When Sigi Schmid left UCLA to join the coaching ranks in Major League Soccer, he had lofty goals for himself.
Already holding an incredible résumé at the college level, he wanted to be to MLS what Sir Alex Ferguson has been for Manchester United.
With a 79-53-32 record and four cups with the LA Galaxy in just five seasons, he looked well on his way. However, he was let go by the Galaxy and went on to tremendous success with the Columbus Crew, where he went 34-33-25, winning the MLS Cup and the Supporters’ Shield in 2008. It still wasn’t right though.
Finally, landing in Seattle in December of 2008, that goal persisted – to have success with one club for the rest of his coaching career like Ferguson has done since 1986 with Manchester United.
“I thought I’d be Alex Ferguson wherever I went and I’d be there forever. It didn’t work out that way with the Galaxy and it didn’t work out that way in Columbus,” Schmid said. “Maybe this is the place at the end of the day.”
The Sounders took one step to help reach that ambition, signing the coach to a contract extension that will keep him in Seattle for the foreseeable future.
“I’m a big believer in finding good people and creating continuity within the club. I loved Sigi as a hire when we brought him on. It was the right decision then and it’s still the right decision,” owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer said. “I think the results over the last two and a half years prove that.”
Schmid became the league’s all-time winningest coach at the end of the 2009 season when he surpassed former Chicago Fire, MetroStars and Chivas USA coach Bob Bradley, currently the head coach with the US Men’s National Team. He has since piled on to that win total, amassing 158 career victories to put him 34 wins clear of Bradley and 39 wins ahead of the top active coach, LA Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena.
Before coming to Seattle, he had two MLS Cups and two Supporters’ Shields to his credit, but he knew from Day One that Seattle was going to be a whole new experience.
“Right at the beginning with all the coverage. Opening day with the sold out crowd. All the people I’ve met,” Schmid said. “I was thinking, ‘Do a good job. Don’t mess this up.’ Because I’d like to stay here a while.”
Adding to the gloss on his success has been that it has come with an expansion franchise – albeit one that came with a winning pedigree at the USL level and a tremendous business backing from the Seattle Seahawks offices. Since 1998, when the Chicago Fire won the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup, no expansion team has even been able to make a playoff appearance in their first season, let alone win a trophy like the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, which Schmid and the Sounders won in each of their first two seasons.
Now in the semifinal of the US Open Cup and with the second best record in MLS, the Sounders are hardly resting on their early success.
“When you look back now and see all the other expansion teams that have come into the league, it really makes what we have done in year one and year two that much more special,” Schmid said. “People realize that that’s not the easiest thing to do. What’s been best about the team is that the organization is constantly trying to improve the team and is looking for better options if and when they are available, but we’ve also shown the patience to build with certain foundations of the team and allowed them to grow.”
That success hasn’t come without some occasional valleys, though. The Sounders have not yet gotten out of the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs and have struggled to always meet the lofty expectations that have come with the early success on the field and in the stands, where CenturyLink Field has outdrawn every other MLS stadium by over 14,000 this season.
However, Hanauer and the Sounders are more apt to view the long-term successes than to make knee-jerk reactions when the wins aren’t pouring in – as they are right now when the Sounders are on an eight-game unbeaten streak that has seen them go 5-0-3 in MLS play.
“The big picture is how I make decisions. You really do have to look at the entire body of work,” Hanauer said. “There are probably 14 or 15 or 16 teams that would trade places with us in a second. We’re not always going to be number one, but if we can be in the top echelon on a consistent basis, I’ll take that. We want to just keep collecting trophies, keep playing good soccer and keep connecting with our fans. We believe that Sigi is a big part of that and we believe that he can finish the job as well.”
Next week, Schmid will have the opportunity to test his mettle against Ferguson when his Sounders meet Manchester United in a friendly at CenturyLink Field. It will also give him the chance to ask a pressing question.
“I’m going to ask him how he was able to keep extending it as long as he has. Hopefully he can offer me a tip or two so I can accomplish the same thing,” Schmid said. “I’m in a wonderful place. The city is fantastic. The support is fantastic. I enjoy living here and hopefully we can have many more good seasons ahead of us and many more championships ahead of us.”