Between Seattle's youngsters' somewhat underwhelming performances for the first team and S2's poor start, questions about the role of youth players in the organization's setup have been posed to Sigi Schmid quite a bit the past few days. On Monday, the Sounders coach stressed the importance of lowering expectations for players like Jordan Morris and Oalex Anderson. But the media hype around Morris is especially prominent because of how much the club and Sigi himself rates the player.
When asked about his own skill at evaluating and spotting young talent, Schmid initially answered with a bit of his signature dry sarcasm. "[As a coach], you're wrong all the time. If I was perfect, we'd be 4-0 right now and you guys wouldn't be asking me questions. They'd call me, whatever, the 'Wizard of Tacoma' or something, I don't know." An experienced coach with many years, wins, and trophies under his belt, Schmid relayed something that he often tells young coaches: "you have to be aware of guys with potential potential."
By "potential potential," Schmid is referring to that initial gut feeling a coach gets when seeing a young player show off flashes of talent, but still have a long way to go to be successful. "So there's certain guys, sometimes, you know when you're watching them working, they're young players and maybe they have a good speed element or a certain quality to their game. It always looks like 'God, that potential looks good,' but then you're always like 'Ooh, ahh' and you don't know." Those flashes of talent could be the initial spark for a player with a long, successful career ahead of him, or they could simply tease potential that will never be reached.
As he often does, Schmid recounted a story to illustrate that point. "When my youngest son was with his youth team, they were really good. One of the players was Robbie Rogers, and there was another player on the team, I'll leave his name out, who at the same stage was more talented than Robbie and he had a left foot that was unbelievable. At 12, he was striking corners like Andreas is now." Schmid said that the player ended up going to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, and eventually signed a professional contract. The kid, as Schmid referred to him, played professionally for a few years, but never reached the potential that he showed as a youth. "Sometimes it's psychological, if they have the drive and the willpower to come through or not. Maybe the opportunity is at the wrong place at the wrong time."
Schmid had another story to better explain that last point, one that went a different direction than the first. "Kei Kamara, who I thought was very talented when I drafted him at Columbus. It just wasn't quite happening for him, I still believed in him as player but it wasn't quite happening. I was trying to rebuild a team and I needed a certain type of player so I traded him away." Kamara's style at the time just wasn't working for Schmid and his team in Columbus, but he still knew that the player had talent. When Kamara got to "Kansas City, it was the right time and the right place for him. And his career took off and now he's one of the best forwards in the league. He always had that, but it took a little bit longer."
Regarding current Sounders forward Oalex Anderson, Schmid continued on what he said yesterday: "it's too early to tell. He's a young kid, we gotta remember. We were talking about Jordan [Morris] being a young kid, but here's a kid who is younger than Jordan." Schmid stressed that Anderson is still a relatively raw player, despite his experience in his own country and with his country's national team. "With Oalex right now, all the stuff that Ezra gave him last year when he was with S2, he brought in and took it in and developed and improved. And, you know he's now at that stage with us in the first team, which is a tougher place, but I think he's the kind of guy who has the capability. But right now, you still can't predict where he's gonna go."
It's clear that the ideal youth player, to Schmid, is one that accepts constructive criticism from coaches and adjusts his game accordingly. He cites Sounders' second-year midfielder Cristian Roldan as a current example of this type. "If he does something and there's an error, you talk to him about it and you see that he adjusts that error out." Jordan Morris seems to fit that mold at times, too. Schmid said that he's seen Morris receive a lot of criticism regarding his ability with his left foot. "Today I'm watching him shooting and he has his choice to go right or left, and he's purposely going for his left foot. Those are the kids that make it, at the end of the day, because they're able to take that information and they're able to apply it and they're able to grow and develop from it."
It seems that Schmid knows his role in supporting and encouraging the growth of a youth player with potential. He may contribute to the hype around a talented prospect by tossing him into the proverbial fire and starting him before he's ready. But after 36 years of coaching, Schmid also recognizes that plenty of players could have slipped through his fingers like Kamara. It's an art, really, finding young players and getting the best out of them, and Schmid is clearly still refining that art. "There is no one formula, and it's tough to predict sometimes. I get things wrong, everyone does."