There are a few points in the Seattle Sounders’ young MLS history that seem quite pivotal — the vote on the name, hiring Sigi Schmid, losing Steve Zakuani to injury, DeAndre Yedlin exploding onto the global scene, signing Clint Dempsey, signing Garth Lagerwey, signing Jordan Morris, firing Sigi Schmid, hiring Brian Schmetzer. All of these, in some way, led to Seattle winning the 2016 MLS Cup.
Only a couple modern expansion teams make a splash like hiring a Hall of Famer to run the squad (Atlanta with Tata, LAFC with Bradley). Most bring along someone from the host of mediocre MLS retreads. Rarely do expansion sides that step up from the lower reaches of American soccer go with the coach of the team that got the region noticed.
Seattle could have done that. Brian Schmetzer was right there, wholly qualified. Instead Schmetz was merely the First Assistant Coach. It was a title that meant he was slightly ahead of the rest, but it was a title short of his dream.
At some point in 2008, Schmetzer took a phone call or walked into an office and got the news that he would not be the head coach of the “promoted” Seattle Sounders.
But there is an alternate timeline, certainly not the darkest and maybe not the brightest, but one of success and dreams. There is an alternate timeline where that moment was Roth, Hanauer & Co. telling Brian Schmetzer, “You got the job.”
In the USL he won four major trophies, two Cascadia Cups, and twice made it to the US Open Cup semifinals. His players collected individual recognition. He collected wins. His rookie season as a coach, way back in 2002, he earned Coach of the Year.
No one would have begrudged the emergent team if they had nodded towards the local legend.
The talent that joined that side, for the most part, would have been willing to accept him. Sebestien Le Toux, Zach Scott, Taylor Graham, Roger Levesque, Sanna Nyassi, Chris Eylander and Ben Dragavon all played for him in the USL. Lamar Neagle trained under him. Kasey Keller knew him.
The ties were strong.
After his extraordinary success in the US Open Cup with the USL Sounders, it should be no surprise that the Schmetzer ‘09 timeline also has the Sounders winning that trophy in year one.
It is much more difficult to retro-predict the regular season. They probably would have struggled more significantly, been a bit more typical. All the while maybe even more loved. Maybe they sneak into the playoffs rather than be a team that easily qualified. Schmetzer ‘09 returns to lead his chosen team again.
In his second year of our alternative timeline there are a few changes. Brian Schmetzer beats Portland in the Community Shield. Because there is little question that beating Portland is right, and just. The team is nearly as good as real-world Sounders. Maybe there are fewer locker room issues, maybe there’s a bit more struggle. They bow out in the playoffs. The Open Cup magic runs strong.
Year three of Schmetzer ‘09 is where things get harder to predict. In the real world the Sounders cut ties with Blaise Nkufo on opening day and lost both Steve Zakuani and O’Brian White to medical issues. Somehow, Sigi Schmid turned that season into magic. It was, possibly, his greatest year as a coach. Putting on our retro-cap, it is hard to guess how Schmetzer would react to the numerous challenges. Now, we see Brian Schmetzer as a much more finished product than he was then.
As Brian Schmetzer told Sounder at Heart recently, “First of all, I learned a lot from Sig. There was a lot of stuff I did not know about MLS, and the players, and coaching at a higher level, so those were certainly learning years, formative years. As an individual you always have your kind of style in what you think is important and all that.
“I would always put myself in Sig’s shoes. If I was head coach, what would I have done in that particular situation. I think that, for me, was the biggest benefit of being Sig’s assistant. I learned a lot, and that’s paid off.”
In an exercise in alternative history, particularly one where the author is so tied to the subject, it is difficult to remove the now-subject from the then-subject.
What should be assumed is that Brian Schmetzer would be successful, but it is impossible to think that the leash and patience that Sigi Schmid earned would be extended to a “newb” in the MLS scene. Schmid took the Seattle Sounders on an amazing seven-and-a-half-year ride that entertained, infuriated and that made history.
Now, just one year into his real-life tenure as Head Coach Schmetzer, Brian has made history (he would credit the players, the fans, and the organization), he has entertained and even infuriated us at times.
An earlier addition of Schmetzer, that ‘09 version, almost certainly doesn’t win three straight Open Cups, nor an MLS Cup. And then there would be a transition to someone else. Someday there will still be that someone else.
As a writer of fiction, a thinker of speculative thoughts, it is hard to come up with a more perfect tale than the one that became reality in the final months of the 2016 season. The sequel is pretty damn good too.
My alternate history forces me to think of a time without Brian Schmetzer in the organization. That’s a day I dread. That’s what would have happened if the Sounders hired Schmetz back in ‘09. The Schmetzer era ends earlier. The Schmetzer of the here and now is not just the one we got, it is the result of a potent history and leads to a future that is as grand as our imaginations.