If there was any question who the Columbus Crew fans wanted coaching their squad, they made it clear when the team returned from Los Angeles with the MLS Cup trophy in tow.
“Keep Sigi,” read the signs greeting the team upon their arrival.
Six months later, Sigi Schmid is coaching the Sounders FC to a 4-2-4 record and is preparing to face his former team after the Crew let his contract expire.
“It was hard because it had taken us three years to put the team together,” Schmid said of leaving Columbus. “You can see, despite the record, that it’s still a quality team and a quality group. Winning a championship always puts you in a special place. The way things happened, it is what it is. I’m here now and so you move forward.”
But it is tough to move forward in a game like this with so many things brewing behind Schmid, who came to Seattle along with assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson and midfielder Brad Evans.
“I still have some friends on the team. You form some bonds there, but once that whistle blows the friendship goes out the door for 90 minutes and after that, we’re friends again,” Hendrickson said.
Added Evans, “Any time you play with guys for two years day-in and day-out you learn their tendencies. We’ll try to use our advantages the best that we can and if I can help out these guys during pregame meetings than obviously I’m going to do that.”
Schmid acknowledged that there is extra motivation this week, but pride has more to do with it than contention toward his former team.
“I always have a saying that you always want to win when you play friends,” Schmid said. “If you’re playing somebody you don’t know you only hear about it that day. If you’re playing friends you hear about it for a long time. So you always want to get the win when you’re playing friends because it gives you bragging rights for a little bit of time.”
Schmid knows the players on the Crew as well as anyone after coaching most of the players for the last three years.
“Whoever put that team together originally did a good job,” Schmid said with a laugh. “They’re a good team. They haven’t always gotten the results they’ve wanted to get this year, but they’re a dangerous team. There is good speed on the flanks with (Emmanuel) Ekpo and (Robbie) Rogers and Schelotto is Guillermo – he is a player who lives for big games. When he comes on the field he’ll be motivated. (Alejandro) Moreno works very, very hard. Those front four you have to be worried about.”
With enough talent to win the MLS Cup and the Supporter’s Shield last year, the Crew returned most of their team, but are only 2-2-6 to start the 2009 campaign. But the Sounders are preparing for them as though they are the MLS Cup champions and not the slow-starting team of 2009.
“They had a lot of guys that can win the game for them,” said midfielder Steve Zakuani, who watched them while playing at nearby University of Akron. “They are the type of team that if you focus too much on what they do, that’s too much to focus on. So you just have to know you’re back home in front of 30,000 fans – just focus on what you can do and come away with the three points.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 Saturday night at Qwest Field.