Acknowledging the midseason arrival of Clint Dempsey ratcheted up locker-room tension that helped create “maybe the most frustrating season in the 12 years I’ve been with the Sounders,” general manager Adrian Hanauer said Monday that the fate of coach Sigi Schmid remains undecided.“I’d be lying if I said it was the best locker room we’ve had in the five years I’ve been here,” Hanauer said during a 40-minute teleconference with reporters. “There were some tensions at times. I think with the way our season went, it lent itself a little bit to that tension.
“Starting the season losing, then through a great stretch, then we really struggle at the end. We had players coming and going with national team duty. We add Clint late in the season, adding a new dynamic to the locker room because Clint is a strong personality. He’s going to be an absolutely fantastic personality for this team, but when you inject a strong personality in the middle of the season, it changes the dynamic a little bit.”
Steady roster upheavals, including injuries, were factors in the Sounders’ late-season spiral that saw them plummet from the summit of MLS to a single win in the final 10 games, which included losses in both legs of a playoff series to arch-rival Portland. The collapse led to some fan demands for the head of Schmid, the most successful coach in MLS history.
“I know that everybody is always looking for a hide or a scalp, and the head coach makes the big bucks, so the fingers are usually pointed at him,” Hanauer said. “But, I’m the general manager and ultimately it’s my organization, so I don’t see that many fingers pointed at me, which, to be honest, kind of frustrates me.
“I have as much to do with this as Sigi, as Chris (Henderson, sporting director), as the rest of the coaches, as the support staff, as the players. I know how complicated it is to have a successful organization and win championships.”
Hanauer acknowledged that his failure to close player transactions prior to the season, and subsequent late arrivals of Dempsey and fellow international player Obafemi Martins, helped gum the works. But Hanauer was not exactly circling the wagons in full protection of Schmid.
“Sigi is a winner,” he said of the only coach the MLS Sounders have had. “To me, he’s done a fantastic job over these five years. That said, this isn’t his first rodeo. He wants to be somewhere where he’s fully appreciated and supported. I want a coach in place that’s fully appreciated and supported. We need to take this time to get there.”
Hanauer danced around whether he “fully appreciates and supports” his coach.
“(We have to be sure we) are on the same page and that there is mutual belief,” he said. “Sigi has to believe in me and the rest of the organization and know that we support him, as well. Because if I told you that I believe in him, but he doesn’t believe in me or us, then I don’t think that’s a good situation either.”
He said he and majority owner Joe Roth of Los Angeles were in agreement to take time to cool down from the collapse before making major decisions. The call will be made over the next two to three weeks, but “we’re not in any massive hurry to make quick decisions; we just want to make the right decisions.”
Questions over Schmid’s fate dominated the conversation so that player personnel matters received short shrift. He did say that Dempsey and midfielders Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans will be backbone of the franchise, but mentioned nothing about Eddie Johnson and Mauro Rosales, over whom the club holds options for next season.
Johnson was plain in his dismay over his $150,000 salary, particularly after the club put out $24 million for Dempsey, including $5 million for this season. But with the MLS’s tight salary cap, about the only way to boost him significantly would be to slot him as one of Seattle’s three designated players.
But logic dictates that before player fates are decided, the Sounders need to decide on their coach. Hanauer a couple of times made the point that the organization runs smoothly, even though Schmid has said privately that he thinks he has a few too many bosses.
“I don’t always agree with everything Sigi does,” Hanauer said. “He doesn’t always agree with the way I do my job. But we’re a super-functional organization where we work collaboratively. If you can call this season a failure, if you call this season underachieving, if you call this season adequate — whatever you say about this season — I know that we’re an organization. We win together, we succeed together, and we struggle and fail together.”
The franchise is also one of the great business successes in modern American sports history, and created much in the way of expectations. But in five years, they have won one playoff series, along with a couple of lesser, U.S. Open Cups.
In the detritus of a season with the most potential yet, the Sounders have a fan base that hopes the bosses didn’t adopt the worst aspect of the aspiration be a Yankees-like colossus: Throwing money at a problem. They threw a lot, hastily, at Dempsey and Martins, and came away in 2013 with zip.