During Sunday’s match against the Portland Timbers at CenturyLink Field, Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid patrolled the sidelines with the dogged determination and focus that earned him MLS Cup titles with the LA Galaxy in 2002 and the Columbus Crew in 2008, as well as the College Cup with UCLA in 1985, 1990 and 1997.
After the match, though, he dropped the curtain of the gruff German exterior and revealed a rarely seen emotional side.
It wasn’t just his club’s effort in a 3-0 win over their bitter rivals that brought the 59-year-old Schmid to slowly measure his words in his post-game press conference to convey the sentimentality of the night.
It wasn’t even due to the gigantic overhead display that featured his likeness in the stadium’s south end, where thousands of Sounders fans young and old unfurled the tifo that featured the phrase “Tonight we go all in” with the image of Schmid in a pose that evokes The Godfather holding a royal flush to beat the hand of his counterpart.
Nor was it the 66,452 fans in attendance, bringing to life the second-largest stand-alone crowd in Major League Soccer history, behind only a 1996 match at the Los Angeles Coliseum between the LA Galaxy and New York Metrostars that drew 69,255.
A combination of those three elements, though, brought Schmid to reflect on his four years coaching in Seattle.
“This club has been the best thing that’s happened to me in soccer,” he said. “I’m thankful every day that I’m here.”
Schmid has been around Major League Soccer as a coach or analyst since 1999 and has seen his share of small crowds. He has joked that at some matches it may be easier to have the announcer introduce each fan in the stands than the players on the field.
When he first arrived in Seattle prior to the Sounders FC’s inaugural season in 2009, he could see right away that things were going to be immense in Seattle. Attendance for the club’s maiden match against the New York Red Bulls eclipsed all expectations when 32,523 watched the Sounders post a 3-0 shutout over the Red Bulls.
Seattle would smash all existing attendance records in the first year, averaging 31,203 per match. That would leap to 36,173 in 2010 and 38,496 in 2011. After Sunday’s match, the Sounders FC has an average attendance in 2012 of 43,755 with two matches left to play. That steady climb is beyond what Schmid had ever imagined when he left the defending MLS Cup and Supporters Shield champion Columbus Crew to join the Sounders.
“What’s happening here is just phenomenal. Everybody thought it was going to disappear; it was going to go away. It hasn’t gone away. If anything it’s grown,” Schmid said. “This is something that we thought wasn’t necessarily going to happen in US Soccer. This is just absolutely phenomenal. It’s a reflection of the community, it’s a reflection of the sports interest for the city of Seattle—just what the people are all about here. Our fans are the best. No offense to the Portland fans, I think they’re great and they support their team to the hill, but there’s nothing better than the Seattle Sounders fans.”
Schmid was also touched that the Emerald City Supporters, who occupy the south end of the stadium and designed the giant tifo, would choose to include him on the display. In past years, the ECS has immortalized legends of the club with their displays and Sunday’s tifo not only put him front and center for the match, but also in some rich company.
“I was glad that I had a royal flush. I felt good about that going into the game,” he beamed. “I felt very honored that the fans did that. It was a little bit emotional for me, but I was really proud of that.”