By Harrison Crow (@Harrison_Crow)
When the Sounders unveiled their USL-Pro 'mini-me' club they did something no other team in MLS has yet done. No, no, don't you go rolling your eyes. I'm not talking about the proverbial ‘democracy in sports’ line and the fact that they allowed their supporters group to buy into their new franchise. I, personally, think that's pretty cool aspect of the new venture, but it’s not the subject we’re here to talk about.
Roughly a few months ago the Sounders hired Andrew Opatkiewicz to an unknown position which was kind of vague and just implied he would have a hand in setting up the new USL Pro club. Tuesday came with the announcement of his position, which was probably a lot larger than some had expected, being appointed as the General Manager of the S2. What makes this a big deal is if you do a quick rundown through MLS clubs you'll see that there is no front office decision making types without a baseline of professional or "elite" college level experience.
Well, there is one, so I guess I told a fib. The only other club to have someone in their front office without that experience was… well, the Sounders, when they "hired(?)" Adrian Hanauer.
Hanauer was a business savvy University of Washington grad who became a managing partner of the Sounders back in 2002. He was a minority owner and after being partnered with Joe Roth through Commissioner Don Garber match making abilities—when looking for financial investors prior to the Sounders entering into MLS in 2007—Hanauer took on the Management position that he had held at the USL level.
Beyond the simplicity of being a Sounders fan and him being the team GM, there is something that has long interested me about Hanauer; his background, decision methods and approach with the Sounders and even his past investments and projects. The hiring of Opatkiewicz on the periphery plays that up even more in what seems kind of a risky and odd move that could end up being looked back upon as shrewd and cunning.
So it begs the question, who the heck is Andrew D. Opatkiewicz? Well, how about the former VP of Strategic Partnerships within Intersport, former Associated VP of Strategic Development for STATS LLC, and lastly former Head of Business Development in Americas at Prozone Sports Ltd. He's also got a Masters from the University of Washington.
I have no earthly idea who he is as a person. I don't know how he thinks and I don't have any insight to how he plans on running the Sounders USL Pro franchise. But he has a photo from the Guster Album ‘Keep it together’ as his profile header on twitter and I feel like this speaks a lot about him. Also, he wrote this little pamphlet for the MIT Sloan Sports Conference concerning Salary Allocation Strategies in MLS which was all kinds of brilliant.
Overall this is a move that I've been waiting for the last few years. A team that is interested in finding someone that thinks outside the box. An individual that doesn't have the predisposition that comes with traditional hires.
This isn’t to say that Mr. Opatkiewicz has no idea what soccer is or that he has no traditional grounding in the game. His past work experience, as well as his work with the Seattle Wolves, speak to his involvement with the game through several different mediums.
While all these presented ideas and connections are not facts concerning how he operates or exactly how he thinks or even who he is as a person, I'd like to think they are indicators of what we might expect to hear about during his tenure. And while only indicators they are still indicators that might get a person hot and bothered just thinking about the possibilities of where this might lead. His inclination to be effective through data and experience, in times past, conveying the importance that data can bring to create effective analysis and whole picture concepts are something that has by and large been a topic ignored.
As a baseball fan, I spent years watching division rivals have smart management that put them in a better position as a whole. What Jon Daniels and Billy Beane did to find ways to compete from 2008-now has been annoying and, yet, wildly interesting. The idea that an MLS team is looking at people that have an outside the norm attitude and ideas in how teams are run and constructed in MLS is, yet again, super exciting.
Don’t get me wrong, Hanauer becoming the GM of the Sounders isn't the same thing as Opatkiewicz being hired to be the S2 GM this week. S2 is only an MLS affiliate and Opatkiewicz is only being hired to run an USL Pro team which isn’t ground breaking. But consider he is being given a voice as a decision maker on some level within the organization itself, his experiences and past positions now added to the fact that he has the ear of Adrian Hanauer are all interesting points and leads a person to sit back to wonder how this will all play out over the next few years.