The news hit Seattle like a booming shockwave, one ripple after another coming to bear on a soccer city as much his as anybody’s.
After seven years, four U.S. Open Cup titles, a Supporters' Shield, more wins than any coach in MLS history and vast stores of public goodwill, Sigi Schmid’s tenure with the Seattle Sounders is over.
On Tuesday, the Sounders and Schmid announced they’d mutually agreed to part ways. Schmid, who joined Seattle before the 2009 season, is the only head coach the MLS Sounders have ever known, and his impact on the Seattle sports scene goes beyond merely soccer. Only three head coaches in the city’s pro sports history - Lou Pinella, Mike Holmgren and Chuck Knox - had longer tenures with their respective teams. In terms of longevity in professional sports - a rare commodity indeed - Schmid’s deep imprint is impossible to miss.
Ultimately, Seattle’s sagging form built too high a wall for Schmid to clamor over this time. The Sounders currently sit in ninth place in the 10-team Western Conference, and their 6-12-2 mark through 20 games is almost already their worst. The Sounders never lost more than 12 games in a season over the course of their first seven years in MLS.
With 14 regular season games left, Seattle’s already matched that loss total, and the playoffs are now a distant hope.
“Sigi Schmid has been an invaluable member of Sounders FC since the club’s MLS launch, leading our organization to numerous trophies and a consistent winning culture for seven seasons,” Sounders Owner Adrian Hanauer said in a statement. “Sigi departs the club with our utmost respect and gratitude for his years of service. Ultimately the club and Sigi agreed that a change was needed at this time, but Sigi’s legacy will always be a part of our history. He has my sincere appreciation for all that he committed to our team and community.”
All that is necessary background to Schmid’s final days in Seattle, which passed in frustration with mounting losses and lagging play. All season Seattle had been undone by a lack of finishing, not necessarily overall poor performances, but that changed suddenly. The Sounders were out-shot 19-1 in a 3-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City on Sunday, and they were just minutes from becoming the first team in MLS history to go a full 90 minute match without registering a single shot. That, it seems, was the final straw.
It’s worth noting that the high bar by which Schmid was judged this year was largely set by Schmid’s own past performance. It was his run of seven consecutive playoff appearances that make the likelihood of missing the postseason this year so galling. Aren’t the Sounders supposed to make the playoffs every year? However realistic that thought process is, Schmid’s overarching success made that question sing through the streets of Seattle.
He was a rock of a coach for eight years, quietly going about the work of integrating new players, keeping old ones hungry and developing youth through first team minutes. Who else could coax the best out of travel-worn vets like Obafemi Martins and youthful spark plugs like Fredy Montero alike? And do it with that understated calm with which Schmid became so well known? Even when the club’s form was mired in the shadows, you could always count on Schmid’s even keel.
Managing a club like the Sounders for nearly a decade, with all the attendant pressures both internal and external that go along with being the managerial face of one of the most well-supported clubs on the planet, is a notoriously difficult task.
And Schmid handled all of it with grace uncommon to the position.
Schmid masterfully twirled his lineups around competitions over his well-regarded Sounders stint, using a blend of second and first teamers to drive Seattle to three straight U.S. Open Cups and four by the end of his tenure. He coached a team to the brink of the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals and won two Cascadia Cups, including the last one. Schmid earned his reputation as a lineup wizard over the years in his faithful 4-4-2. Few coaches in American history have been better at turning a full-team roster buffeted by injuries and absences and fatigue into a winning 11-man lineup over myriad competitions.
By the time he arrived in Seattle after decisive runs with the LA Galaxy and Columbus Crew SC, he’d become well known as a players’ coach who fostered positive clubhouse environments by treating his players like professionals. He routinely doled out trust to his players in handfuls, and they repaid him with their appreciation, not to mention the cup trophies.
As Schmid leaves the Sounders for the last time, it’s natural to feel let down by the course the 2016 season’s taken. Schmid would wholeheartedly agree. But as the man who’s done so much for soccer in this soccer-mad city departs, spare a thought for the last eight years.
Eight years in which the game flowered in all its resplendence in Seattle. Eight years in which the Sounders enjoyed winning season after winning season, studded with four shiny cups. Eight years in which fans welcomed first division soccer back to the city that has done so much to shape how the game is viewed in this country in the 21st century.
Schmid was in the captain’s chair for all of it, and now his watch has ended.
It’s been a heck of a ride. Thanks for the memories, Sigi.