In the end, it was a sweltering Sunday in Kansas City that ended the tenure of Sigi Schmid, the all-time winningest head coach in Major League Soccer history and only skipper the club has known in the MLS era in Seattle. That Sunday gave way to a cloudy Tuesday, when news broke across the city: Schmid was out as the Sounders boss.
Schmid’s tenure ends with one Supporter’s Shield and four U.S. Open Cups, but the MLS Cup eluded his grasp here, combining with a lackluster half-season to inspire what the club described as a mutual decision to call it quits.
“I met with Sigi this morning and we agreed that it was a reasonable time to part ways,” said majority owner Adrian Hanauer Tuesday. “That takes absolutely nothing away from what he’s done for this club. He is a good friend, I respect him immensely, and he’s helped us transform the sport in this country long before I was involved.”
Schmid was part of the most impressive expansion franchise effort in American professional soccer, helping the Sounders to playoff appearances in each of its seven seasons, played in front of sellout crowds at an NFL stadium, helping markets reevaluate how popular professional soccer could become in the United States.
This season, though, the magic went away. Already weakened by a series of offseason cuts and trades, the Sounders were dealt a massive blow by the departure of star striker Obafemi Martins to the Chinese Super League’s Shanghai Shenhua weeks before the season started. The front office scrambled to find a replacement, but the roster and tactics had been too heavily built around the stocky Nigerian’s nose for the net and was unprepared to take the field without him.
The Sounders lost their first three games for the first time in club history. Sunday’s loss to Sporting Kansas City, where the club suffered through a heat index of 106 and a relentless attack, was the final straw.
The parts were too disconnected; the Martins-sized hole up front could not be filled, even by young homegrown-player Jordan Morris, who has scored seven of Seattle’s 20 goals.
General manager Garth Lagerway admitted that the front office was partially to blame for Seattle’s ninth-place spot in the Western Conference that precipitated Schmid’s departure.
“Any time we fire the coach, it’s the front office’s fault on some level, because it means that we didn’t give the coach the tools or the weapons to succeed,” Lagerway said Tuesday. “(After Martins left) it took us a long time to bring new players in. We worked a long time to get players in here to help. That is the responsibility of the front office.”
After Hanauer and Lagerway announced that Schmid was leaving the club, the two all but confirmed at least one player would be joining before the transfer window closed Aug. 3.
While the contracts have not yet been signed, it appears that the Sounders are set to unveil Wednesday Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro — whom Hanauer admitted is in Seattle after he was photographed at the airport — as a designated player to fill the slot vacated by Martins, and implied that the club will also sign Uruguayan Alvaro Fernandez, who played for the Sounders from 2010-2012.
Woo! Sounders appear to be on verge of signing star midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro https://t.co/5XcNCoTkqx via @Q13FOX
— Tom Glanz (@tomglanz) July 26, 2016
For the front office to fire Schmid just before major new international signings suggests that the club’s confidence in Schmid had completely eroded.
Lagerway made several statements that seemed to distance himself from the on-field failures of the club, saying that Schmid had been the primary engineer of the last few seasons, though he maintained the two of them had a good relationship.
“One of the things we’re going to move forward with is establishing a playing style and establishing an identity,” Lagerway said. “It’s certainly one of the things that I look for when building a team . . . this team doesn’t play like any team that I’ve ever built before, and I’m looking forward to a new beginning where we have some ability to work on that.
“I did my best to be deferential, if anything, over the past 18 months. (Schmid) deserved that, and he had earned that and I have nothing but respect for Sigi and the job he’s done here for a long time.”
Lagerway’s vision for the club, which will rely on greater investment into its youth academies, may be a different reality than that to which Sounders fans have become accustomed.
“We’re not going to be as reliant on one player,” he said. “We’re not going to have a strategy where we pass the ball to one or two guys and hope that they score occasionally. We’re going to have systems and organizations and platforms for player progression . . . we’re going to do it in a way that avoids a repeat of this scenario ever again.”
In short, a big overhaul of how Seattle examines things is on the way, but those are long-term changes. Hanauer and Lagerway made it clear that the club hasn’t given up on chasing MLS glory this season.
Brian Schmetzer takes over for Schmid in the interim. Schmetzer, a Seattle native, coached the USL Sounders for seven seasons, and has served as an assistant to Schmid since the latter joined the club.
Schmetzer is renowned for being a “hard work” coach who expects his players to put the team first. Asked what differences from Schmid’s team and his would be, Schmetzer chose to respond philosophically.
“We’re going to make sure that we hold people accountable,” Schmetzer said. “We’re going to have an attacking, scoring, tough-nosed defensive team that wins games.”
That description may be about as useful as an assertion that whichever team scores more will probably win, but Schmetzer’s response made it clear there was more to the plan than he was prepared to share.
Schmetzer has good reason to keep things under wraps. Seattle shost the LA Galaxy for the third meeting in a month between the clubs Sunday (12 p.m., ESPN). LA has won both meetings, and Seattle has failed to look particularly threatening in either match.
Sunday’s contest will be the first round of auditions as players and coach look to earn their place. The front office made it clear that Schmetzer is in the running to become the permanent replacement for Schmid, but he is perhaps disadvantaged by having his audition be to turn around the worst start to a Sounders season.
For the players, there will be little time to adapt to Schmetzer’s intensely team-first line of rationale. Some players will have an easier time of the adjustment than others, but if the implied message sent from Schmid’s dismissal means anything, anyone who wants to remain will get on board with the new line of thinking.
The season for the Sounders is far from over. There is plenty of time left to push for an eighth consecutive playoff appearance. Regardless of fault or failures, Seattle must begin a new chapter face down in the middle of the season, with the weight of the table firmly on its back.
So I am still firmly in the Fire Garth camp. It is clear that he and Sigi never really saw eye to eye on the make up and identity of the team. He threw took a team that had been in the upper 10% of the league for 7 years and Garth engineered a trip to the bottom of the table.
Garth hasn’t been here a year and he needs to go? Despite having an MLS Cup on his resume? Might as well throw in that Joe, Adrian and Drew need to go as owners as well. Let’s go for the hat trick!
He has been here one and half seasons. For me it is simple. It was clear in last summer (2015) when the sounders where down oba, clint, ozzie etc that the young players on the roster were not ready to play at the MLS level.
Rather than strengthen the roster in the off season there was a decision to stick with the younger (cheaper) guys and let the higher priced players go. That is fine; call it out as it is and say this is our strategy and this is going to be our identity, like Pete and John did at the VMAC.
The younger guys who have been on the field a lot this year are just not ready play at this level. In the ideal world they are coming in and playing 20 or 30 minutes and learning to win games, Andy Rose is a good example. Right now these guys have accepted losing.
So my case against Garth ;
1) I have found Garth’s comments to be disingenuous; “We can win with this team”, “ALWAYS backing into the playoffs” etc etc.. I would much rather him talk about building a team with an identity and working with the coach to build that identity.
2) The players that came in under his watch have under performed;
Valdez, Ivanshitch, Frieberg, *Torres and have not contributed with goals or assists.
3) Fisher, Jones, Roldan, Kovar, Anderson all need seasoning.. Frankly, right now I am not sure what these guys trajectory is. I don’t see any of them being rated in the top of the league any time soon. It takes many years for professional soccer players to develop, it is unfortunate that they where thrown into the fire. Morris will be good, and Alfaro has promise but they both need a couple of years.
4) According to this article he is claiming that he sat back and watched. A leader who stands back and watches the ship sink is not the type of leader that I want. And certainly not the type person I want leading the effort to hire a new coach.
5) At RSL he was part of an excellent team that included; The owner, the COO, the GM and the Coach. All on the same page.. So he was only a part of bigger picture. Go read some of the articles in the Salt Lake tribune about the new owner and structure.
I am not going to respond to the straw man argument of Adrian, Joe and Drew as they are the owners and they can do what they please.
A John Wooden approach to soccer would be interesting, the USMNT has a lot of Woodens approach built in. I would like to see a structure that Tod Leiweke set up with the Seahawks where the Coach and GM are both accountable for the results and each others success. Remember in the Holmgren case Tim Ruskel was gone the next year because he attempted to violate that structure.
It is true that Sigi lost the locker room.. but it is also true that his GM wasn’t much of a help to him either.
So, yeah Garth is in charge now.. But I am going to be watching him.. If at this time next year we are back in form.. then more power to him and I will admit the errors in my logic… right now I just don’t see it.
General managers need at least four years before a fair judgment on their employment can be made; that’s why the Sounder fans’ GM election periods are every four years and not shorter. You need a few years to see if the rookies will pan out, and transitioning between roster-building strategies always is jarring (Carroll and Schneider didn’t post a winning record until year three and triple-digits of roster moves).
At the next season ticket holder election (I’ve had tickets since the APSL days), I’m voting to keep him because he has a track record and has barely begun his job. The only reasonable reason to vote no is if he does something ethically despicable like embezzle from the team, commit a felony, etc.
I agree with Lagerway to a point. It’s hard to say how much of what’s happened in this downward spiral is his fault when he inherited it. Firing Sigi reminds me of when the Seahawks declined to re-sign Mike Holmgren, though they gave him a token offer later on out of respect for what he did for the franchise. I would recommend that Brian go check out the Seahawks practice after the season and how Pete Carroll conducts them. It’s widely known that NBA coaches Steve Kerr and Eric Spoelstra visited and you can’t deny the success they’ve had. He has an opportunity here that he shouldn’t pass up.
The firing of Sigi should send a huge message to the players. If this doesn’t get their attention they should be on notice in the offseason. The KC game was very disappointing. The lethargy was palpable. I can’t say for certain if Sigi or the players are responsible. The club has been loyal to players, possibly to a fault? They’ve yet to have one of the “blow up the roster” kind of day though they all but did in the offseason. The core however remained the same.