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Sigi Schmid, Sounders and American Soccer legend, passes away at 65

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In the pantheon of those responsible for what made American soccer what it is, Sigi is a titan that belongs in the inner circle.

Most of American soccer’s inner sanctum is connected with the United States national teams — Tony DiCicco, Velibor “Bora” Milutinović, Pia Sundhage, Bob Bradley, and Bruce Arena. For decades the USA didn’t look to club success for its legends. World Cups were defining. But Sigi Schmid climbed into that pantheon, a mortal who raised himself onto the level of gods through immense success at UCLA, the LA Galaxy, the Columbus Crew SC, and Seattle Sounders. His trophy case is full. His win total unrivaled. Sigi passed away on Christmas Day 2018; his impact on US soccer is immortal.

The news came on the same day that his first professional club was taken over by the man who most defined Sigi’s second club (Guillermo Barros Scheletto is taking over the Galaxy). That may be one of the best symbols of Sigi’s impact on MLS and soccer in America. GBS is the latest coach in North America who either played for or coached alongside Schmid. This list of just the pro coaches and general managers who are part of Schmid’s coaching tree is immense. A sampling of those people;

  • Greg Vanney - Played under Sigi 1999-2002, Assistant under Robin Fraser 2011, current Head Coach for Toronto FC
  • Robin Fraser - Played under Sigi 1999-2000, Head coach of Chivas USA 2011-2012. Currently an assistant under Vanney at Toronto FC
  • Robert Warzycha - Assistant under Sigi in Columbus 2006-2008, Head Coach of Columbus 2009-2013, Currently coaching in Poland
  • Brad Friedel - Played for Sigi at UCLA 1990-1993, USMNT Legend, Current Head Coach for the New England Revolution
  • Guillermo Barros Schelotto - Played for Sigi 2007-2008, Coached Lanus, Boca Juniors, and now the Galaxy
  • Peter Vagenas - Played for Sigi 2000-2004 & 2009-2010, ex-GM LA Galaxy
  • Brian Schmetzer - First Assistant under Sigi 2009-2016, now coach of Seattle Sounders
  • Tom Dutra - Goalkeeper Coach with Seattle Sounders
  • Chris Henderson - Played for Sigi at UCLA and Columbus, Sporting Director for Sigi with Sounders
  • Pat Noonan - Philadelphia Union Assistant Coach
  • Matt Reis - LA Galaxy, USMNT Assistant Coach
  • Craig Waibel - GM for Real Salt Lake
  • Chris Albright (TD for the Union)
  • Ante Razov - Assistant Coach for LAFC
  • Tyrone Marshall - Assistant Coach for Real Salt Lake
  • Djimi Traore - Assistant Coach for Seattle Sounders
  • Gonzalo Pineda - Assistant Coach for Seattle Sounders

Obviously

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

Obviously, Sigi Schmid’s legacy reaches far and wide in the world of American Soccer. Indeed, there would not be the world of American Soccer without Schmid. A coaching titan at every level of the game, from college to professional, his fingerprints cover the entire globe. From Buenos Aires to Toronto. From Seattle to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. From the players on the field to executives in the box seats, nearly every team in Major League Soccer has benefited from Sigi’s coaching touch.

Sigi’s coaching career began when he took the reigns of UCLA in 1980. Over the course of nearly two decades, Schmid would win over 300 games, win 3 College Cups, and coach dozens of players that would go on to be US Men’s National Team stars. Some of those players included the likes of Brad Friedel, Eric Wynalda, and Cobi Jones.

Following his incredible success in the collegiate ranks, Schmid would turn his sights on America’s newest professional soccer league, Major League Soccer. He was hired as the LA Galaxy’s head coach midway through 1999, where he would lead them to the MLS Cup Final but be defeated by D.C. United. Sigi would depart from LA in 2004 after winning an MLS Cup, a Supporters’ Shield, and a Lamar Hunt US Open Cup. Sigi would leave the Galaxy to move east to Columbus. He would win another MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield there.

Graphic display of Sigi Schmid’s 2 MLS Cups, 3 Supporters’ Shields, 5 US Open Cups, 3 NCAA titles, 2 MLS Coach of the Year trophies, 1 CONCACAF Champions Cup and the winning-est coach in league history. Charles Caldwell

Sigi will always hold a special place in the hearts of Seattle Sounders fans. Schmid was appointed the club’s first head coach of their MLS era in December of 2008, following a successful season with the Columbus Crew, where he won the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup. In his first season with the Seattle Sounders he would go on to lead the club to their first Lamar Hunt US Open Cup victory and their first MLS Cup Playoff berth. At the time, Schmid and the Sounders had been the first expansion team in MLS to pull off such a feat in over a decade, when the Chicago Fire won the Open Cup and MLS Cup in 1998. By the time Schmid left the Sounders in the summer of 2016, he had won the Supporters’ Shield once and the US Open Cup four times.

Looking back on Sigi’s statistical legacy, one can kind of gloss over the success he experienced. He won a lot of games. And I mean a lot. And trophies too. But how he did those things might get lost as time moves on. Everywhere he went, Sigi’s philosophy of attacking soccer followed him. If you were to compile a list of greatest MLS teams by season, Sigi’s 2002 LA Galaxy, 2008 Columbus Crew, and 2014 Seattle Sounders teams would absolutely belong on that list. A consistent theme for all of his teams was how they would attack, of course, but they were also solid at the back. He coached the MLS Defender of the Year four times with three different teams. Carlos Ruiz and Guillermo Barros Schelotto won their MVP awards while being the attacking linchpin for Sigi’s teams. We saw the rise of Fredy Montero and Cobi Jones under Sigi. And in 2014, Sigi’s Seattle Sounders put together one of the best offensive regular season led by Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey. The list of talented players that were coached by Sigi is nearly infinite.

You can’t open a door in an MLS front office or locker room without seeing someone that’s been under the influence of Sigi’s coaching, and we’re better as a soccer culture because of it. — Mark Kastner

Flood of support on social media

Photos: Seattle Sounders vs. Houston Dynamo

Those men who lost their coach on Christmas 2018 are taking to social media. A listing of all of the statements would create a document thousands of pages long. They include some of America’s greatest, our captains, our voices. The statements show a glimpse of what this man meant beyond just being a coach.

Statements of his impact on players’ careers include some of America’s youngest and America’s forgotten.

The collection of memories from those around American soccer include college players who now coach.

Former and current Sounders’ Captains shared their thoughts and memories.

Arlo and Ross, former voices of the Sounders, weighed in.

But Sigi Schmid isn’t someone who is just honored by the famous. His impact goes beyond that. Sigi defined soccer in LA, Columbus and Seattle. The people whose lives he touched include staff in those organizations too.

There are instances in your life where the whole world stops around you and you are crushed by the moment. I had one...

Posted by Matt Gaschk on Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Schmid welcomed us all. The massive outpouring of messages from players, coaches and coworkers is a symbol of what he meant around the United States, but his tales were also personal and reached to those of us who write for Sounder at Heart.


“I’ll always be grateful for Sigi’s consummate professionalism. Sigi would always answer a fair question, no matter how hard it was. The tactical knowledge he would share when asked conceptual questions did a wonderful job of deepening people’s knowledge of the game for whoever was listening to him.

I’ll always remember when he and the club parted ways in 2016, Sigi made a point of inviting the beat writers who covered the club out for drinks. Crowded into a table down in Pioneer Square, 12-plus reporters sat there and had a frank and open discussion with a legend of soccer in the U.S. about every topic under the sun from the Sounders to what it would take for the U.S. to win the World Cup.

When it was time to cash out, Sigi had already picked up the entire check, because of course he had. That was Sigi; pure class, always.” — Andrew Harvey


“I met Sigi Schmid on my first day “on the job” covering the Seattle Sounders for Sounder at Heart, and I have no idea if he could tell how nervous I was. Not that I remember the questions I asked or even what his answers were, but I remember noticing the qualities that I would see from him throughout the time that our tenures overlapped. Most notably, Sigi was always patient, kind, honest, and professional towards all journalists, from ESPN pundits that show up once or twice a season to the young guys who came to every training session and asked the same questions he’d probably heard a thousand times.

That’s not to say that he didn’t get frustrated or annoyed with us. After all, the time in which I covered the club with Sigi at the helm included his final days in Seattle. I still remember the exasperated face that he made every time somebody asked about a player’s injury that he was clearly not at liberty to discuss on the record. But we had to ask, even if we knew he’d make that face and tell us he couldn’t say anything about it, and he never lashed out or reprimanded anyone.

Sigi respected the media’s role of communicating important information to the fans on a broad level, but he also showed more than once that he respected me and the other reporters as individual journalists. He would tell us if he liked something we wrote about him or the club—and he would tell us if he didn’t. That was real respect, and it made me a better journalist to get feedback and interaction from someone so highly regarded in American soccer.

My final interactions with Sigi were, of course, not on the happiest of notes. When the 2016 season seemed to be in free fall and he parted ways with the club, I was sad to see Sigi leave on a sour note after such a successful career in Seattle. Things almost felt worse for the local media when we were kicked out of his going-away party, unable to say our goodbyes and get one final interview with someone we had talked to nearly every day for however long we’d each covered the club. But after all we’d been through with him that year and before, a man like Sigi respected us too much to let it end that way. He had the club reach out to everyone and invited us out for a beer before he left town. It was an incredible afternoon in which we were regaled with tales and off-the-record thoughts that Sigi was as excited to talk about as we were to listen. Many of his words and stories from that day have stuck with me ever since.

I’ll remember Sigi Schmid as a man owed a nearly infinite amount of respect that never hesitated to show just as much of it to those around him, from fans to players to journalists. He showed me immense professional respect when I felt like I didn’t deserve it, something that really helped me find my feet as a young reporter. For that I’m eternally grateful.” — Spenser Davis


The last memory I have with Sigi was a special moment for me. It took place during his first return to Seattle with the LA Galaxy. When Sigi was let go [in 2016], the last interaction I had with him was when i raised my hand to ask him whether or not it was time to move on from the team. I tried to phrase the question in the best possible way. I don’t remember the exact phrasing, but it went along the lines of something like “you’ve helped build the success of the Franchise in MLS, but do you think it is time for you to move on?” I don’t quite remember his answer, but shortly after that he was let go and i was never able to say goodbye.

I never got the chance to thank him for being such a great person that would let me ask questions and have conversations with me off the mic. We’d talk about things like whether or not Cristian Roldan deserved a starting spot, we’d talk about what position Jordan Morris should play. To me, I had never really gotten closure because he had left so suddenly.

So, in his very first game back at CenturyLink, I remember trying my best to position myself near the press conference room at the visiting team locker room. At the time, I was talking to another LA Galaxy player and he saw me and approached me. He went out of his way to come up to me and he shook my hand. I was able to say, “Hey, it was great having you here in Seattle and I never got to thank you for everything you did.” I remember him saying, “Yeah, you were the person who asked me last about moving on from the Seattle job.” I kind of laughed, and was intimidated by the situation. He laughed as well. I responded with “It was a question I felt like I wanted to ask.”

He said, “No, I really appreciated how you phrased the question. I gave you an honest answer and you asked an honest question. I wanted to come say hello because we never got the chance to talk after that.” I thought that was pretty incredible, that someone like him would come to me, a small time reporter, and still had that presence to come talk to me after all that. He had remembered our interaction after all that time. I had covered him for about 3 years when he was here. He was always a class act and I am very saddened by his passing. I have nothing but respect for him and his family. I respect what Sigi meant to soccer in general. And he gave this city a lot of trophies and a lot of happiness. — Niko Moreno


Tonight we go all in

all in tifo

This American soccer god saw heaven back in October 2012. It was your gift to him that caused him to praise, pause nearly breaking down, and then talk about how grand soccer had become in Seattle, and the United States.

You showed him love and he loved you back.

I was there with him, watching as Roman Torres banged in the decisive penalty, and looked over to see the strangest look of both agony and ecstasy on Sigi’s face. Ecstasy because this was the club he’d built, for their MLS years. Seattle was where he’d lived for a decade. His son still worked for the team. This was the club guided by his friend Brian Schmetzer, who’d known Sigi for decades and been his right-hand man for nearly 10 years. These were the players he’d drafted and signed and recruited and managed.

Agony because, as he looked at the fans... “*&%#,” Schmid said, and then again. There was unmistakeable redness rimming his eyes. “I wanted to give this to them. I wanted to give this to them so bad.”

That’s the Sigi Schmid I was honored to know. Like many of our stories about Sigi Schmid my moment with him was just after he and the Seattle Sounders “parted ways.” He was walking to Fuel to meet with the Emerald City Supporters. I had to catch a bus, so I was not at Fuel or the event for the beat reporters. My full-time job kept me from practices more than a couple times a month, but fortune meant that I saw Sigi that day.

Our chat was short, but I remember two things;

  1. I apologized for asking so many questions. He told me that he appreciated that I was always trying to learn.
  2. His wife told me “I’ve heard so much about you.”

So I cried on the bus ride home that night. I couldn’t imagine Sigi talking about me, or Sounder at Heart. Yet, he did exactly that. Where Brian Schmetzer is someone that’s always been a friend, Sigi was always the stern, German father who coached us all.

He touched so many of us.

Titan among gods

Sounders vs. Galaxy: Photos Mike Russell/Sounder at Heart

There are only three coaches in the United States Soccer Federation National Hall of Fame. Sigi Schmid is not in as a coach. Tony DiCicco is joined by the two men who could be in a contest with Sigi for the title of “best coach in MLS history.” Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley are both in as coaches.

Sigi Schmid was elected as a Builder. There are many reasons for that. His influence, like any coach’s influence, goes beyond the game played on the field. His was a respected voice around the world. He was a man who could meet with Arsene Wenger and just talk tactics. He was a man who was respected in Germany and Spain, so much so that teammates of players that signed with Seattle spoke of Sigi.

When he was elected to the Hall, alongside one of his many former players, Schmid took a shot at Caleb Porter, but it was also a kind of praise, because Porter did what Schmid did and left the comfort of dominating college for the pros. Even in rivalry there was praise.

The Hall of Fame doesn’t have an inner hall. It doesn’t need one. Those that go will know of Bruce, Bob, Tony and Sigi. They aren’t just an inner hall. They are the titans. There will be American soccer gods after them, someday usurping them, but these are the titans without whom two full generations of soccer do not exist. They took us from the dark place, giving us light.

Sigi’s game is over

But his legacy is not. Sigi Schmid’s legacy is taking German soccer into America. It is the West’s collegiate powerhouse. His legacy is the Galaxy, the Crew and the Sounders. His legacy is players scattered around the world who learned from him.

Schmid’s legacy is a family of soccer with deep roots that taught him who he could be. His legacy is branches of a tree that rise towards an American and MLS future that will always have an up to look towards.

Siegfried “Sigi” Schmid’s legacy and hope is a Seattle Sounders fanbase that fills CenturyLink Field’s full capacity, not a sellout in name, but because every single seat sold. His legacy sits in trophy cases around the country.

It is a legacy that hangs from the rafters of our stadium and his name belongs enshrined with Chuck Knox. Sigi Schmid is one of us. He is Seattle. He is a Sounder. It was an honor to call him coach for those near eight years. His history is legend.

Siegfried “Sigi” Schmid died on Christmas Day 2018, but his game lives on.