Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid still has a few ties to Columbus. He has some friends in the area he can visit. He still owns a house there he rents out. Earlier this week he joked that he can pay his renters a visit when Seattle visits to face Columbus Crew SC this weekend.
But those ties have slowly weakened since Schmid left town for Seattle in 2009. The entire team has turned over since Schmid coached his last match in Columbus, the 2008 MLS Cup Final that Crew SC won 3-1 over the New York Red Bulls. And as of last season, he’s now coached in Seattle twice as long as he coached in Columbus, where he took a struggling franchise to the height of MLS in three short seasons.
Still, Schmid’s influence in Columbus lives on, both in Columbus’ record books (they hadn’t won an MLS Cup before and haven’t since) and in Seattle, halfway across the country. Though Schmid wasn’t involved in the decision, Brad Evans precipitated Schmid’s move by being selected by Seattle in the 2008 Expansion Draft just three days after he won the MLS Cup with Crew SC. It took central defender Chad Marshall nearly six more years to join the party, but the all-star caliber centerback reunited with his former coach last season after nearly a decade in Columbus.
When those three travel to Columbus for the pivotal halfway point of a three-game May road swing, it’ll be hard to avoid the nostalgia for all three, each of whom has a championship ring from their time in Ohio. Distant as those days may now seem.
“You look back, and as the years go by it seems that much further that it happened,” Evans said. “It seems like a lifetime ago.”
Evans’ road to Seattle was paved by that title, and quickly. Crew SC beat the Red Bulls for the championship on a Sunday, and by Wednesday he’d been uprooted by the Expansion Draft. The day after the championship, Evans flew back to Columbus with the team for end of year meetings that Tuesday, when he found out the club had left him unprotected for the draft. It was after the flight home to Arizona that Wednesday when Evans learned from his agent via phone that he was selected by Sounders FC.
Evans was traveling home with then-teammates Robbie Rogers and Steven Lenhart, who were headed home to California and connecting through Arizona on Evans’ flight. When they landed, he learned he was headed to Seattle. He told Lenhart and Rogers, and then split off for the West Coast for good. In many ways, it was a definitive turning point in his career.
Three months later, Evans started and scored in Sounders FC’s first ever MLS match, a 3-0 win over the Red Bulls team he’d beaten for a ring with his former team just a few months earlier.
“It was a special group [in Columbus], one that if I could’ve been apart of I would’ve,” Evans said. “I think they won the Supporter’s Shield the next year  also, so being part of that group would’ve been special. But at the end of the day I was in Seattle, and there’s no other place like it.”
Schmid hasn’t exactly built his roster around former players, but when the opportunity to acquire Marshall came open before the 2014 season, he couldn’t resist. When Evans told Marshall the club was interested in a defender, Evans said Marshall told him, “Sign me up. Do whatever you can do.” Marshall found himself outside of new Head Coach Gregg Berhalter’s plans, which worked to Seattle’s advantage. In his first season in Sounders FC green, he was named MLS Defender of the Year for a third time in his career.
Marshall’s reunion with Schmid took a half decade longer than Evans’, but when he arrived in Seattle he found his old coach very much the same as he remembered. With one notable caveat.
“I think he still has that same hunger, that same drive he had however many years ago it was,” Marshall said. “He’s very dedicated to what he does and wants to win championships. I think he’s a little bit more relaxed back on the West Coast, but he still has that same drive.”
Saturday’s match will be a stern test for a Sounders FC squad that’s now won three straight. The team has an off-balance week of practice thanks to the residual effect of last weekend’s cross-country trip to New York. And it’s also dealing with a long flight for the second straight week, this time against a talented team with MLS Cup aspirations and a lethal reputation at home. Of the Crew’s 12 goals this season, 10 have come in the friendly confines of MAPFRE Stadium.
At the very least, Seattle’s two centerbacks and its coach will feel right at home.
“It was fun because it was a different challenge, a different project for me,” Schmid said. “I met a lot of good people there, had good friends... Meeting people in that area, it was a comfortable situation. It was good.”