Former Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, who died Tuesday at age 65, got the team to the playoffs its first seven years of existence. Beyond that, he brought credibility and legitimacy to a franchise that became an MLS template for success.
Even before stars like Fredy Montero, Kasey Keller, Clint Dempsey and Stefan Frei put the Sounders on the Major League Soccer map, the team’s defining acquisition had been a German-born head coach with a penchant for winning games.
Siegfried (Sigi) Schmid, who died Tuesday in Los Angeles at age 65, had just guided the Columbus Crew to the 2008 MLS Cup championship when the Sounders proceeded to poach him as their own. It wasn’t easy; the Crew filed tampering charges and claimed a vaguely worded noncompete clause prevented Schmid from moving anywhere.
But a subsequent MLS investigation cleared the team of tampering and the Sounders paid the Crew a financial settlement on the noncompete clause to allow the two-time MLS Cup winner and Coach of the Year to join the Emerald City’s fledgling expansion franchise. The initial headaches ultimately proved worth it — the Schmid-led Sounders becoming a template for MLS franchises and expansion squads everywhere by making the playoffs in each of seven consecutive seasons.
“From the moment we hired Sigi, I knew it was the right decision and that he was the right man for this particular club,’’ owner Adrian Hanauer said last year. “I feel that even more strongly today.’’
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Schmid would go on to post the most wins of any MLS coach — 266 in the regular season and playoffs combined.
“Our family is deeply saddened by his passing and is taking this time to grieve the loss of a tremendous husband, father, leader and mentor,” Schmid’s family said in a statement. “We also recognize how much Sigi meant to so many people across the U.S. Soccer landscape and around the world at different levels of the game. That community meant a great deal to him as well, and for that reason, it was important to us that we share the news of his passing.
“While we mourn his loss, we appreciate privacy during this challenging time and will not be issuing further statements.”
Schmid’s family said he died of a “personal health matter.” The Los Angeles Times reports he spent three weeks at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in need of a heart transplant.
“Today’s news comes as a shock and a devastating blow to our entire community across MLS and U.S. Soccer,” Hanauer said Wednesday in a statement. “Sigi was someone I respected immensely, not only for his success as a coach and dedication to his craft, but more importantly as a man and someone that truly left a positive mark on the people he encountered every day.
“He will be missed greatly by a lot of people, and on behalf of the soccer community here in Seattle, I can say that we would not be where we are now without him.”
Schmid was more than just a bench boss in Seattle; he was the legitimacy and credibility needed by the new franchise to attract quality players that would convince fans to buy tickets.
One of the players most impressed by Schmid was midfielder Brad Evans, who’d played for him on the 2008 champion Columbus squad. Just days after that victory, with Evans still making his way home, he learned that Seattle had selected him in that year’s expansion draft.
A few weeks later, Evans got a call from Schmid, who’d finally been allowed to join the new team. Evans relayed the conversation for the book “100 Things Sounders Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die.”
“He told me, ‘We’ve already got 5,000 season tickets sold,’’’ Evans said. “He told me, ‘We’re doing something special up here, the ownership is second to none and the GM is willing to do whatever it takes to get this team off the ground and running.’’’
Schmid’s reassurances helped ease the uncertainty Evans had about an unknown Seattle commodity. Evans would go on to become one of the most memorable players in Sounders history, eventually becoming their captain and a member of the U.S. Men’s National Team.
Where some players saw Schmid as a stoic, even aloof head coach, Evans had grown to know the man and became a trusted player confidant.
“I think the record speaks for itself,’’ Evans said. “As one of our great assistant coaches, Ezra Hendrickson, would always say, ‘They never ask how, they just ask how many.’’’
The final Schmid tally in Seattle: a 2014 Supporters’ Shield for the top regular-season record and four U.S. Open Cup championships. And legitimacy for a franchise that set MLS attendance records every year of his 7½-season coaching run.
Alas, Schmid never did add a third MLS Cup championship at the helm of his third team. That 2014 squad came the closest, edging the Galaxy for the Supporters’ Shield on the season’s final day only to lose a heartbreaker at home in the decisive Western Conference final match.
“Major League Soccer is devastated by the news of the passing of Sigi Schmid,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said in a statement. “Sigi will go down as one of the leading figures in the history of our league. From Los Angeles to Columbus and Seattle, Sigi won more games than any coach in MLS history and led his clubs to multiple championships, including two MLS Cups and five Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups.
“Sigi’s passion for soccer was unrivaled, and he was loved and admired by everyone in MLS. We deeply mourn his passing and send our heartfelt condolences to his wife Valerie, their children, and all of his loved ones.”
Schmid’s reign with the Sounders was never really the same after 2014. It ended midway through a disappointing 2016 campaign that ultimately turned around in stunning fashion behind assistant Brian Schmetzer and resulted in the franchise’s only MLS Cup victory that year.
It would be a full year before Schmid returned to coaching.
He’d rarely had that long previously to contemplate his future, enjoying a stellar 19-year run with UCLA before joining the Galaxy five games into the 1999 season to replace Octavio Zambrano. Schmid would stay with the team just more than five seasons before being fired midway through 2004.
Then, after a season coaching the U.S. U20 squad, Schmid was hired by the Crew in 2006. It would be a full decade before his next prolonged time off came.
After his 2016 firing by the Sounders, Schmid, having taken 12 months away from the game, was hired by the Galaxy for a second go-round in July 2017. His first match, two days later, was against the Sounders in Carson, Calif. A Galaxy team lifeless for much of that season played the defending champion Sounders with a ferocity rarely seen that season and the game ended in a 0-0 draw.
Several Sounders warmly greeted their former coach post-match.
“He’s a great coach,” Sounders goalkeeper Frei said. “I’ve said this before, but he means a tremendous amount to me because of the way he resurrected my career. So, it’s good to see him get another shot. And I told him he can turn things around with L.A. As much as I don’t want that to happen because we know how dangerous they are if they get into the playoffs, I (wish) him all the best.’’
Schmid after the game admitted he was thrilled to be working in MLS again.
“It was great to be back on that sideline,’’ Schmid said. “I don’t know what it is, but I love this game. Nobody’s ever going to take that away from me. It’s just a passion and hopefully I can convey that passion on to my teams and my players.’’
Schmid engineered a flurry of offseason moves to restock the Galaxy and had them well positioned to make the playoffs with a strong first half in 2018. But then a late-summer swoon the team couldn’t pull out of eventually cost him his final job come September.
Both the Galaxy and Schmid termed it a mutual parting. There had been talk as the season progressed that Schmid was not physically looking well and those close to him expressed concern for his health. Schmid at the time denied his health had anything to do with the decision.
As chronicled by former Seattle Times soccer beat writer Matt Pentz for his upcoming book “The Sound and the Glory,” few people knew that Schmid had a health scare during the 2015 season with the Sounders. He was hospitalized four days with a heart-related condition and had discussed with his family whether it was wise to continue coaching.
Schmid’s wife, Valerie, and four children gave him the green light to continue.
“Everybody knows I’d probably be a miserable guy to be around if I wasn’t coaching,’’ Schmid says in the book.
In the end, he missed but two games and later said he hated every minute of it.
“Going through what I did, it just reinforced to me that this is what I love to do,’’ he said. “I want to do it for as long as I can and as long as people think I’m capable of doing it.’’