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Thursday, October 6, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Regardless of crown, Sounders face rebuild

Special to The Seattle Times

Goalkeeper Preston Burpo is the lone player under contract as the Seattle Sounders begin the process of defending their United Soccer Leagues First Division championship.

But Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer is confident that the core of the title team can be re-signed. The Sounders have 11 players under club option and 11 free agents. Only retired defender Scott Jenkins' status is certain.

Every offseason, Seattle goes through this uncertainty. And in each of Hanauer's four years as GM, the Sounders were rebuilt just as strong.

"We're confident we can put a winning team back on the field with the guys under option and the guys that we think we can sign," Hanauer said. "We'll take a couple of weeks to assess what went well and what didn't.

"We'll start with Danny Jackson and Leighton O'Brien, and try to build from there."

Jackson, a vocal central defender, tore a knee ligament and missed the entire season. Jackson returns from his second major knee surgery in three seasons.

O'Brien, a playmaking midfielder who took most of Seattle's free kicks, played 18 matches for the Sounders, eight on loan and 10 of the last 11 after being released by Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer.

"The guys that are high on the priority list are the ones who are starting to lay some roots down in the area," Hanauer said. "We want guys that want to be here."

Hanauer figures to have a more difficult time signing the likes of Jackson's 2005 replacement, Taylor Graham, who was named USL First Division defender of the year. Graham was cut by the Kansas City Wizards after being a contributor in 2003 and 2004.

Hanauer also thinks players such as Graham, C.J. Klaas and Maykel Galindo, who played late in the season with the Sounders after defecting from his native Cuba, could get a shot in MLS.

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"Frankly, I look up and down our roster and think most of our guys are capable of playing in MLS," Hanauer said. "I'm sure Taylor's going to have a chance in MLS."

Hanauer would love to have the speedy, game-changing Galindo back in a Sounders uniform, but realizes the U.S. immigration process will play a factor in the forward's future. Galindo's immigration hearing is scheduled for Nov. 29.

Hanauer also feels coach Brian Schmetzer warrants a look from MLS. Schmetzer, a 1980 graduate of Nathan Hale High School and a former Sounders player, is 81-38-25 in four seasons in Seattle.

It was Schmetzer who cultivated a lot of young talent. Rookie midfielder Gabe Sturm and rookie forward Brent Whitfield were the biggest contributors to come out of open tryouts.

"We were really happy with some of our young guys," Hanauer said. "I like the core of our team. We want 12 to 15 signed heading into February and March when we have open tryouts and after MLS cuts. We'll have to fill in some pieces like we always do."

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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