There were many extraordinary moments in Sigi Schmid’s Sounders tenure. He won a Supporters’ Shield, four U.S. Open Cups, performed well in the CCL, beat an EPL team in a friendly during a poor regular season, developed so many players, won so many games.
His status as a club legend was secure well before his “mutually departing” earlier this week.
It’s not that Sigi was perfect. There were MLS Cup Playoff struggles, harsh losses to the Timbers, a bewildering loss to Sporting KC in an Open Cup, a blowout loss to Santos Laguna. Tactical choices that became mistakes are most easily remembered when due to injuries he started Shalrie Joseph at forward. Just a few short weeks later he stood on a podium and accepted blame while explaining his rationale behind the decision.
For all of Sigi’s failures and successes, nothing should stand out more than a March night back in 2009. It may take some time to remember, but that was back when MLS expansion teams were expected to take their lumps for an extended period. At best they would be good in the stands and awful in the field (see TFC ‘07 and ‘08). At worst they would be a forgotten team in a college football stadium struggling to win games and earn attention (RSL, as Chivas wouldn’t be awful until later).
But on that night, in front of 32,000 Sounders in the stands and a couple hundred thousand watching on TV, the Sounders won. They won big. Sigi Schmid took a crew of castoffs, has-beens and could-bes. He made them victorious.
Then he did it again. Then he did it again. He kept going all year with his collection of talent that included USL Sounders, NASL Sounders on the sideline, MLS expansion fodder, internationals without respect, and some guys named Keller and Ljungberg.
That season was so good that if Ljungberg had nailed a penalty against the Columbus Crew, the Sounders would have won the Shield. He didn’t. They didn’t. It was merely a run into the MLS Cup Playoffs in year one. It took 210 minutes for Houston to win 1-0.
During that season, the Seattle Sounders won their first US Open Cup, expanded capacity so that opening night’s 32,000+ was more a footnote than a capstone. The players took home individual accolades. Somehow Sigi Schmid wasn’t the coach of the year despite doing something that no coach had done prior nor has done since.
That’s when Sigi Schmid started his legacy. It was his defining moment - March 19th, 2009.
Of the many other moments none happen without that first win, when no team should win. 2009 doesn’t happen without that win. Neither does 2011 or 2014 or the CCL run that just ended in 2016. Wins over Tigres and Monterrey do not happen. Four Open Cups, a Supporters’ Shield and the second most wins/points from 2009 to the present do not happen without Sigi Schmid and a tiny game in March of 2009.
Sigi’s Sounders legacy started with his first competitive match.
Here’s the thing. It’s not over. The foundation of the Sounders (soccer side) is Sigi Schmid. His breath still breathes throughout Starfire, the SoDo offices, and CenturyLink Field.
The players he developed, molded and crafted will be on the team for many more years. Academy kids that he helped become professionals are in England, on the United States National Team, Hermann watch lists, pros in Cincinnati, Arizona, Dallas, Seattle, Tukwila and colleges around the country. Coaches he selected, ply their trade in Rave Green still.
Without Sigi Schmid who knows what the Sounders are, or will be.
But one thing is certain, the Seattle Sounders with Sigi Schmid are the definition of expansion success and were only, and will only, be judged by the trophies they win. The regular season? It’s just about playoff seeding, or should be (sorry 2016).
The next trophy that the Sounders take home will be because of Sigi Schmid as much as it is because of the coach that wins it, the President of Soccer at the time and the players on the field. For without Sigi Schmid convincing all of the Puget Sound that Seattle Sounders soccer is not just back, it’s not just good - it’s damn great.
Sigi Schmid’s legacy is that greatness is our standard - forever.