Weathering The Storm
Posted by: Matt Gaschk
Through a tumultuous start and a rigorous schedule, Sigi Schmid has guided the Sounders FC to their best season yet.
Sigi Schmid was named MLS Coach of the Year in 1999 with the Los Angeles Galaxy and 2008 with the Columbus Crew.
His navigation of the 2011 season with the Sounders FC may be his best work yet though.
Schmid has successfully managed the Sounders through three competitions and they are at or near the top in all of them.
They are second in Major League Soccer at 17-7-9, trailing only the LA Galaxy.
They won the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup with four victories, never trailing in the whole tournament.
They were the first club to reach the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals after playing through the preliminary round.
All told, outside competitions have added 12 matches to their 2011 calendar and Schmid has guided them through the madness with deft ease. They are 25-10-10 overall, walking the tightrope of the three competitions like acrobats.
“Other teams have had this dip in August and September because they’ve had all these games and competitions and there’s all this travel. I look at our group and that didn’t affect us,” Henderson said. “Is it luck? Is it Sigi managing the group? Is it the drive of the group to prove that we’re better in Champions League than we were in 2010? I don’t know. It may be a combination.”
To further separate Schmid from the competition, the Sounders are doing all of this without two of their top-scoring options from the start of the season. Steve Zakuani, one of the rising superstars of MLS, broke his leg after playing just five matches and O’Brian White has been battling blood clots since April 22 as well. At the time, both players led the club with two goals and two assists.
“When you look at those losses of some pretty key players on our roster, and you look at the way Sigi has managed our group throughout the season, you see some interesting lineups, but we’ve still been able to get results,” Henderson said. “When you look at, not so much the way he manages players 1-8, but how he manages players 9-17 and having everybody confident in their abilities and going to the same goal, has been really incredible.”
Schmid not only has found the pieces to fill those roles in their absence, but he’s also gotten players to lift their games to new levels.
Lamar Neagle, who led the Charleston Battery to the USL-2 title with an MVP season last year, has five goals and two assists and has become a strong weapon in Schmid’s attack whether it is in a starting role or off the bench.
Roger Levesque had a solid stretch that saw him score three goals and add two assists to help fill the void left by White.
All told, 17 players started 15 or more matches across all competitions and 20 played in 15 or more.
“I think it’s a huge credit to Sigi, but Brian Schmetzer, Ezra Hendrickson, Tom Dutra, Dave Tenney and all the reserve team group and staff behind Sigi deserve credit for putting in the time. It’s a tough job and it takes assistants that are going in the same direction to step up and give those guys attention,” Henderson said. “So far, those guys have had the opportunity and they’ve stepped up.”
He’s also done this while the Sounders have been one of only five teams to lose three players in the last two years to the expansion draft. Those key ingredients to Seattle’s success in previous seasons were taken from the roster without any compensation while other noteworthy teams in the league have not suffered the same fate. Of those five, only Seattle and Colorado will make the playoffs in both 2010 and 2011.
“It speaks to our depth. The ability to lose three players, and ostensibly each year you’re losing player 12 and last year it was players 12 and 13, and maintain and improve on what we’re doing in league play, I think is a tribute to the club,” Schmid said. “There are a lot of teams that haven’t lost anybody and still can’t climb up.”
The Sounders will close out the 2011 season at the Home Depot Center against Chivas USA Saturday at 7:30, then start the playoffs against either Real Salt Lake or FC Dallas beginning on the road next weekend.