Since Schmetzer took over from longtime coach Sigi Schmid in late July, the Sounders have gone 10-2-4 in all competitions and are on the brink of a spot in the Western Conference finals.
The Sounders have removed the interim tag from coach Brian Schmetzer’s title and hired the Seattle native on a full-time basis, the club’s collective ownership group announced Wednesday night at its Alliance Annual Business Meeting.
Schmetzer helped engineer Seattle’s midseason turnaround almost from the moment he took over for longtime coach Sigi Schmid on July 26. At that point, the Sounders were 6-12-2 and 10 points out of the Western Conference playoff berths. Under Schmetzer and after the arrival of transformative midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, Seattle went 8-2-4 to close the regular season and won a home playoff game on the final day of the campaign.
The announcement was greeted with a standing ovation from the crowd gathered in the West Field Plaza at CenturyLink Field, where the native son connected himself with a Seattle coaching tree with deep roots: Jimmy Gabriel, Alan Hinton, Schmid.
“It’s obviously an awesome day for me and my family. It’s a big day for people in Seattle,” Schmetzer said “… I’m proud to be the coach of this team. And I’m thankful for everybody who has given me this opportunity.”
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Even with the successes of these past few months, however, there were lingering doubts that the Sounders ownership would hand over the keys full-time to the self-professed “steward of the club.”
There was speculation that Seattle would feel tempted to make a splash with a big-name replacement in order to justify the parting of ways with the only coach it had ever known in its MLS history. With general manager Garth Lagerwey having been given the mandate to remake the club as he saw fit, there were legitimate questions as to whether he would prefer a fresh start with his own hire.
As recently as the 87th minute of Seattle’s one-game playoff against Kansas City last Wednesday at CenturyLink, there was a sense that the immediate future of the Sounders was hanging in the balance.
In reality, the front office was already sold. Lagerwey had pulled Schmetzer aside in the aftermath of that playoff-spot-clinching home win against Real Salt Lake in the regular-season finale, whispered in his ear. You’re my guy.
“At the end of the day, he earned it, man,” Lagerwey said. “He earned it. He was lights-out.”
Last Sunday’s 3-0 triumph over FC Dallas in the first leg of their conference semifinal series was Schmetzer’s pièce de résistance.
With several key difference makers out or limited due to injury, Schmetzer shook up the status quo that had brought his team so many positive results down the stretch, giving Nelson Valdez his first start since August and deploying Jordan Morris on the wing. He was rewarded with the signature postseason victory of the modern Sounders era, moving within touching distance of a third MLS Western Conference final berth in club history.
Schmetzer previously worked for seven-plus seasons as Schmid’s top assistant. He was the head coach of the USL Sounders for seven years before that — running a local construction business on the side to supplement his minor-league income — guiding the team to league championships in 2005 and 2007.
“He and I have been partners in crime for a while, going back 15 years,” said majority Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer, who also owned the USL team. “I can’t think of a better human being, a better representation of what we think of as Sounders culture – and having the Sounders vision — as Brian.”
Schmetzer’s playing career included stints with the NASL Sounders, semi-pro FC Seattle, the indoor Tacoma Stars and the first reincarnation of the Sounders in the APSL in 1994.
In many ways, his career arc is the history of Seattle soccer in miniature. Now, he’s being given free rein to write the next chapter of it.
“This club will always be here,” Schmetzer said. “This club will always be fans and players. I’ll do the best that I can as a steward of the club. … When my time passes on, I’ll hand it onto the next capable coach.”