SEATTLE – It’s not every day that the owner of a professional sports franchise feels compelled to apologize for his team’s performance.
But that’s exactly what Seattle Sounders majority owner Joe Roth did on Monday during the team’s End of Year Business Meeting, the annual event in which front office staff discuss the season and answer questions from fans.
“The first thing on my mind is an apology,” Roth said, microphone in hand and pacing the stage at CenturyLink Field. “I’m going to apologize. I’m the majority owner, and as Harry Truman said, the buck stops with me. I’m going to apologize for me and everybody you see up here for the way the season ended. I don’t mean the Portland thing – I know you’re all obsessed with Portland – I’m sorry that I don’t share it; it just doesn’t ring for me coming from New York and living in Los Angeles. I’m talking about the last 10 games of the season.”
Those final 10 games of the season – including a pair of losses to the Portland Timbers in the Western Conference Semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs – saw the Sounders go 1-6-3 and get outscored 18-10. During that time, they went from Supporters’ Shield favorites to being forced to play in a Knockout Round match before ultimately having their season ended by their biggest and most hated rivals.
To hear Roth – and others – tell it, the problems went well beyond the field. As had been hinted at when the team announced the return of Sigi Schmid as head coach, Roth suggested off-field issues were a major contributing factor to the slide.
“It’s our responsibility, collectively, to put a team on the field that has chemistry,” Roth said. “What happened in those last 10 games, there are no excuses. I’m not talking about injuries or national team call-ups or anything like that. The chemistry of the team, within the locker room and on the field, wasn’t there. There were too many players thinking about themselves over and above the value of the team.”
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Roth didn’t go as far as naming names, but he was frank about what was already expected to be an offseason full of change.
“They’re professional athletes and they’re not children, so I can’t lay it on the coach,” he said. “I can’t lay it on Adrian [Hanauer, general manager]. I can’t lay it on [sporting director] Chris Henderson. I can’t lay it completely on me.
“I have to say, collectively, what you are going to see next year, is a team of people who win, lose or draw are not going to sleep at night, are going to do everything they can to win. They are going to be working-class, hard-working players, players who will run through that brick wall because they need to run through a brick wall.”
Roth said he’s hoping to put a team on the field in 2014 with more players who are more like himself from his days as a college defender “back when Wells Fargo delivered the mail.”
“For some people, it’s the joy of winning,” he said. “For other people, it’s the humiliation of losing. For me, it was about the humiliation of losing. Frankly, our team, for the last 10 games, did not have that feeling. It was too much individual thought, too much individual play and bad chemistry in the locker room. All that can be and will be and is in the process of being changed as we sit here right now.”
He asked for trust in the team’s front office during the rebuilding process, saying fans “may question some of the moves we make.”
“It’s all to get one thing: on-the-field leadership, chemistry in locker room, chemistry on field, selfless play, a couple of very advanced guys who can close and a group of working-class people who are going to make sure that we don’t lose,” he said.
From the sound of it, at least some of that change will come on defense.
“At the end of the day, we conceded too many goals,” Schmid said during his remarks. “It’s the most goals that we’ve conceded.
“That has to be improved upon. We have to have center backs who individually can defend one-v-one, but can also start our attack intelligently, but can also dominate the opponent they’re playing against.”