The Sounders FC and coach Brian Schmetzer are having ongoing discussions, but a deal for a contract extension has not been reached.
Schmetzer led the club to a fourth MLS Cup appearance, losing 3-0 to the Columbus Crew SC on Saturday night for the title. Many questioned his in-game tactics, but Garth Lagerwey, the club’s president of soccer and general manager, stated a desire to have Schmetzer return.
“I’ve always said that I hope to be back,” Schmetzer said Wednesday. “It is getting a little late in the year, but everybody has the same goals in mind in trying to push it over the finish line.”
Schmetzer’s contract expires at the end of the month. The Nathan Hale High School alum rose from an assistant under Sigi Schmid to interim head coach in 2016. Schmetzer signed his first long-term deal in 2017.
“We want to bring Brian and his staff back; we’ve said that for months,” Lagerwey said. “I spoke with Brian’s representative multiple times (Tuesday) and certainly in the run-up to the playoffs as well. Better to do it right than to do it fast.”
Schmetzer won MLS Cup titles in 2016 and 2019. He is one of five coaches in the league’s 25-year history to win multiple league championships.
No protest for anthem
The delegations for the Sounders and Crew did not kneel before kickoff Saturday as teams and players have done in multiple matches this season to support the Black Lives Matter movement. The pregame demonstration was initiated in June by Black Players for Change, a new organization representing Black players, coaches and staff in MLS.
During the broadcast of the Final, there was a close-up of all the players for the Sounders and Crew standing during the national anthem. The league only played the anthem in markets where there were fans in attendance this season. About 1,500 people were socially distanced at MAPFRE Stadium in Ohio for MLS Cup.
The Sounders played closed-door matches at Lumen Field when the regular-season resumed in August. But whether on the road or at home, the Sounders and their opponent’s starters would stand in position on the field for the first whistle, the referee giving the signal to kneel for a few moments first and then whistle to start play. Reserve players, coaches and technical staff for both sides also kneeled from the sideline and stands simultaneously.
“It was all of a FOX production aspect,” said Schmetzer of a possible reason the demonstration didn’t happen Saturday. MLS and the BPC did not immediately respond to requests for comment
“Our players firmly believe in the movement,” Schmetzer continued. “They want to participate in all of the different things that are starting to be organized and are part of it already.”
The Sounders were part of the pro sports-wide strike in August that followed the shooting in the back of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. MLS was forced to forfeit five matches overall.
Previous roster moves nearly maxed out the Sounders’ salary cap, but the pandemic will also restrict player movement in 2021. Lagerwey and Chris Henderson, the club’s vice president of soccer and sporting director, attended fewer than 10 Sounders training sessions combined this season and were not able to scout globally for players as the virus spread.
Complications will likely continue into the MLS offseason. Lagerwey is isolating in his garage per Washington health guidelines because he traveled with Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer to attend the MLS Cup. It’s likely Lagerwey’s only business trip until vaccines are widely distributed.
Lagerwey also can’t make some transactions to loan players to clubs outside the U.S. if there’s a spike in reported cases. The Sounders signed Brazilian midfielder Joao Paulo in January and Colombian defender Yeimar in February. Lagerwey is working to extend Joao Paulo’s deal, which would give the Sounders the cap limit of three designated players.
Nico Lodeiro, who signed an extension this week, and Raul Ruidiaz are the other designated players. Ruidiaz is signed through 2022.
“Hopefully by next summer COVID has receded to the point where you can begin scouting and meeting people,” Lagerwey said. “From a development perspective, this was a super challenging year. We had such limited ability to take young players and play them (with the first-team).
“These are kids that are moving on a week-to-week basis in a normal year and we were able to literally move two kids one time. That’s not good.”
MLS is still aiming for a March 1 season opener, meaning training camp would start in late January. The international calendar is packed with CONCACAF Gold Cup, European Championships, World Cup qualifying and the Olympics as some of the major events slated for 2021.
“With the status of COVID in the world right now, obviously things are not getting better,” Lagerwey said. “If we can safely gather and train, then that’s something we’ll look into and do. We’ve done such a great job of getting through this year with really, really limited numbers of infections. … that’s the thing we’re going to prioritize.”