For years, Sigi Schmid has been known around Seattle for his coaching prowess. Fans sing songs for him as he walks to the field for each home match.
His coaching ability is only half of the story of his unprecedented success in MLS though. He also is a selling point to prospective players and two of the team’s biggest ever signings are evidence of that.
Not long ago, Obafemi Martins was in training with Levante in Spain when he and his teammates spotted a familiar figure, but one they had not seen on the training grounds in Valencia before.
“What is Sigi doing here?” he said to his teammates, only to learn later that the Sounders FC head coach was there to scout Martins in advance of his eventual move to Seattle in March.
There is a certain amount of clout attached to being the winningest coach in Major League Soccer history. Just how much, though, may not be fully understood.
“Everybody knows Sigi,” said Martins, wide-eyed and impressed that Schmid came to Spain himself to watch him play.
That sentiment was echoed by Clint Dempsey when he explained his desire to come to Seattle to play when he signed with Sounders FC last week.
The fanbase was an undeniable draw for Dempsey. After all, the team sold out all 67,000 seats at CenturyLink Field for Dempsey’s home debut on August 25 against the Portland Timbers, forcing the club to expand capacity for the first time in club history.
However, he also cited Schmid as a major reason for wanting to play with Sounders FC while he prepares for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
“It was important for me to be in Seattle because of the fan base, the atmosphere, and because Sigi is the coach,” Dempsey said at his introductory press conference on Monday. “He’s done so much for the American game, and just being around the national team I hear players talk about different coaches and it was always positive when they talked about Sigi.”
That level of respect from the U.S. National Team captain in Dempsey and world-class striker in Martins is hardly without merit.
Schmid has won two MLS Cup titles, two Supporters’ Shields, four U.S. Open Cup titles and the CONCACAF Champions Cup. All of that after coaching the UCLA Bruins to three College Cup titles and 322 career victories. His college success earned him an induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame – and that was three years before he started an MLS coaching career that has seen him win more games than any other coach in league history.
He has also had success on the international level, coaching the U.S. U-20 National Team in 1998, 1999 and 2005 and serving as an assistant on the U.S. National Team to Bora Milutinovic for the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
All of that experience and success, coupled with his personable demeanor in recruiting talent, has helped lure two of the league’s top players to Seattle.
“He was very humble. He didn’t ask me right away to come play for the Sounders, he just asked if I ever thought about playing in MLS. He didn’t say much about the league. We were just talking about families. It was fun. We got a good rapport,” Martins said, smiling and shaking his head. “He’s good at doing that.”