He’s been called Mr. Seattle in some soccer circles.
And while he has pride in the organization that he has worked 15 years for, Sounders FC assistant coach Brian Schmetzer feels his duty is to ensure that others take pride in putting on the Seattle colors more than to preach his own pride in the club.
“I love the organization because the people in it are good people. I love the organization because the players that we have brought in have been, for the most part, very good and very enjoyable for me to coach. I love the fact that I’ve been able to be the longest tenured employee associated with the club,” Schmetzer said. “But I’m not going to broadcast that, because I want to make sure everybody understands how important the club is to others – to fans, to young players - and have them understand what the tradition of being a Seattle Sounder is.”
That tradition goes back to 1974 when the Sounders joined the North American Soccer League. By the time Schmetzer joined the team as a 17-year-old graduate of Nathan Hale High School in 1980, the pandemonium surrounding the club reached a fever pitch, with attendance averaging 24,246 – the highest for the Sounders in the NASL era.
He remained with the club until they folded in 1983, then played one season with the Tulsa Roughnecks while shifting his game primarily to the indoor level in the MISL until his retirement in 1991. When the Sounders were reborn in 1994, it only made sense for him to come out of retirement for one more run. He joined several other native sons from Seattle on that 1994 squad and then added another year of indoor with the Seattle SeaDogs in 1995 before embarking exclusively on a coaching career.
That is where the Brian Schmetzer of today begins to take shape.
He spent two years as an assistant to Fernando Clavijo, who would go on to coach nine seasons in Major League Soccer. Together, they won the Continental Indoor Soccer League title in 1997. Then, the league folded and Schmetzer wouldn’t find a professional coaching role until 2002.
That is when Adrian Hanauer bought the Sounders and hired Schmetzer to take the reins at the A-League club.
With former Sounders player and coach Jimmy Gabriel as his assistant, Schmetzer’s education as a soccer coach reached all new levels. In his first season, he coached the Sounders to the Commissioner’s Cup and earned Coach of the Year honors. But he never slowed the learning process.
“I think I was a very good assistant coach with Fernando Clavijo with the SeaDogs. Fernando had strengths and I was able to start the process of understanding how to fill in around the head coach’s strengths,” Schmetzer said. “That got accentuated when Jimmy Gabriel was my assistant. He was smart enough to add his own stuff to what I was doing and we had a very good working relationship. I appreciated Jimmy’s help with me in my career as a head coach.”
The successes continued to pile up in the A-League/USL, where Schmetzer and the Sounders won two Commissioner’s Cups and two League Championships before the Seattle Sounders FC burst onto the scene in 2009.
After Sigi Schmid was hired as head coach, his first move was to retain Schmetzer as his top assistant. Both raised in environments thick with German heritage, the two coaches hit it off from the first day nad have continued to challenge each other along the way over the last three years.
“My feeling has always been that you hire coaches for their quality and if you hire the right coaches, they have the abilities to become head coaches. You want to have strong personalities on your staff,” Schmid said. “His knowledge of the Seattle landscape was very important when I got here.”
So was his ability to nurture young talent.
A look around MLS rosters will find names peppered throughout who came through the Sounders in the USL under the guidance of Schmetzer.
The list includes Brian Ching, Sanna Nyassi and Josh Gardner in Montreal, Sebastien Le Toux in Philadelphia, Maykel Galindo at FC Dallas, Cam Weaver in Houston, Stephen Keel in New York and Jordan Harvey in Vancouver. Not to mention current Sounders Zach Scott and Roger Levesque and the recently retired Taylor Graham or goalkeepers Preston Burpo and Chris Eylander.
“We had a pretty savvy group of players,” he humbly smiled.
Schmetzer still maintains many duties that he held as head coach of the USL squad, running portions of training while Schmid acts in a managerial role. That, and Schmid’s acceptance of input on coaching decisions, has made the move to the assistant role an easy one for Schmetzer.
“Overall, it’s been an easy transition for me to go from a head coach to an assistant,” he said.
With the inclusion of Seattle’s Cascadia rivals in MLS in 2011, Schmetzer took on quite another role.
Already an icon to the fans, as evidenced by his inclusion in a massive overhead display highlighting the legendary Sounders faces unfurled by the Emerald City Supporters before the re-opening of the derby against the Portland Timbers, Schmetzer was sure that every player on Seattle’s roster was ready to take the rivalry seriously and keep the traditions alive.
“My pride in being a Sounder comes when we play Portland or we play Vancouver. When we step out onto the field against anyone,” he said. “I mention Portland because they are our arch nemesis. I also fought a lot of battles with the Whitecaps. That’s when my pride in who I work for and my team shows up the most.”
That’s when Brian Schmetzer, the soccer coach, best fits the moniker of Mr. Seattle.