, or Shalrie Joseph. Without this physicality, the Sounders are often pushed around by bigger, more physical teams. Players end up getting hacked, with bumps and bruises and injuries to show for it.
6. Draft troubles
This one comes in two parts: first there is the MLS SuperDraft. Then there is the expansion draft. Looking back at any draft is an extremely speculative process. Any changes to a pick could have led to a cascade of effects. A player that worked out on one team might have found themselves unsuccessful had they gone to another, but, with hindsight, you might be able to see where a team misstepped.
Some draft picks were unqualified successes: Steve Zakuani has been one of the best players in the league when healthy. Alex Caskey was a great find, Mike Fucito was a late-round gem, and getting Andy Rose has been huge this year. David Estrada is also finally blossoming into the player that Sigi envisioned. But the Sounders still lack that breakout player that has gone from overlooked to league leader. The Sounders have passed on players like Tim Ream, Graham Zusi, and Justin Morrow. Aside from Zakuani, the Sounders have primarily drafted depth. They can do better.
And the expansion drafts could have gone better. Hanauer did well to build the team through our expansion draft, but lost Sebastian Le Toux, a long-time fan favorite, to Philly, where he went on to score 14 goals and garnered some MVP consideration. The Sounders lost two players to the Cascadia expansion, which was as expected, though you have to wonder if perhaps Sanna Nyassi could have been kept a Sounder. Then more controversy came about in the Montreal expansion, where fan-favorite Mike Fucito was left unprotected. As it turns out, the Sounders did want to protect Mike, and made a deal with Montreal that saw them gain two Sounders, James Riley and Tyson Wahl, for a big of extra allocation money. When Riley was flipped for Justin Braun, Sounders fans wondered why we didn't make that deal. Montreal would of course end up with Mike Fucito in the end, anyway.
7. Local Connections
Don't get me wrong, I want a team that wins above all. But it would be nice if there were some players with local connects to the team. If I recall correctly, one of the overarching team goals is to have a Home Grown Player score a goal for the team. We aren't there yet. We aren't even really that close. The Philadelphia Union however, who started a year after us, already have three HGPs on their squad. We do have some interesting names sprinkled throughout the college ranks, but nobody ready to contribute just quite yet.
But beyond just that, there is only one player with actual roots in the Pacific Northwest: Marcus Hahnemann. Lamar Neagle is gone. Kasey Keller deservedly retired. Long-time Sounders stalwarts Sebastian Le Toux and Roger Levesque are no longer with the team. Only Zach Scott remains from the USL days. After 4 years, you have to think Hanauer could have made a better effort to keep the fans' nostalgia and emotional connections alive. It is unfortunate that he hasn't.
Hanauer has had problems with DPs, problems with drafts, and problems with proper personnel in the MLS. But most of all, he has yet to deliver an MLS Cup, or any playoff success really. That is the measure a Sounders GM should be judged by. Just as the Yankees are judged not by how many playoffs they make, but by how many playoff games they win. The Sounders have done well to make it to this point, but they could use somebody better to take them further. The Sounders deserve a GM who can deliver the MLS Cup, not just Open Cups, and that's why I'm voting for Hanauer Out.*
*please keep in mind my earlier caveat, and have at the discussion. There will also be a Retain Hanauer post.