There's been a ton of talk about how Sigi Schmid won the MLS Cup and Supporters Shield in his third year with both the Columbus Crew and the Los Angeles Galaxy. There is a simplified version of this tale that implies that year three for him is a magical year, that Seattle should be in the MLS Cup Final or have to break up the core. But that ignores that Sigi was unjustly fired from LA in what should have been the middle of a great run (in year 2 there he won the US Open Cup and appeared in the MLS Cup Final). In Columbus their 2009 team was essentially built by Sigi won the Supporters Shield and was knocked out of the Playoffs by eventual Champions Real Salt Lake.
In both of those cases the other teams had a core upon which to build. In Seattle he started from scratch. While those other two cores were young, they existed. Here Sigi was building on Sebastien Le Toux, Roger Levesque, Zach Scott, Taylor Graham and Sanna Nyassi. If we consider this year's team, none of those will be part of the core.
How does Seattle's 2011 squad stack up to the players in LA and Columbus? Sigi answered during his last conference call with reporters.
The Seattle team is still younger than the other two teams. The nucleus is a little younger; [both] in terms of years in the league and even chronological age. When you’re looking at crew, Marshall was in third or fourth year in league. Gaven was sixth year in league. Those were young players, but vets to the league. In LA it was kind of same thing. We had Ezra and Enfuego and Jones who had been in league for a while. Here our age within the League is not as great.
Average players are only in the league for 2 or 3 years. Good players for about 6. Great ones for a year or two. That pretty much puts a team in a situation where they can only have a core around for about 3 years or so. Seattle's core players, or as we say here their starting caliber players are in their third year, but not the third year of their championship window. Expecting them to be an MLS Cup power in year one is revisionist. That was year zero. This is year two, and in a more competitive league.
Sigi also talked about how the three window relates to the strength of the league now.
It’s still a realistic window. The league has improved and gotten better; as much on the team management side as anywhere else. Early on, teams struggled - there just wasn’t enough planning or enough knowledge to move quickly. Most teams are pretty solid in one or two positions now [and] can use allocation money wisely to get the team moving forward, every team has someone to do that. A three year [window] to come back, is still possible. What we’ve been able to do in Seattle and hopefully we can push our three years, being able to stay at the top from get go is pretty unique.
But with the age of Seattle's players it is hard to think that they are in year three.
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That average looks even smaller when we take out Gonzalez, Keller and Nkufo as is certain to happen next year. This is year two of Seattle's window. The core has really been together barely over a year. Several core players missed more than half a season in either 2009 or 2010. If it does take three years for Sigi's teams to peak, then the peak will be 2012.
That season they will be younger, but will have more experience together and in MLS. Adding in a player or two from within to the core, plus a different DP in the current mold of Montero/Fernandez should maximize the chances of maintaining the window for trophies.
Of course the target is more than just a US Open Cup this season, but to let's not get crazy with the MLS Cup or bust mentality. This is only year two of the three year plan.