We are halfway through the 2011 season and the Sounders are 6-4-7 and third in Major League Soccer with 25 points. SoundersFC.com chatted with Sigi Schmid about the Sounders at the midway point and what to expect from the team in the second half.
Q: Last week you graded the Sounders first half as a B+ or C-. If at all, how does the result of the weekend change that assessment?
Schmid: It doesn’t change that much. The one area that I think we have improved upon is our ability to get through tougher situations in a game. Going a man down – it’s the first game that we’ve won after going a man down. Last year we came back and tied in Chicago playing a man down. I remember the first year when Kansas City came here when we took a red card and they scored a goal and the game was over. We’ve become better at dealing with that sort of adversity and that’s important. We’ve turned what might have been losses into ties and now we have to turn those ties into wins and I think that’ll be the final stage for us.
Q: Off the field, the team has had a lot of adversity with the long-term losses of Steve Zakuani and O’Brian White. Does dealing with that adversity off the field help the team become more resilient within a game?
Schmid: You only deal with adversity by having to go through it. Having adversity helps you learn how to go through it, but the key is having success while you go through it. You can talk about what it takes to have success through it, but nobody actually buys into it until you actually do have success. Getting that win there, getting the late tie this year in Philadelphia, getting the win in Salt Lake to end their streak. Those are three examples on the road of the team being able to hang in there and figure out a way to get a result in a difficult place to play. Each time you get that, you get a little more confident that you can do it again. If it doesn’t work the next time, in the back of your mind, you know what it takes to get there and how to do it again. That’s the main way to become better at it.
Q: Maybe lost a bit in the Vancouver game because of Eric Hassli’s goal is that you came back the way you did …
Schmid: Exactly. And if Hassli doesn’t score that goal, then it becomes a great thing for us at home. We’ve certainly showed an ability to come back from being a goal down and turn things around.
Q: Where does this team need to improve over the second half of the season to bump it into the top tier in the league?
Schmid: Our ability to maintain consistent possession is one. But along with that is turning our domination into goals. I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job of that. As a result, it’s put more pressure on our defense. If we finish some of the chances that we’ve created for ourselves, I think our defense will also get more shutouts because they’ll play with a greater confidence and I think that will help us out on both ends of the field.
Q: You are third in the league right now and haven’t gotten a ton of production from the forwards. Is that encouraging in a way that there is still another step this team can take without making personnel changes and yet still you are in third in the league?
Schmid: It is encouraging on the one hand. For me, what’s more encouraging is that even though we aren’t scoring from our forwards, we’ve still found a way to get points and stay in games and win games. We can’t just think that because our forwards start scoring that we can breathe easier though. The more you think that, the more likely things are to collapse. You don’t want to fall into that trap.
Q: A lot of talk in the soccer world surrounds the July 15 transfer window. How much can that window make a difference to this team?
Schmid: We always want to make the fans happy. That’s an important aspect of it all. But it would be a mistake to think that on July 16 there’s going to be a savior that will walk in here and everything is going to be tremendous. One thing that I learned early in this league is that if you have a decent foreign player, don’t think there’s going to be a better one around the corner. That next guy may have trouble adjusting. He may struggle with the field, the lifestyle, the travel … with something. And he may not be as good as you thought he was going to be. We have to be smart and we have to be judicious with our decisions and make decisions that are best for the team. We are always looking to improve the team and we’re willing to make the moves that are the right moves. Even though it hasn’t been perfect, our record has been ok as it deals with foreign players. We have to be diligent a as we bring players in.
Q: There is also the option of trading within the league. Is that something the fans should be prepared for?
Schmid: Yeah. We’re always looking for the right situations to improve our team. When I was in Columbus we traded Joseph Ngwenya for Alejandro Moreno and that helped us establish our team. Our trade of Kei Kamara for Brian Carroll was a trade that helped form our championship. That’s not to say that Kamara was a bad player or Ngwenya was a bad player, but the other two guys fit what we needed. If there’s something out there that make sense for us that will make us a better team or give us the ability to have more financial resources to go over players at the transfer window. Those are all things that we look at every day.
Q: This team is so involved in the comunnity and every player seems to make a connection with one group of fans or another. Does that personal element and the expected backlash from the fans make those trades more difficult?
Schmid: There is always going to be a group of fans that thought you made an absolutely brilliant move and there is the other group that will wonder why you got rid of a player. Then there is the whole big group in the middle. It’s always difficult when you have to move a player because of their connections with the fans, the community, their charitable work … all those things. It’s not like I think players are looking to get out of the place. I think last year in the situation that occurred with Freddie Ljungberg, I think the club showed a willingness and respect of the team to say that if we have to do something that’s difficult, we’ll do it if we think it makes the team better. We weren’t worried about whose picture is up on the banners. We just think about making the team better. At the end of the day, every decision we make is a decision that we think makes the team better. When you make decisions based on that, they’re easy decisions. They’re not always popular decisions, but we view every decision in that manner.
Q: What has you excited about the second half of the season?
Schmid: Knowing that the playoffs are around the corner, we have another shot at the CONCACAF tournament – and we saw what excitement that created for Salt Lake – we have the opportunity to go out and win our third US Open Cup in a row. All those things are exciting to me. But the most exciting to me is that I think our best soccer is still ahead of us. I don’t think we’ve peaked yet in this season and I think we will peak. If we don’t peak until October or November, I’m ok with that. As long as we peak by then and we carry it all the way through the playoffs. I’m excited because there is still good soccer ahead of us and there’s a lot of competitions ahead of us and that always makes it fun and we always want to do well in those.