From the beginning, the Sounders FC have done things first class. So when it came time to name a coach, they knew exactly who they would want.
The only problem was that he was a little bit occupied at the time.
Sigi Schmid is one of the most accomplished names in American soccer coaching. He won three College Cups in his 19 seasons at UCLA. He already had an MLS Cup under his belt with the LA Galaxy in 2002 and was on his way to his second with the Columbus Crew last year. He was named Coach of the Year and, shortly thereafter, was named the inaugural head coach of the Seattle Sounders FC.
Who else would it be?
"I’m really happy we got Sigi Schmid," majority owner Joe Roth said. "It feels like the rest of it … the stadium, the management … if you had to pick a coach in the United States, you would pick him. I couldn’t be happier with that."
Ask around the team and everyone echoes Roth’s sentiment. Technical director Chris Henderson played for him at UCLA and was a key element to choosing the head coach. Brad Evans played for him with the Columbus Crew over the last three years. Kasey Keller played on the 1994 World Cup team for whom Schmid was an assistant coach. And several other players played in his two stints at the front of the US U-20 National Team.
And there may be no one better to testify to Schmid’s abilities than Peter Vagenas, who played five years under Schmid with the LA Galaxy after four years under his watch at UCLA.
"We definitely have the best coach in the league," said Vagenas, who is recovering from off-season knee surgery and won’t be available for the opener. "Nobody prepares a team for a season like he does. I think we’re going to start off well, Sigi is going to have them as fit as any team in the league and there’s obviously quality there."
Because of his nine years under Schmid and his outgoing personality, Vagenas might also be the most honest about Schmid’s coaching career.
"He was a modern day John Wooden. If you got in there and caught his eye - as young players, that was almost enough. What he did at UCLA was well documented," Vagenas said of Schmid, the college coach. "Then he went into the MLS and I think early on with the Galaxy he was labeled as a college coach that didn’t know how to deal with professionals. That was the big knock. Part of it was true and part of it was not. The early years in Los Angeles were sort of a learning experience. It was the first time he was a professional coach. I think he’s more well-rounded now. He understands professionals. He can deal with Kasey Keller as well as he can deal with a guy coming out of college. So in my opinion, there is no better coach. His record speaks for itself."
Now the Sounders FC are just days away from their inaugural game against the New York Red Bulls at Xbox Pitch at Qwest Field Thursday night at 6 pm and the club looks more and more ready for the lid-lifter each day, thanks in large part to Schmid and his coaching staff.
A look at the coaching staff reveals even more cream rising to the top. Brian Schmetzer won two USL First Division titles and reached the US Open Cup semifinals twice the Seattle Sounders in the USL. He was a candidate for the head coaching job with the Sounders FC and after Schmid’s appointment, he was quick to name Schmetzer, who played for the Sounders in the North American Soccer League, his top assistant.
"I’ve always felt that you want assistant coaches who want to be head coaches or have been head coaches," Schmid said of Schmetzer, a Seattle native and Nathan Hale High School product. "He’s strong enough in his soccer beliefs and convictions that he’s going to voice his opinion. He has the thought and mentality of a head coach because he’s been one for a lot of years."
Tom Dutra was Schmetzer’s goalkeeper coach with the Sounders for the last two seasons and, given a relationship with Keller that has seen Dutra preparing Keller for a return to Europe each off-season since 2002, was another key addition to the coaching staff. A Timberline High School product, Dutra has coached numerous local goalkeepers to great heights, including Sounders FC backup Chris Eylander.
"With Tommy Dutra, it’s a specialized position, so you need a specialized coach and he’s a great mix for our staff. He does a lot of things off the field and the team’s really important to him, just like it is for Brian," Schmid said.
Next was Ezra Hendrickson, who just recently retired from his playing career, but is still a frequent contributor in training. After playing 12 years in the MLS, eight of which came under Schmid, Hendrickson brings a fresh perspective to the coaching staff - a set of eyes new to the coaching world, but very familiar with Schmid’s style.
"Players know him because they have played against him and some have played with him. When you get to be older like me or Brian, players can forget that you played," Schmid said. "Since he’s a recent player, guys view it more as a player’s perspective."
Fitness coach Dave Tenney came to the Sounders FC after two years as fitness and goalkeepers coach with the Kansas City Wizards. After a well-traveled professional career, Tenney quickly rocketed up the coaching ranks to reach the MLS and has been one of the more sought-after fitness coaches in the country. Already, the Sounders FC have seen benefit from that, with very few new injuries in training camp and a high level of fitness from the beginning.
The club also added Kurt Schmid to the staff last week to round out the staff. Kurt, Sigi’s son, will scout players from the youth and international levels while acting as an assistant coach. His eye for talent as well as his knowledge of the computerized scouting systems, are second to none, Sigi Schmid said. He spent the last three years as a college assistant with Saint Mary’s College and UC-Irvine.
Check back tomorrow for the second section of the Sounders FC season preview.