MLS Soccer

Sounders look ahead after rough 2015

AP

One of the welcome things about the Seattle Sounders opening a new season Sunday is that the previous season drifts further into the past.

2015 wasn’t a nightmare season in the way franchises such as Chicago and Colorado know nightmares. But there was an unusual amount of disappointment and even embarrassment for a club that has mostly been the golden child of MLS since coming aboard in 2009.

The lowlight may have been the ugly meltdown that accompanied Seattle’s summer elimination from the U.S. Open Cup. But there also was Marco Pappa’s DUI arrest. And the frustration of finishing behind Vancouver and Portland in the Western Conference — multiplied to infinity by the Timbers’ MLS Cup. Even after the season, fans had to endure the departures of popular forward Obafemi Martins and popular broadcaster Ross Fletcher.

While acknowledging a season that didn’t always stick to a script as he would have written it, Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer said Friday that he sees nothing to indicate systemic cracks spreading through the organization.

“I think that we all learn lessons and perhaps modify behavior because of those things,” he said. “And organizationally we need to believe in certain principles, focus on character, focus on community, try to be a great club on and off the field. And at the end of every year we get to assess what went right and what didn’t go right. We also need to weed through what is … a one-time blip or mistake.”

Hanauer seems to see that as the case in the worst day of the season: the U.S. Open Cup loss to the Timbers, accompanied by Clint Dempsey grabbing, tearing and tossing the referee’s notebook. And coach Sigi Schmid leaving the bench early, later explaining he did it to avoid choking the referee. And fans throwing objects from the stands.

Back then, Hanauer promptly acknowledged “it was not the proudest moment for the Sounders.” Dempsey accepted his fine and suspension. Schmid apologized.

All three are back for 2016. But that is not the case with Pappa, who was arrested last summer for driving under the influence and speeding. Pappa missed five matches while undergoing MLS’ substance abuse and behavioral health program. He was traded to Colorado early in the offseason.

Regardless of whether those dots connect, the club wants player accountability.

“We handed out a set of team rules that we have, and all of the guys have to acknowledge that,” general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “The coaching staff presented those to them. I can’t speak to history because I haven’t been here before but that came from (Schmid) so I do think it’s something they’ve done here before, and I think it’s a good idea. Part of it is we’re all in this together; and if you have a set of team rules, we all agree to them, we all sign them, then we’re playing for the guy next to you.”

The transfer of Martins and lapsed contract of Fletcher belong on a different shelf, but were still difficult for many who care about the club.

“I know fans aren’t happy with this, but the reality is we organizationally — ownership, senior management — have more information than the fans,” Hanauer said. “And so our decisions are not always going to mesh with what fans want. That said, it doesn’t make me happy when our fans are grouchy about our decisions.”

The club has expressed hopes that new TV play-by-play Keith Costigan and radio voice Matt Johnson will work their way into the fans’ hearts as Fletcher did in following Arlo White. And the club has assured that resources once devoted to Martins will be redirected in other ways to move the club closer to its annual goal of an MLS Cup — something the rival Timbers can always brag of accomplishing ahead of them.

“It was a kick in the gut,” Hanauer said. “Obviously we wanted to be the first in Cascadia to win an MLS Cup. But we’ve had a lot of success also, so I have to keep it in perspective. We have five major trophies. That’s a pretty big accomplishment as well. (But) for sure the emotional side of me was crushed.”

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