TUKWILA, Wash. – As puzzling as the Seattle Sounders’ start to the season has been, frustration is nothing new to Sigi Schmid.
After all, the 63-year-old Sounders head coach has roughly two decades in Major League Soccer under his belt, trying year in and year out to somehow avoid costly injuries, surmount increasing parity across the league and, if everything goes absolutely perfectly, win a title.
He’s done that twice in his career, most recently with the Columbus Crew in 2008, the year before he joined the Sounders for the club’s MLS expansion debut. But the Crew team that won both the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup in 2008 came only after Schmid trudged through arguably his most frustrating year as an MLS coach in 2006, when Columbus battled injuries, sputtered in the summer and forced Schmid to at least momentarily consider stepping down from his post.
With the Sounders struggling and in need of a boost against Schmid’s former club at CenturyLink Field on Saturday afternoon (1 p.m. PT; JoeTV, ROOT Sports/KIRO 97.3 FM, El Rey 1360 AM), are there parallels between the head coach’s two very different teams more than a decade apart?
The ’06 Crew team actually started better than this year’s Sounders, posting a 3-3-1 record over their first seven games of the season. But the wheels fell off that summer, when they succumbed to a 13-game winless streak that ultimately doomed their season, and they finished last in the Eastern Conference with just eight wins in 32 games.
The Crew were dealing with a substantial roster overhaul, but injuries took their toll too. Defender and Crew icon Frankie Hejduk tore his ACL that year, costing him a shot at the World Cup in Germany, and Schmid estimates now that 40 percent of the team’s salary cap was out injured during the summer.
Schmid openly considered calling it quits in in mid-August, after the Crew lost at home to a fledgling Real Salt Lake team on a stoppage time goal.
"Maybe it's me," Schmid said at the time, according to Columbus Dispatch reporter Shawn Mitchell. "It can't be all 31 guys, so maybe it's me."
Schmid said Friday he remembers the moment, even if he knew the Crew would ultimately find their form. They won the next game to snap the suffocating winless streak.
“It’s a results-orientated business, I’ve always said that,” Schmid said Friday. “I knew we were going down the right path, but when you change 22 out of 25 players, it’s a little bit different.”
The Crew’s key players eventually healed, the team’s young players matured and the situation improved. Although they missed the postseason once again in 2007, the Crew won the double in 2008 and won the Supporters’ Shield again in 2009 after Schmid left.
It was a situation not too dissimilar from the Sounders’ poor run of form last summer, when the club lost eight of nine games before rebounding to reach the postseason and come within a penalty kick shootout of the Western Conference Championship last fall.
“You’re never happy when you’re losing,” Schmid said. “[The ’06 stretch] was a stretch that was difficult. Last year was difficult as well. The main thing is, you’ve gotta believe in what you’re doing, and the team continues to believe in what you’re doing. And you stay together as a group. We came out of it last year as a group, and we came out of it in Columbus as a result of that.”
Morris, Dempsey and Valdez Healthy
Schmid said Friday that the team’s trio of starting forwards Clint Dempsey [groin], Nelson Valdez [hamstring] and Jordan Morris [back] all trained on Friday and there are no concerns ahead Saturday’s match against Columbus.
Midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz, meanwhile, is expected to miss the match while nursing a thigh injury suffered last week in Colorado.