On Monday at the Sounders FC Annual Business Meeting, Head Coach Sigi Schmid opened up to the fans in attendance about his feelings about Seattle and what he said was as revealing about the team he intends to build for 2014 as anything.
Schmid coached the LA Galaxy for six seasons and won the MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield, U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions Cup. In three seasons with the Columbus Crew, he won the MLS Cup and the Supporters’ Shield.
His memories of those two stops are fond ones and he still maintains close friendships in both cities. However, they aren’t Seattle.
“I’ve been with three clubs in this league. This is the club that is dearest to my heart,” Schmid said at the meeting. “When we don’t succeed, it tears me up inside.”
If anyone questioned why Schmid was retained as Head Coach in Seattle, that statement alone may be enough to sway them. After talking briefly with some fans, he addressed what made Seattle so special to him.
“The fans are so special and every time we don’t win at home, it eats at me. That we haven’t been able to bring an MLS Cup or a Supporters’ Shield to the city eats at me,” Schmid said. “I’m thrilled that we have been able to bring a U.S. Open Cup and we brought three of them here. I want to bring as many championships as I can. It’s special in my heart because of the fans and what this city has done for the sport that I’ve invested my life in.”
In five short years, Seattle has become something of an epicenter for American soccer support. Sounders FC has set new attendance records each year and reached an average of 44,038. That is more than double the next highest average in MLS. When the U.S. National Team played a World Cup qualifier there on June 11, 40,847 packed the stands to see a 2-0 win over Panama.
That groundswell of support for the sport is not taken lightly.
“What Seattle has done for MLS and what Seattle has done for the sport in the United States is it’s taken it to a different level and a new level,” Schmid said. “I wish I was 20 years younger right now and coaching in Seattle. You see what this sport is going to be five, 10, 15, 20 years from now. It’s going to continue to grow. But the impetus to that growth – the injection – has come from this city.”
That passion drives Schmid and the Sounders and in 2013 the fans were rewarded with a 10-2-5 record in MLS matches and a 12-4-5 mark in all competitions.
To the head coach, though, that can be better and he points to the MLS Cup Champions Sporting Kansas City as an example of how to win games in MLS today. It is with that focus in mind that Seattle has begun reconstructing the team for 2014.
“They’re doing it with a lot of grit and a lot of determination. It just furthers the resolve of us getting back to that and making sure that we play with same grit and that same determination that I think we played with at times, but we didn’t play with all the time,” Schmid said. “My whole focus is on what we are going to do next year, the changes we need to make and making sure that we have a group that is going to believe for each other.”
Part of that belief also had to come from the ownership.
When Schmid met with Majority Owner Joe Roth and Owner/General Manager Adrian Hanauer in the days following Seattle’s untimely end in the Western Conference Semifinal, Roth and Hanauer told Schmid what their expectations were, but also wanted to hear from the coach to be sure that his expectations could be met as well.
That support meant a lot to Schmid and when it became clear that both sides of the table had the same goals and visions for reaching those goals, he was retained.
“You always want to have the support of the ownership and have them realize that what you’re doing is right and you’re trying to do a good job. They were recognizing that and they were appreciative of that,” Schmid said. “We agreed on what some of the issues were and what some of the problems were and what were some of the things we need to do to correct those things so we could establish a plan and we could work together in the same direction and move forward.”
In the first week since MLS Cup was awarded, Seattle is already well along the path toward the roster they want in place for 2014. Ultimately, it will be a roster that Schmid believes can compete for the MLS Cup, so he can give back to the fans what they have given to him.