The announcement Thursday that the Sounders FC extended coach Sigi Schmid’s contract came as no big surprise.
It will annoy a swath of fans that has grown increasingly annoyed with the German-American’s idiosyncrasies. The group is tired of his player favoritism, his subdued and guarded personality, his somewhat inflexible faith in the 4-4-2, his inability, so far, to select and keep effective designated players, and his penchant for deflecting criticism when things aren’t going well.
Still, it’s hard to argue against management. Schmid deserves the contract extension. While imperfect, Schmid has led the Sounders to the playoffs for the first two years of Major League Soccer play, and a third seems likely.
Only the Chicago Fire matched Schmid’s first-year achievement and led an expansion franchise to the playoffs. One only has to look to the Cascadia neighbors to the north and to the south to understand how difficult it is to create a winning team in the first year of big-league existence, let alone make the playoffs. Neither Vancouver nor Portland have proven much on the pitch.
Last year’s expansion darling, the Philadelphia Union, could claim financial and community success, but it failed to reach post-season play nor come close to matching Seattle’s first-year record.
Schmid, 58, was named head coach Dec. 16, 2008. He also guided the Sounders to two consecutive Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championships.
Currently, Seattle owns the second-highest point total in MLS and advanced to the semifinal round of the 2011 Open Cup.
“From the moment we hired Sigi, I knew it was the right decision, and that he was the right man for this particular club,” said Adrian Hanauer, owner and general manager. “I feel that even more strongly today.”
Schmid is the MLS career leader in regular season (148-107-82) and postseason wins (19-10-5). His teams have won two MLS Cups, two Supporters’ Shields (best record), and three Open Cups.
Schmid was pleased to receive an extended shelf life in a career that is notoriously fickle and insecure. Several MLS coaches have already been let go this season — including the abrupt firing of Vancouver Whitecaps coach Teitur Thordarson. Schmid himself was unceremoniously fired from the LA Galaxy after taking the team to the MLS Cup finals.
With volatile majority owner Joe Roth ultimately calling the shots, it must give Schmid a couple restful nights knowing he’s got a little more security. Eventually, Roth is going to fire him. Such is the fate of most professional sports coaches.
But it won’t be because Schmid will dare to do something radical, or even unconventional. While he may be stuck in his system and prefer a certain kind of hard-working but conventional player, Schmid provide consistency and steadiness that has to be the underpinnings of his longevity.
Consistency and predictability, if executed well, can be a good thing. Schmid gets his players to execute well, to buy into his system, and churn out the results.
Seattle (9-4-8, 35 points) climbed to second in the overall league table during a club record MLS eight-match unbeaten streak, winning five and drawing three over the past seven weeks. Highlighting the run was the victory over Portland Sunday, a 3-2 comeback win sealed by yet another late goal.
Schmid’s Sounders take on the Colorado Rapids 1 p.m. Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
Schmid has built a solid system in Seattle — a remarkable achievement in three years, operating under the league’s salary cap to boot. He gets a lot of effort from most of his players.
It might not be for everybody. But it works.
Expect more of the same as Schmid said he looks forward to the future.
“What we’ve been able to accomplish in the three years–especially when compared to other expansion clubs–is a tribute to the commitment of the organization,” he said, “and I am more excited and more optimistic than when I came here for the first time.”