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May 28, 2012 at 4:19 PM

GM Hanauer opens up on the Open Cup

hanauer mug.jpgReporters got a chance to Sounders FC general manager and part owner Adrian Hanauer the other day to talk about the Open Cup, particularly after the team bought the hosting rights for Wednesday’s third-round game from Atlanta. Here is the transcript of that conversation:

* * *

(What are your thoughts on purchasing hosting rights for Wednesday’s game against Atlanta?) “The way I look at it, my main priority is my team and our club and our organization, the well-being of our players, winning as many tournaments as possible and as many games as possible. Part of that is keeping the mileage off our players, so a big portion of the thinking was we’re sitting up here in the Northwest and we already travel tens of thousands more miles than teams that aren’t in the Northwest. We’ve won three Open Cups, we’ve played Champions League — now for our third year — and we’ve dug up the stats: We’ve played 20-, 25-, 30 more games than other teams over this period of time. That’s a lot of mileage on the players. We engaged in conversations with Atlanta — their president is an old friend of mine — and we were able to come to an agreement. Clearly it’s good for them also, because they wouldn’t have done it if it weren’t. I understand some people may feel that this is bypassing the system and playing against the rules, but, again, my priority is our team, our organization. We’re willing to play within whatever rules are set by U.S. Soccer, but it’s their tournament and we’re going to do whatever we can to protect our brand and our organization in that process.”

(Do you always know this was an option?) “No. I mean to be perfectly honest, I maybe was naive, maybe was asleep at the wheel a little bit. I saw Portland’s announcement and the wheels started turning. It turns out that within our organization we had already had some conversations with Atlanta about that, but until Boris (Jerkunica) and I got on the phone together, it didn’t sort of kick into high gear.”

(Portland had their announcement Monday and I think you had your announcement Tuesday evening…) “It was a very quick discussion over a short period of time.”

(They mentioned it was an offer they couldn’t refuse. Had they refused some offers?) “It was a negotiation, for sure. If it was an offer they couldn’t refuse and it was an offer we couldn’t afford not to make, then both sides win I guess. I hope that’s the case.”

(Were you going to be refused if it came down to it?) “Oh sure. Yeah. Absolutely.”

(Other MLS teams are doing this too. Is it a sign the league is taking the tournament more seriously?) “Yeah, I think it’s taking this tournament (more seriously) and it’s also watching the well-being of players. Again, you saw Real Salt Lake, who plays Champions League. They’ve got a lot of miles in front of them, as well. Ourselves and Portland are obviously taking the tournament very seriously. I wouldn’t be surprised and wouldn’t be going way out on a limb to suggest that there might have been other MLS teams that were attempting to move games. It takes two sides to do a deal and, again, this may or may not lead U.S. Soccer to some different conclusion, but I’m very comfortable that both businesses saw it as a good transaction in each individual case.”

(Is it good for the tournament to be able to do this?) “First of all, I like (this tournament). I love it. But it has a lot of room for improvement. That is going to take a concerted effort, especially from U.S. Soccer, whose tournament it is, to turn it into a special tournament. It may mean money, it may mean exposure, it may mean operational aspects, it may mean hosting and competitive issues, but it’s not going to become the FA Cup by just sort of muddling through it each year. I put a large part of the responsibility on U.S. Soccer. That said, there are a lot of MLS teams, USL, NASL, amateur teams, broadcasters, sponsors and fans who would be very happy to participate in trying to help the tournament grow, as well, and turn it into a great tournament. So that is the backdrop. Each team then has to decide I think what’s best for their organization because … I’ve been in the USL position before and it’s a matter of survival. Sometimes taking a check helps you survive and thrive better than the purity of whatever was envisioned by the bureaucrats making the structural decision. We’ve got businesses to run, so we have to do what we have to do to survive and thrive and make the decisions we think are right. So I’m not sure I’m qualified to make a general statement on whether it’s good or bad for the tournament. All I can do is sort of give my two cents on different aspects.”

(Any thoughts on the local guys on Atlanta’s team, Tacoma’s Raphael Cox and Federal Way’s Ciaran O’Brien, coming home for a game?) “I think what’s interesting is the Cox brothers have games at the same time, (Jamael) for the U-23s and (Raphael) for Atlanta. It’s a good opportunity for them to come home and show how they’ve developed over the years. We’re going to be more focused on ourselves and hopefully playing to zero in the back and scoring some goals and moving onto the next round, but it’s always good for fans to get to come out and see Northwest players. And I’m sure they’ll have some fans in the crowd, as well.”

(On the economics of the decision…) “It was going to cost us $53,000 to go on our trip to Atlanta. U.S. Soccer gives us $8,000, so the net cost to traveling was $45,000. That’s how much we were going to lose and that’s without anything we might be able to make hosting the game. So you can do the math pretty quickly and start to think. … We would’ve been better off economically going to Atlanta — I can say that — but it wasn’t that far off.”

(Do you think it would cost Atlanta that much to travel?) “Probably not. We have trainers, physios, media people, equipment guys, players, coaches. Back in the good ol’ USL days, it was 14 players and a coach who did everything.”

(Have you talked to Timbers owner Merritt Paulson about buying hosting rights from them potentially in the fourth round?) “(laughs) I already asked. I don’t think that’s going to happen.”


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