TUKWILA, Wash. – Forgive Brian Schmetzer if he’s struggling with exactly how he should feel right now.
He’s suddenly the man in charge of saving his club’s season after the abrupt departure of Sigi Schmid on Tuesday, and the longtime assistant said dealing with that news and the challenge ahead brought some mixed emotions when he led the team for the first time at training at the team’s Starfire Sports facility.
“Sigi and I always had a good relationship, and I have lot of respect for him,” Schmetzer said. “I’m certainly very thankful that I was able to be part of his staff for seven and a half years. I learned a lot.
“Now, when I look at it, it’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for me. It’s kind of bittersweet. You lose a guy that you have a lot of respect for, but at the end of the day, it is an opportunity for me to impart some pride back in the club and make sure we try and win games.”
Few familiar with Seattle soccer history aren’t already familiar with Schmetzer, who has been Schmid’s top assistant since the club’s MLS inception in 2009. A Seattle native, Schmetzer led the Sounders in USL-1 from 2002-08 and guided them to two league titles, and he played for the club in both the 1980s and 90s.
The move to lift Schmetzer to Schmid’s old job for the duration of the season was a no-brainer, but still a dramatic first for the club. Schmid’s tenure of nearly eight seasons in the Emerald City was rare not just for MLS but for all Seattle sports, highlighted by four U.S. Open Cup titles, a Supporters’ Shield and seven consecutive postseason appearances.
Still, there have been cracks in the Sounders’ façade since opening day in March, and Schmetzer knows it. There are also some challenges coming via new signings – both Schmetzer and Sounders GM and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey mentioned Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, who was spotted at Sea-Tac Airport around the time Schmid was being let go – and a tough climb to reach an eighth consecutive postseason this fall.
Schmetzer said a few players were emotional during training after the Schmid news broke, but he expects a potential burst of energy from the group while playing under a new head coach.
“We’re gonna get a little bump because, ‘It’s a new guy, can I impress the new guy?’” Schmetzer said. “We’ll get that bump, and how we proceed with that and make it a long-term bump so that we close out the season on a positive, that will be the new challenge.”
Lagerwey said it was too early to discuss a long-term replacement for Schmid and there was no timeline on when the Sounders would begin a coaching search. But he praised Schmetzer’s character and resolve, and recalled a conversation between the two men in 2015 when Schmetzer discussed at length the identity, culture and history of the club.
“He’s someone who is going to look out for the club first and foremost,” Lagerwey said of Schmetzer. “He’s going to take an approach of accountability in our group, and I’m excited to work with Brian. He’s going to be a candidate for the job, and we’re also going to look far and wide for the next coaching candidate.”