Insider Frank MacDonald continues his conversation with Brian Schmetzer, the current coach of the USL Sounders.
In his first six seasons as coach of the Seattle Sounders, Brian Schmetzer has directed the team to the Commissioner’s Cup (best record) three times and two USL First Division championships in the last three years. Schmetzer’s also on the short list of candidates under consideration for the top job of Sounders FC, which begins MLS play in 2009. Want to know more about him? Read on.
When you broke in with the Sounders, who of the players took you under their wing?
Well, it was by committee. With the English guys there was little bit of snobbery by some of the players. That just served as a motivating force for us young Americans. We felt that air of ‘We invented this game and we’re better than you.’ But at the same time I sat next to Steve Buttle in the Kingdome locker room, and Stevie was a tremendous influence on me. Tommy Hutchison, Alan Hudson–those guys were tremendous influences, just me watching them play. Frank Barton, Roy Greaves, some of the journeymen pros at that time–they were very good to me. They taught me a lot of lessons about being a good pro.
What was it like, early on?
One of my favorite stories is about when I was 17 years old and it was my first day of practice. I was receiving the ball and Bruce Rioch tackles me from behind. Bruce literally throws me two feet up in the air. I land on my back and he’s leaning over me and saying, ‘Welcome to the NASL, son.’ I learned from that moment a lot of good life lessons.
It’s a whole new generation. What’s the dynamic these days?
I can’t speak firsthand about MLS, although I’ve heard rumors of coaches moaning that you can’t teach young players anything these days because they already know everything. But part of that is human nature. It depends on the actually personality of the player. Nowadays I think what you get is leadership by example. You don’t have to look any further than Taylor Graham to see that firsthand on our team. He’s great on and off the field. He is truly a leader by example. Leighton (O’Brien) is an example simply through his vision and passing ability. Roger (Levesque) is a leader on this team because of his outlook. Everything he does says, ‘I work hard because I really enjoy what I do.’ The leadership of Sebastien (Le Toux) is by how he takes care of his body. There’s leadership in the determination shown by Zach Scott, who’s been with me a little longer, and by Kenji Treschuk. Their desire and will to win is absolutely tremendous.
Do you see yourself in any of the players you’ve coached?
I identify with the hard working, honest, day in, day out guys. Kenji is a good example of what I was like as a player. I think I had Roger ‘s attitude about the game. I was extremely happy to be at practice every day. There was never any question in my mind that this was absolutely the greatest thing in the world to ever happen to me. I was happy to be there. I think I had Leighton’s determination. Everything’s competitive to me. I think that drives Leighton. He hates to lose. Those three guys are a pretty good composite of me.
You mentioned many of the Sounders from your era. Was there anyone in particular who influenced your development?
On an international scale it was Bruce and then Kaz Deyna, which was later in my career with the (San Diego) Sockers. Those two guys were two guys I really looked up to.
At the time. I didn’t know who Bruce Rioch was and what he was becoming. I didn’t know he had been the captain of Scotland. Later he became a successful coach. But I didn’t know at the time how fortunate I was to play with him and be involved with a man of that character. It wasn’t until later on in my life and my career. With Kaz, I really learned a lot from him, just watching him. I mean he was Golden Boot winner in the ‘74 World Cup for Poland. The others were good influences on me because they taught me how to be good pro. But Bruce and Kaz stand out because they played at a high international level.
With your German ancestory, what’s you assessment of the Bundesliga? It was once the premier league in Europe. Is it on the uptick?
Honestly, only Bayern Munich can rival those other big teams in Europe. But to be brutally honest, Arsenal’s my favorite team to watch. I follow EPL games far more than the Bundesliga. England is clearly, in my opinion, the most highly watched, most entertaining league in the world right now. Obviously you have great teams in Spain and Italy and great games and teams in those countries and leagues. But consistently, top to bottom, those games in the EPL are great. The speed at which they play, the passing, movement without the ball, the athleticism is great.
You’ve played on the same men’s league team as Adrian Hanauer. Tell us about his game.
The first two games that Adrian came out, he was like a 10-year-old kid on the playground. His enthusiasm actually turned into two really stellar performances. Then the facts of everyday life caught up with him and we haven’t seen him since. He was fit; he can run pretty well. He was a welcome addition to the squad because he could run a lot. Sometimes in men’s league you really need to count your players who are fit. He’d love to be out there more often. He’s a guy who obviously loves the game. I would bet he would love to play even more than he enjoys watching the game. We’re all like that. Certainly I enjoy watching the games, but there’s nothing better than hanging out with your buddies on a Monday night and then going out and drinking a few beers and rehashing your glory years afterwards. Those are times you don’t forget.
Besides being the Sounders coach, what else is going on in your life?
It’s pretty easy for me to explain. My priorities, in order, are my kids and my two occupations. My kids are very important to me and definitely the frontrunners. My two occupations, soccer and construction, those two things are 50-50. Construction certainly keeps me busy and pays my bills. You cannot make it rich being a professional soccer player or coach in this country unless you’re Landon Donovan or David Beckham or someone like that. So for the majority of us journeyman pros, it’s tougher.
And what got you started in construction?
The construction is something I love to do. I inherited construction skills from my mother. She is extremely handy. She does stained glass, artwork, paints and loves remodeling houses. One of my favorite stories from my childhood is from when we built a garage. When my parents first came to this country they moved into a house. They’re first generation German immigrants. They grew up postwar Germany. They pinched their pennies, and did whatever it took to make a good living for themselves. So they built this garage. It was my job, at 10 years old, to take the 2x4s and pull nails out. I had to straighten the nails because they reused all of them. That was my job. No nail went to waste and we put it in a little Folgers Coffee can. They’d then reuse those nails, using them to frame and side the building.
When did you really feel you had grown into your skin as a coach?
I would say probably when Jimmy (Gabriel) came on board in 2003. I really benefited a lot from Jimmy. I obviously had a really good statistical first year, but the makeup of the team was such that I didn’t have to do much except throw ball out there, pick between 11 out of 18 really, really good players and they did the rest. But the next couple years after that I grew as a coach and really understood managing the personalities I had on the team. Jimmy was there to help me with the tactical and training of a professional team.
So when we made it to the championship game in ‘04, I thought, ‘You know what, I can get the hang of this.’ We had beaten Portland, who had the best record in the league, and got past them. We had some tactical things we applied, we were good at what we did, we peaked at the right time. It was just unfortunate that year that Welton couldn’t play in the final. Montreal was at home and obviously had all the emotion and fans behind them. That game could’ve been 1-1 very easily. They eventually got the second goal and that killed the game. But from that experience I felt I could coach at a high level.