The Seattle Sounders announced Brian Schmetzer as Head Coach last night at the annual Alliance Council meeting. I was busy working on my game review post, but, wow, I mean, wow! I am both shocked and totally saw it coming at the same time.
First off, a tip of the cap to Schmetzer. He so totally deserves this. Serving under the dreaded interim tag since July, Schmetz has done nothing but win. In 14 regular season games, he posted a 8-2-4 line. That’s 28 points in 14 games, exactly 2 ppg. The campaign was surely helped by the arrival of Nico Lodeiro, but the team suffered adversity as well. Despite unexpectedly losing Clint Dempsey and seeing many of the veteran Sounders succumb to late season wear and tear, Schmetz keep pushing the right buttons and grounding out results.
Numbers aside, Schmetz is a mensch. Underneath the bravado, hustle and competitive drive, athletes are people too. People compelled by that deep, human sticky stuff always churning at our core. And this team was emotionally spent when Schemtz took over. This team was broken and done following that 3-0 loss to SKC in Sigi’s final game. Schmetz came in and fixed everyone. He connected with the club, he coached the boys up and got them to believe in themselves again.
And yet… I never thought, back in July when he was promoted, that Schmetz would keep the job. First off, Seattle is a very ambitious club and hiring Schmetzer won’t sell tickets or move the Sounders’ Q rating. Face it: Schmetz is not a sexy hire. He is not Barros Schelotto. Hell, he isn’t even Jason Kreiss.
Seattle has always sought to splash. When Sigi was hired back in 2009, it was because he was a stud, a proven winner, a champion in all his previous stops (UCLA, the Galaxy, the Crew). The fact that we poached him away from Columbus added to the PR sensation of it all. But do we really need to move the needle with big names anymore? Hell, if Leslie Jones is live tweeting our games and preaching the gospel of soccer sexiness, do the Sounders really need to “make a splash” PR-wise anymore? No. They need to win MLS Cup(s).
I’ve always talked about how Seattle has the chance to establish itself as one of THE Big Clubs of MLS. Not a good club, or a great club, but a dominant club. As soccer rises in popularity here in the States, and MLS gains traction as a league, Seattle can become one of the world’s great soccer clubs. But we need to be winners first.
Garth Lagerwey, Seattle’s President of Soccer, is hungry to modernize the Sounders’ operation. In a Q & A with fans back in September, Garth hinted at a power struggle with Sigi. Garth talked about his core tenets, how he was organizing the Sounders from the ground up, and one of those tenets was creating a “Sounders” brand of soccer. That is, creating a team system first and then finding the players to fill it. This outside-in-approach is opposite from Sigi’s, as Sigi always built his team around the players he had. Garth is a “I am cooking fajitas tonight. So I need to go get peppers, onions, skirt steak etc.” wile Sigi was a “So… what do I have in the fridge… tuna, turkey, lentils… viola! Here’s some crazy delicious concoction.” As Garth was going to have final say on who coached the Sounders in 2017, Schmetz would only seriously be a candidate if he were willing to run with the President.
I never knew where Schmetz stood on the aforementioned spectrum of team building philosophies. I too often saw him as Sigi Jr. because he was his assistant coach for seven and a half years. But of course Schmetz had been head coach himself for seven years before Sigi had even heard of Ivar’s. And after Sunday’s demolishing of FC Dallas, Schmetz did some solid meta-applying for the job when, in a postmatch interview, he said, “When Fish comes in for Jones, he knows his role … when Herc comes in, he knows his role.” That was Lagerwey’s kind of thinking. Schmetz was willing to shop for fajitas.
A quick addendum: As a diehard Eagles fan (ugh.. Sunday was difficult. That deep, human sticky stuff I referenced earlier… well I was sticky with the whole spectrum of human emotions after the Sounders trounced FC Dallas but then the Birds coughed up a 10-point 4th quarter lead to the Cowboys), Schmetz’s hiring reminds me a lot like Doug Pederson’s in Philly.
After 14 years of steady excellence under Andy Reid finally got stale, the Eagles went with the splashy hire and brought in Chip Kelly. That quickly went nowhere, and the Birds went to their roots. Much like with Schmwtz, the team hired someone who had played in the city and had coached there as an assistant. Pederson, like Schmetzer a thoroughly unscintillating hire, has his team winning again.
All of Seattle’s ambition, history and support is great. But the Sounders need more silverware, we’re #hellagreedy. Schmetz is a winner, our winner. Schmetz is a Sounder.