Say what you will about Alexi Lalas and his personality, the way he calls a game, or his success as a GM in the league, when he talks to people about the game one on one, he’s usually quite good. In the latest episode of The Mutant Gene, he sat down with Sigi Schmid for over an hour to talk about Sigi’s soccer history, the Sounders, and the USMNT. Much of what Sigi said about the Sounders has been mentioned before, but this is the most detailed version we’ve ever gotten. The entire show is worth a listen, but the Seattle parts are very much worth discussing.
We know that Sigi didn’t think his firing was entirely fair, because we’ve heard him say it many times. Sigi doesn’t stray too far from that when asked if it was fair again saying, “Obviously my first reaction is no, only from the standpoint of this: We didn't have a good record. I think anyone who watched our games from the beginning of the year, over a season all things even out, but it seemed like everything was piling up at the front end. Then the day when the new players come in; when Torres gets cleared for full time training; when Lodeiro comes in; and when Fernandez comes in; that's when I got let go. If I had had a chance to coach those guys for two weeks and we still didn't succeed, I wouldn't have had a problem.”
Sigi does have a point, he was let go right at the point the team was best setup to have a turn around. His firing came literally the same day Lodeiro arrived in town and Brian Schmetzer effectively had three starters Schmid didn’t. It probably would have been fairer to give him a shot with the new players. Of course, that doesn’t take into the fact that Sigi may have already lost the club at that point. We all watched the Kansas City game and that looked like a performance by a team that had quit. Sigi didn’t agree, “I don't think I'd lost the players or lost the locker room. I think our game in Kansas City was rock bottom... Sometimes you need to hit rock bottom before you come up again.”
Sigi chalks up almost the entire improvement to the availability of the new players, “What really changed the team in Seattle more than anything is Lodeiro is not only a fantastic player but he's a fantastic character. Lodeiro and myself still touch base all the time, he's WhatsApping me after games and things like that.” It wasn’t just Lodeiro though, Sigi also pointed to Torres’ return as a big change. “Torres is a very big personality in the locker room, but he's also smart enough to know that when he's not playing he can't exert that personality because he had no history. So with those two guys, everything changed. The mood changed, the atmosphere changed, and results happened.”
The biggest revelation from Sigi there (besides the fact that Sigi is using WhatsApp) is that he doesn’t seem to be acknowledging some of the other things Schmetzer has done. There’s no doubt that those players helped a great deal, but Schmetzer has made other changes that have helped the team even when those players aren’t available. Clint Dempsey has only been available for four of the 13 games Schmetzer has coached and there’s been key players missing from virtually every game. It’s not the same exact same cast of characters Schmid had, but it’s not like Schmetzer’s exactly using a full roster.
At this point, the conversation turns and starts to cover things that have been speculated about, but have never been laid out as clear as they are here. We know that Obafemi Martins leaving was a bit of a surprise to the club. We know there was some disagreement on who to bring in and when. Sigi confirms this all was the case, “I wanted to try to replace him. We had identified a number of players and Lodeiro was amongst them. I knew from talking to Schelotto that Lodeiro wouldn't be available in that first window.” He continues, “We had a couple of other guys on tap as well. My push was let's sign one of these two other guys and then figure out how to get Lodeiro in the summer. But the feeling was let's not commit here, let's wait.” He’s also pretty clear that Lagerwey was a big proponent of waiting, and was pushing hard for Lodeiro, “Garth Lagerwey was pushing Lodeiro as much as anyone. With Garth's work, and with the help of Guillermo [Schelotto], the deal got done but it was too late for me.”
That opened the door to speaking about the working relationship that Garth and Sigi had. From the outside looking in, it seemed to be a good one, until it wasn’t. Sigi explained, “Initially when I came to Seattle... I think we had a recruitment committee. it was Adrian Hanauer, myself, and Chris Henderson. It was never a situation where I sat in a vacuum as maybe one or two other coaches do and say this is the guy I want and I don't take input from anyone else. When Garth came in, obviously the recruitment committee changed, if you want to call it that. It was Chris Henderson, Garth, myself, and a little bit Kurt [Schmid]... Garth wanted to put his stamp on the team, which I understand. And it was also a situation where he had Adrian's ear more so than I had Adrian's ear. Adrian and I used to talk four to five times a day in our early years and all of a sudden that stopped. His communication with the soccer side was with Garth. Garth and I would discuss things for sure, and we discussed the Obafemi Martins situation, we discussed how to replace him. At the end of the day, I felt — and maybe I should have reacted differently — I just felt this is the direction the club wants to take, can I live with that? I said yes because I didn't feel like they would pull the rug out from underneath me.”
This isn’t the first time that some of the disagreements between Sigi and Garth have become public. This is the first time I remember Adrian Hanauer being brought into the discussion to this degree, though. I understand Sigi’s frustration here. However, I wonder if trying to pin blame on the owner and GM is really a good strategy for securing another job in the future.
In the same vein, the talk shifted to the role of a GM, and I’m not sure Sigi did himself any favors. He dismissed any idea that he’d be happy being a GM and not a coach in the near future, and some of his statements make it seem like working under a strong GM is not something he’d be interested in, saying, “Somebody asked me to be a GM, and I don't know if I'm ready to be a GM. For me a GM's job is there is so much stuff to do in terms of your academy, in terms of your reserve team, in terms of the structure of the organization, in terms of your relationships with other clubs, obviously negotiating contracts. There's a lot of jobs a GM can do. But a GM's job isn't to coach the team. A GM's job is to get the players that the coach wants not to decide what style he wants to play. Or if that's the case then you've got to talk about it and come to an agreement.”
He then went on to rail against the modern ideas of systems (and what might be another subtle shot at Garth), “Modern soccer, sometimes I laugh because when I talk to someone about a player they're like 'well he's really an eight, but he could be a six.’ And I'm going, what the heck is that? And a 4-2-3-1, or a 4-3-3, or whatever, it all changes. Pep Guardiola is the guy everyone looks up to, but Pep doesn't play the same system from game to game. Sometimes it's three at the back, sometimes four. Sometimes he'll play with his outside backs tucked in, sometimes they'll be wide. But his style of play is the same, and it's ‘style’ that I think is important. In modern soccer I think we've gotten so hung up on systems that there are some administrators — and it's not just Garth it's others — that are a little bit impacted by that. They want this, when our No. 8 is unable to play our new No. 8 just replaces him and there's absolutely no difference because he just slots right into the system and that's just not true.”
There’s a lot more of this interview to unpack. In terms of Seattle, Sigi gives the impression that a lot of the veterans who left in the offseason were let go without his blessing, Micheal Azira especially. They continue talking about Bob Bradley, foreign coaches in MLS, the USMNT, critiquing Klinsmann, and some surprisingly insightful thoughts on the strategies that team should be using.