There were times when Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer admittedly contemplated life beyond a hometown team to which he’s devoted most of four-plus decades of his professional soccer life.
But few were surprised Monday when the official announcement came that Schmetzer, 58, who’s won two of four MLS Cup championship games he’s guided his Sounders to, will be staying put for years to come. And now, the loss to Columbus in last month’s most recent final has provided some immediate short-term spark for a coach who’d wondered at times during contract negotiations whether greater challenges could possibly loom elsewhere.
“It was always my preference,’’ Schmetzer said of his long-rumored, slow developing extension during a Monday conference call with reporters. “I mean, that’s kind of the obvious answer. But there certainly were days where I thought ‘OK, what if this doesn’t happen? What if there is an opportunity that I would seriously consider in another market with a different club?
“The way the negotiations went over the course of time, yeah it was long, but there were some issues there with COVID and some of the uncertainties and just the way the season played out. But I’m pretty pragmatic. I’m pretty realistic. This is pro sports and nothing is ever guaranteed.’’
Still, leading the Sounders to a fourth title appearance and a 67-37-34 regular season record in five campaigns was as close to sealing the deal as one gets. Which is why some apprehension grew among Sounders supporters as Schmetzer’s contract expired and negotiations lagged into this month.
“I mean, yeah I’ve had thoughts about that,’’ Schmetzer said of life beyond the Rave Green. “But it’s obviously always been my first choice to remain here with the Sounders.’’
As for guarantees, Schmetzer now has at least one: A Sounders paycheck sources confirmed is for four more seasons, though the team would not officially release specific terms.
Otherwise, there are unknowns ahead for a team that just loaned star winger Jordan Morris to Swansea City in the English Championship League for most — if not all — of the upcoming Major League Soccer season. But unknowns have been a constant in Schmetzer’s soccer life, from his signing with the North American Soccer League version of the Sounders as a 17-year-old, through his vagabond indoor playing days, then return here with an A-league outdoor franchise bearing the same Rave Green name.
Following a stint with those Sounders and the indoor Seattle Sea Dogs, Schmetzer retired as a player and focused on his construction business. But by 2002, current Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer had purchased the A-League Sounders and picked Schmetzer as his head coach. After winning two championships in that circuit — which rebranded as the United Soccer League — Schmetzer was hired as an assistant coach under Sigi Schmid when the Sounders became an MLS franchise in 2009.
Schmetzer became head coach after Schmid’s July 2016 firing and immediately led the Sounders — languishing near the league’s basement — to the MLS Cup title.
Hanauer could not be reached Monday, but said in a release put out by the team that: “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 general manager Garth Lagerwey said in the same release: “I never had any doubt that Brian Schmetzer would be our head coach, but it’s exciting to officially announce his extension and get to work going forward.”
Schmetzer had been on a three-year deal, reworked after his first full season in 2017 when he’d led the Sounders back to the MLS Cup final against Toronto. Talks on this current deal stopped during the team’s playoff run to a second consecutive MLS Cup appearance — having defeated Toronto at home in 2019 — and then resumed last month following the defeat against Columbus.
“Sometimes, even the easiest negotiations can have little bumps in the road,’’ Schmetzer said. “But obviously, the end result, and the smile that you see on my face is that I’m happy with the deal.”
Schmetzer said Schmid’s tutelage “made my transition into being a head coach much easier.’’ He also credited Sounders legend Jimmy Gabriel and longtime coach Alan Hinton for providing tools needed to pursue soccer beyond playing.
It was then-Sounders coach Hinton who spotted Nathan Hale High School student Schmetzer playing in a local club game in late 1979 and lured him into signing with the NASL club. “Even though he didn’t play a lot, you could tell he was learning the game,’’ Hinton said in an interview Monday. “He was always listening and the international stars I had really, really liked Brian and they helped him with his game.’’
Hinton in 1994 also lured Schmetzer back to play for the A-League Sounders team he was coaching.
“What he’s done here in this town is simply remarkable,’’ Hinton said. “What a record — winning the big one twice. Nobody else has won the big one ever. In 40 years of (Seattle) soccer history. I mean, we won the big one in the A-League, but that was nowhere near as international as Major League Soccer has become.’’
And getting his team back to “the big one’’ will be Schmetzer’s new challenge. He’ll be without Morris and again have his annual debate about whether to deviate from his standard 4-2-3-1 formation and start two strikers up-top in Raul Ruidiaz and Will Bruin.
But he’ll be doing it in a place that’s familiar. The only place he’s ever really called home in real life and soccer.
“It’s easy to be from the city of Seattle and support your local teams,’’ Schmetzer said. “I’ve always been a Sounders fan. I love the Sonics and the Mariners, the Seahawks and the Huskies. We have a really vibrant sports town … I think it’s easy for me to be, in general, a guy who loves sports and is from Seattle where a lot of sports teams have had success.’’