By J Hutcherson (Jul 29, 2016) US Soccer Players - I feel like I need to tell my Sigi Schmid story. We're already seeing people respectfully writing his legacy or finding him a new job in MLS. Whatever happens, it's worth saying that Sigi Schmid is a gifted coach and a player. Since the player part was so long ago, it's easy to forget. The coach behind the UCLA dynasty used to play for them. His skills didn't go away.
Years ago, I watched Sigi in action prior to a DC United home game. It was back when I was working as a photographer, so I was at field level while the Galaxy ran through their warm-ups. A couple of Galaxy players were entertaining themselves with ball tricks, trying to chip the ball up, roll it behind their heads, and then one time it to each other. It was silly. The kind of thing that reminds anybody watching that the professional level can be a lot closer to what happens all over the country on Saturday mornings. Pros being pros, they kept increasing the level of difficulty.
Anyway, Schmid was watching. After awhile, the players gave up their game and the warm ups continued. The ball eventually squirts away and lands at the feet of Schmid. Who takes it on his instep, chips it up, rolls it behind his head, and sends it right back to them at the difficult setting. It was a pure athletic moment for a guy few would see as an athlete, and it was marvelous. The players didn't even respond. They acted like it was something that they'd seen before.
A couple of years earlier, I was at a Chicago Fire practice session. They were using old Halas Hall in Chicago's north suburbs. There was a media call with the promise of a major announcement. That major announcement turned out to be Peter Nowak getting his green card. Since the Poland international wasn't going to suddenly find a way to play for the USMNT, they were stretching the limits of "major". Back then, nobody was trying to work out the salary cap or what it meant to free up an international roster spot mid-season.
So there we were, watching a practice session that normally wouldn't have drawn anybody. Near the end, Hristo Stoitchkov and his protégé Dema Kovalenko tried to see if they could bend the ball into the net from several feet behind the corner. They set the shot up over and over, drawing other players. None of them were hitting it right that day. Eventually, the players head to the locker room. Except one. Eric Wynalda, playing out the string on his MLS career, stayed behind. Wynalda being Wynalda, he sets up the same shot and hits it perfectly the first time. Wynalda shrugged and walked to to the locker room.
We bring Schmid back in easily. He was the one that Wynalda credits with getting him to the next level as a youth player. Schmid didn't coach Wynalda. He spotted him, making sure Wynalda ended up on the state team in California. Of course, it wasn't just Wynalda. Schmid turned UCLA into a powerhouse through player identification. He setup a program that put players on the USMNT regularly. It's the kind of work that when it happens now, the coach is immediately linked with an MLS job and normally takes it.
Schmid spent 19 years at UCLA before ever coaching a professional game. His tactics didn't just happen. They were a long-term study in what hadn't worked at UCLA and what could in a college game that still drew the best American players. Then he did the same thing at the LA Galaxy, then Columbus, then Seattle.
It's too soon to judge what Schmid did with the Sounders. We have to see what happens next. We don't know if they get better. There's a tendency to decide a fan base deserves something and that there's the right blend of coach and players to give it to them on schedule. This isn't necessarily a meritocracy. The tight controls involved in putting together MLS teams may or may not award spending. We've seen that across the league in the designated player era.
What Seattle is doing right now is talking big. They should. They can dump problems like over reliance on a star player no longer with the club on their outgoing coach. They can draw a line between then and now, immediately starting to cycle in new players. They can change, and it won't take much to change for the better in 2016. It's the rest of Schmid's seasons that still loom. The ones where he consistently had Seattle in a position to win.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.
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