If Brian Schmetzer, practically a lifelong fixture in Seattle soccer, could find a way to culminate this season with a title, he would stake a claim to an unrivaled place in the sport’s story in this city.
Alan Hinton, who knows British nobility and the history of Seattle’s soccer culture well, laid bare the stakes of Brian Schmetzer’s appointment as interim Sounders coach in July.
The Englishman signed Schmetzer to his first professional contract in 1980 when he was coaching the NASL Sounders. Hinton observed from afar as the Seattle native played a part in nearly every team of consequence that cycled through the region: semi-pro FC Seattle, the indoor Tacoma Stars and Seattle SeaDogs, the minor-league Sounders that preceded the MLS version.
One can trace the history of Seattle soccer through Schmetzer’s personal career arc. He was coaching local youth teams and working in construction in 2002 before he received a fateful call from Adrian Hanauer, new owner of the then-USL Sounders. Given all that, if Schmetzer could find a way to culminate a season that was in critical condition in the summer with a title, he would stake a claim to an unrivaled place in the sport’s story in this city.
“If he hits the jackpot with the Sounders, in England he’d be looking to be a Sir,” Hinton said at the time. “He’s in the position now, if he makes it here — and he’s got a very good chance — you can forget about anybody in this town becoming Mr. Soccer. He will be the No. 1 guy by a mile.”
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One more victory, and the “Sultanship of Seattle Soccer” awaits.
Schmetzer has since gotten the interim tag stripped off his title by virtue of his team’s late push into the playoffs. On Saturday in Toronto, the chance of a lifetime beckons: The opportunity to bring Seattle’s first MLS Cup back to his hometown less than five months after taking charge.
This wouldn’t be Schmetzer’s first championship as Sounders coach. His minor-league team won the USL in 2005 and 2007. He’s realistic about the difference in perception between then and now.
“Well, it would be a bigger stage,” Schmetzer said last week. “The reality of it was staring us in the face. Back in the USL days, I think one of the finals might have had 10,000 people there. The sport has grown in this city a long ways.
“A lot of those people who were there in ’05 and ’07 are still in the stadium today. That’s the same. … On a personal level, this is pretty big just because of the size the sport has grown to. I certainly enjoyed every second of ’05 and ’07.”
Veteran defender Zach Scott, who played on those previous championship teams, echoed a similar sentiment. If there were any challengers to Schmetzer’s Mr. Soccer title Hinton described, it would be Scott. The 36-year-old, who will retire at the end of the season, has made more than 350 career appearances for the Sounders between the USL and MLS.
Scott’s career actually started with a tryout presided over by Schmetzer at Memorial Stadium back in 2002 and describes the coach as “instrumental” in his longevity. Asked what an MLS Cup would mean for Schmetzer’s legacy — especially locally — Scott took a few beats to consider his answer.
“Geez, there’s not much more that he could accomplish with who he is in the Seattle community and Seattle soccer community,” Scott said. “Maybe this will give him that international pedigree so that when players are looking to come here in the future, they see that this guy helped turned the Sounders’ season around and won them a championship in his first year.”
The idea of an international pedigree feels at odds with Schmetzer’s salt-of-the-earth personality, and with the hyper-locality of the Nathan Hale boy done good being named full-time coach.
Even now, after everything that has happened over the past five months, Schmetzer still gives off a vibe closer to high-school math teacher than the next Jose Mourinho.
He’s the guy who takes pride in cooking his own turkey for Thanksgiving dinner and who says soccer talk is off-limits when he has downtime at home with his wife, Kristine.
The idea of Sir Brian Schmetzer might sit ill-at-ease on his shoulders, but that’s part of what has made his rise unique. He is the product of a humbler era of Seattle soccer, your neighbor the youth coach who gradually earned a shot at the biggest prize the domestic game has to offer.
Schmetzer’s bespectacled blue eyes started watering again last week when asked what bringing the MLS Cup to Seattle would mean to him.
“It’s going to be emotional,” the would-be Sultan of Seattle Soccer said. “I’m going to wait until we actually win it before I even talk about it, because Toronto is a good team. But I would be so happy: For Zach to go out on a good note, for Brad (Evans) and Ozzie (Alonso), who have been here.
“If it happens, it’s going to be great.”