When the Seattle Sounders take on Columbus Crew SC on Saturday in MLS Cup 2020 (5:30 p.m. PT; FOX, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM), there will be one notably absent viewer: Sigi Schmid.
The legendary manager, after whom the annual MLS Coach of the Year award is now named, passed away on Dec. 25, 2018. He was 65.
Schmid coached Crew SC from 2006-08, leading the Black and Gold to their only MLS Cup title in his final year in charge. Shortly after lifting the Philip F. Anschutz trophy, he departed to take over the expansion Seattle franchise, and the rest is history.
He led the Sounders from their inauguration into MLS in 2009 until midway through the 2016 season. Under his tenure, Seattle won four U.S. Open Cup titles, a Supporters’ Shield and qualified for the postseason in seven consecutive years.
Schmid’s legacy is inextricably woven into Seattle and Columbus’ MLS histories, and there is a pang of sorrow in both camps that he is not around for this year’s final.
“I love that [Schmid has] been a part of both franchises,” said Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “I’m sad he’s not here to witness this.”
Schmetzer was the long-time head coach of the Sounders’ USL franchise. When the club made the leap to MLS, Schmetzer stayed on staff, joining Schmid as an assistant and serving under him until his appointment as interim manager and then full-time manager in 2016.
When Schmid arrived to Seattle, he did so with a lengthy resume that spoke for itself. He spent 20 years in charge of perennial NCAA powerhouse UCLA, winning three national titles. He then spent six years with the LA Galaxy, leading them to an MLS Cup, a Supporters’ Shield and a U.S. Open Cup before spending a year coaching the United States U-20 national team.
“As a younger coach in MLS, having the ability to just sit back and ask yourself this question, ‘OK, why did Sigi do that?’ That was a great learning resource for me to understand how things work, how he did things, and then I was able to formulate my own processes based on everything that I saw and heard through my experience being an assistant,” said Schmetzer.
“I had a long seven years and studied what he did, why he did, asked him questions,” he continued. “He always had fond memories of Columbus. He always liked coming back here. He had made friends here. It was a good time in his career.”
Although he did not serve under Schmid, Columbus’ current Head Coach Caleb Porter understands the legacy that Schmid built and what he’s meant to that club.
“You don’t forget legends,” Porter said. “You don’t forget people, pioneers that have paved the way for you and that’s something that I’m always mindful of and think about.”
Schmid was also keen and sharp at identifying and developing talent. Sounders Homegrown forward Jordan Morris experienced Schmid’s influence firsthand. Schmid helped Morris get into his first United States youth national team camp when he joined the U.S. U-20s toward the end of the FIFA U-20 World Cup cycle. He also wanted to sign Morris out of high school, but finally was able to have Morris join the team after three standout seasons at Stanford.
“I can’t really say enough about Sigi and his impact on my career and my life,” said Morris. “He always believed in me…He helped me find that right balance between having fun and being a good pro. That mentality has helped shape my career.
“I owe so much to Sigi,” he continued, “and I know we all miss him.”
While he won’t be there physically, his enduring spirit and presence will be largely felt in both organizations because, as successful and massive a figure he was in the U.S. soccer landscape, it was who he was as a person that ultimately resonated the most.
“[Schmid] was a good people-person,” Schmetzer said. “He was a really nice man.”