A Look Ahead to Next Season

L-R: SFC Sporting Director Chris Henderson, ownership member Drew Carey, and head coach Sigi Schmid. (via SoundersFC.com)

Disappointment simply is; the rest remains ours to decide.

Certes, the loss of local team’s chance to play for the league championship is disappointing, but then again it is hardly like losing a war, or even sending troops abroad to a war they don’t need to fight. Disappointment is relative; its magnitude and priority are determined in the mind of the beholder.

And when that disappointment also means the end of a sporting season, there are plenty of ways to distract ourselves. For instance, there are the farewells and thanks to offer:

In the summer of 2012, Marcus Hahnemann got an unexpected call from Adrian Hanauer, the Owner & General Manager of Sounders FC. He was asked if he wanted to play.

“My question was, ‘For who?'” Hahnemann recalls. “He said the Sounders, and I went, ‘Yeah, I’m in, but [goalkeeper coach Tom Dutra] should probably come take a look at me, because I haven’t been training for three months.'”

Hahnemann was a retired goalkeeper living in the Seattle area when he received that call. He always wanted to return to his hometown’s club, but the opportunity didn’t work out in Sounders FC’s first three years in MLS.

Hanauer gave him that opportunity, and now a couple of years later, Hahnemann is retiring as a member of the team he began his career with more than two decades ago.

(Lester)

Sounder at heart. Sounder for life. Thank you, Marcus Hahnemann.

And then there are the questions of who will return next year; Sounder FC Public Relations devised a handy Q&A session with SFC Sporting Director Chris Henderson about the eleven protected players announced this week:

What are your thoughts on the 11 players the club chose to protect in Wednesday’s Expansion Draft?

“It’s always a difficult decision to protect just 11 players on your roster. There are so many factors to consider on the team side and the player side, as well. We have a lot of great players to choose from because we’ve made it a priority to have a deep roster that can compete in all competitions. We wish we could protect more, but unfortunately it’s a reality of our sport, so we have to make some tough decisions.”

There are some veteran players on Sounders FC’s unprotected list. When you make these decisions on specific personnel, is there a calculated risk for the technical staff?

“Yeah, there is. You have to look at the whole team. It’s a difficult decision having to pick 11 guys. We’ve all discussed things and debated it, and there’s a lot that goes into it with regards to age and player form, contracts, the future of the team and where we’re going. We’ve had some really tough decisions and you can only protect 11, so there’s many times we wish we could protect 15, but we had to cut off the line. We keep our fingers crossed leading into this draft. Sometimes you take risk and you leave a player out there and you can get by without losing someone.”

The protected players list arrived yesterday, and it looks about like we might expect. Furthermore, the dynamic this year is altered by the arrival of two new clubs—note the word “expansion”. And perhaps this is one of the strengths of soccer; professional-league expansion requires large sums of money in order that the new teams can have something of a chance coming out of the gate. But the personnel contract rules for soccer are considerably different from what Americans are accustomed to with NFL, MLB, and NBA contracts. For the sake of the league, that works out okay.

Henderson considered the question of unprotected players league-wide:

“It’s a very good list. I wish this list looked like this when we were choosing. Even Mauro Rosales – who was a DP for us – is out there. Some of these guys are going to be Re-Entry Draft-eligible, as well, so there’s going to be a lot of movement in the next months here of players changing teams, but I think Orlando City and NYCFC are in a good position to build quality team — teams that can compete right away.”

And this all sounds pretty much like a pro sports director of something or other talking about pro sports. As with politics or various sectors of private business, there is always an industry-specific context, and it rarely pays to be more specific. It is one thing to point to Hahnemann’s retirement and the need to find a keeper to back Stefan Frei, but that is the sort of obvious analysis one can offer from an armchair.

The bottom line is that Sounders FC remains one of the strongest teams not only in MLS but American pro sports in general. This season’s disappointment, a loss to L.A. Galaxy in the Western Conference Finals, is a familiar story for Emerald City sports fans. Then again, this year we’re feeling just a little bit spoiled, given the win in that other game called “football”. SFC will have their turn, and while for fans it is easy enough to say the sooner the better, it isn’t like the multitudes will stop turning out from match to match. And as MLS continues to grow its international prestige, SFC will stand out as one a perennial powerhouse. It’s a long way to be the “Yankees of MLS”, and, you know, who really wants the rest of what comes with the Pinstriped Passion? Still, though, while the Yanks can’t win the championship every year, the first task for SFC will be to win just one.

And we can start the countdown. Sort of. About four months. We’ll get the details later, when MLS decides to release them.

(Marketing Note to MLS: One of the challenges of finding an appropriate place for soccer in American sporting priorities is that the game seems … well … so foreign. I know, I know. Just work with me here for a moment. Look, other major professional sporting leagues in the U.S. are market-conscious to a fault, but one thing that makes perfect sense is that even before the championship game is over, the leagues are pushing Opening Day for next season to fans. First match, first touch, first whistle; it won’t always be on 8 March exactly, and presently even SFC’s season ticket offers can’t attach a schedule or tell us when opening day is. It is one thing to rely on the faithful fan base to know these things, and, certainly, there is the idea that people can certainly look it up. Except this time they can’t. We know it’s early March, because that’s how it goes. But, really, from the last whistle of the MLS Cup, that date should be one of the first things fans see at the MLS website, or when they check in with their favorite club. And it’s a familiar conversation: So you’re looking forward to Opening Day. When is Opening Day? You don’t know? Why not? What do you mean MLS hasn’t released the schedule? And, you know, while there are perfectly logical reasons why we don’t have that date yet, it really, really doesn’t help the outreach. When you tell people even the Season Ticket package doesn’t have dates attached to it—because many armchair sports experts will ask if the subject comes up—it only reinforces the notion that this is some sort of obscure game that has no place in the American market. Come on. A basic countdown clock. I can widget that into a free blog, for heaven’s sake. Are we really to believe that you don’t know when Opening Day will be? Really, at this point I must necessarily be overlooking something. Oh, right. OCFC at least has the decency to tell us straight up that the schedule isn’t released yet. But, seriously, you don’t know when Opening Day is going to be?)

____________________

Lester, Julian. “Hahnemann grateful for having the chance to play for Sounders FC”. SoundersFC.com. 8 December 2014.

Sounders FC Public Relations. “Henderson breaks down Sounders FC’s protected player list”. SoundersFC.com. 8 December 2014.

Sounders FC. “Sounders FC announces protected player list ahead of 2014 Expansion Draft”. SoundersFC.com. 8 December 2014.

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