The real shock would have been if this day hadn’t come. The fact that it took until late January for the official announcement was surprising enough.
Bringing back the man who’s already in the conversation for greatest coach in Seattle sports history seemed like it required all the brainpower of an amoeba. Then, finally, came Monday, when the news became official.
The Sounders have signed coach Brian Schmetzer to a multi-year extension. The man who’s led the club to two championships and four MLS Cup appearances over the past five years will return to try and accomplish more.
Born and raised in Seattle, Schmetzer has overseen soccer success unmatched by any of his predecessors. There is just no way this club could have let him go.
“Brian Schmetzer and I have an almost 20-year history of working together. Although I never doubted Brian would be back in 2021 and beyond, I am grateful that he will continue to lead Sounders FC for years to come,” Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer said in a statement. “Brian cares deeply for our club and community. He has a deep understanding of our culture and traditions, and no one is better poised to build upon the organization’s recent success.”
Schmetzer’s story seemed to come straight from dream-come-true central casting. Midway through the 2016 season — when Seattle was barely in playoff contention — he took over as coach of the Sounders and led them to an MLS championship. The next year, he took them back to the finals despite being near the bottom of the standings for the first half of the season. Another playoff appearance followed. Then another championship — this time in front of the Lumen Field fans. Then, after one of the greatest comebacks in Seattle sports history in the conference championship game, the Sounders returned to the MLS Cup last season before falling to Columbus.
Schmetzer’s 1.70 points per game are the best in MLS history. His 12-3-2 record in the playoffs is responsible for the highest postseason winning percentage (.765) in MLS history as well. That’s why it seemed curious that the team didn’t lock him up until now.
A couple months ago, Schmetzer made that same point, saying it “would seem to me pretty obvious that you would want to re-sign the best staff in the league.” Monday, he was asked what took so long. Or, more specifically: What was the deal?
“Well, you’d have to ask (general manager) Garth (Lagerwey) and Adrian what the deal was. I think that there were negotiations that were ongoing from the start even before COVID, and my representative was doing his best and Garth and Adrian have to protect the club,” Schmetzer said. “Sometimes even the easiest negotiations can have bumps in the road. Obviously, the end result, and the smile you see on my face is that I’m happy with the deal, and I’m just glad it’s done.”
Of course, Schmetzer will enter next season sans personnel he has relied on for much of his success. On the field, that means no more Jordan Morris. The Sounders have loaned the 26-year-old winger to Swansea City of the English Championship League, and if he performs well, will likely not return to Seattle. Morris was second on the Sounders in goals last season with 10.
Off the field, it means no more Chris Henderson, the front-office talent evaluator who was wooed away by Inter Miami earlier in the month to be the team’s chief soccer officer and sporting director.
“You don’t replace Jordan Morris. You don’t replace Clint Dempsey, or Oba (Martins) or Roman (Torres),” said Schmetzer, referring to past Sounders greats. “You just do the best you can to replicate success … we’re not going to exactly duplicate Jordan Morris but we’ll come close with a top-notch player.”
As for Henderson?
“That’s a tougher one, because he’s done a tremendous job of finding players for this club for many years,” Schmetzer said of the man who would have been tasked with finding Morris’ replacement. “I think that’s still kind of an evolving situation.”
The truth is, the Sounders have a history of replacing top-tier talent with equally capable players. The additions of midfielder Nico Lodeiro and forward Raul Ruidiaz have made up for the departures of previous standouts.
But it’s not just about replacing talent in this league. It’s about retaining it, too.
The Sounders know that much. Schmetzer might retire as the most accomplished MLS coach ever. No way could Seattle let him walk.