Sigi Schmid, Kasey Keller reflect on unique paths to National Soccer Hall of Fame

Sigi Schmid was hesitant to delve too deep into the simmering rivalry between him and Bruce Arena on a night meant for celebration Saturday, but he just couldn’t help himself.

Among the myriad stories the 62-year-old Sounders FC head coach told upon his induction to the National Soccer Hall of Fame came from the days when Schmid and Arena were college rivals at UCLA and Virginia, respectively, and two of the best coaches in America.

Schmid and longtime N.C. State head coach George Tarantini were enjoying dinner and a glass of wine when Tarantini summed up the duo’s give-and-take relationship of rivalry and respect with one deft punchline, which Schmid quietly carried with him until Saturday night.

“I know you and Bruce, you are very competitive,” Tarantini told Schmid in between puffs of a cigarette. “And I know every time Bruce’s team wins a national championship, you slit your wrists, just a little bit.

“But Sigi,” Tarantini added, taking another drag, “every time a UCLA player plays for the national team, Bruce, he slits his wrists just a little bit.”

That anecdote drew the heartiest response from the crowd assembled to honor Schmid, longtime US national team goalkeeper Kasey Keller and former USMNT player and assistant coach Glenn “Mooch” Myernick as the latest class inducted into American soccer’s Hall of Fame.

It was a night of levity and nostalgia for Schmid and Keller, who were cheered mightily when they donned the Hall of Fame’s signature red jackets in front of a largely Seattle-based crowd. Schmid is still the only coach the Sounders have had during their MLS incarnation and Keller played for the team from 2009-11, before joining the club as a television analyst and a part-time goalkeepers coach.

And both paid due tribute to Myernick, who passed away in 2006 after serving on the USMNT coaching staff during the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

The honor felt somewhat overdue for Schmid, who enters the Hall after winning three NCAA titles at UCLA and carving a nearly unprecedented professional path. He’s the winningest coach in MLS history, a four-time U.S. Open Cup champion and one of only two coaches to ever win the MLS Cup with two different teams (LA in 2002 and Columbus in 2008). The only other coach to accomplish that feat is Arena, who was inducted in 2010 and sat close to the stage when Schmid received the honor on Saturday.

Schmid thanked Arena and a host of other titanic and instrumental figures in American soccer – Bob Gansler, Bora Milutinovic, Lothar Osiander, Lamar Hunt, Phil Anschutz – as well as all the players he’s coached in the past and his wife, Valerie, who’s been with him since the early days in Los Angeles.

“As she said to me when we got married, ‘I know what you are,’’ Schmid said. “I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that, but I think she meant soccer coach.”

Keller thanked his family and a host of other influences that helped pave a unique path in American soccer history. The son of an unassuming egg farmer in Olympia growing up when a career in international soccer was hardly a steady profession, Keller said his arrogance and drive ultimately led him to the University of Portland, a trailblazing career in Europe and and 102 caps with the USMNT.

Keller was introduced by longtime USMNT teammate and roommate and fellow Hall of Famer Brian McBride, who dubbed Keller “a teammate who was always influential, and important.”

It wasn’t always easy. Long before Keller played professionally in England, Spain and Germany, his father wondered aloud if there was any future at all in a sport with such little resonance in 80s-era America.

“My dad was American. My dad didn’t have a passport. It was all American sports,” Keller said. “When I started giving up the other sports, my father didn’t quite understand. He said, ‘You’re choosing a sport where there’s no league in this country. What are you doing?’

“Well,” Keller quipped Saturday night, “it worked out pretty well, Dad.”

Keller also cited two men who helped steer his career to Europe: Longtime University of Portland coach Clive Charles and Bruce Rioch, the manager at Millwall who gave Keller his first European contract. Rioch played with and coached the Sounders in the mid-80s, and sensed there was burgeoning American talent out there somewhere, undiscovered.

Said Keller: “You don’t get to this point without so much help.”