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Brian Schmetzer deserves to puff out his chest

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Schmetzer plays the “aw shucks” role well, but there’s more to him than that.

Seattle Sounders v Los Angeles FC - Western Conference Final Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images

Chances are that if you’re reading this website, you’re pretty familiar with Brian Schmetzer’s story. Just in case you’re new though, here’s a quick rundown:

  • He was born in Seattle and grew up playing youth soccer for a local club adorably called the Lake City Hawks at a time when soccer was barely a professional sport in this country.
  • His family owned and operated a local sporting goods store up until a few years ago.
  • He signed with the NASL Sounders as a teenager, playing about 15 years in at least six different leagues, including three different indoor ones.
  • He became the coach of the USL Sounders and won a couple league titles.
  • When the Sounders moved to MLS, he got passed over for Sigi Schmid and spent eight seasons as the top assistant before assuming the job on an interim basis in 2016.
  • He promptly led the Sounders to a MLS Cup after taking over a last-place team.
  • He took the Sounders back to MLS Cup the following year.
  • He just became just the fourth coach in league history to lead his team to at least three MLS Cup finals.

The local-boy-makes-good story is almost too good to be true. But he lives it to the fullest. He’s one of the few coaches who can say something like “I’m just a steward of this club” and it not come off like a rehearsed bit. He’s an exceptionally down-to-earth person, always seems to find time for fans, and is a proud dues-paying member of ECS. Can you even imagine Bob Bradley celebrating a big win by doing something like this?

Given his “aw, shucks” vibe, I understand why post-game comments to Sebastian Salazar came off as particularly notable.

“I feel a lot better than Bob,” Schmetzer said, referencing LAFC’s Bradley. Later in the interview, he clapped back at MLSsoccer.com columnist Bobby Warshaw, who has been among the more vocal skeptics of Schmetzer’s tactical acumen. “I’ll let Bobby Warshaw tell me what we did.”

As much attention as those comments got, I think this follow-up is important too: “I mean, one team has to celebrate. We did it last year. We had Portland celebrating on our home field, so I know what Bob is going through and it’s not a good feeling. We used that as motivation for this playoff run this year. I get it, it’s winners and losers and these playoff formats are great for the league.”

From the look of it, though, Bradley didn’t appreciate the comment. He waited for Schmetzer after the trophy lift and had this exchange in which it looks an awful like he’s upset about the postgame interview.

In a postgame press conference that started with him choking back tears, Schmetzer insisted nothing disrespectful happened during that exchange on either side. But can you blame him if he wasn’t feeling himself just a bit? Virtually no one outside the Sounders locker room had given this team a chance. LAFC were a juggernaut and the Sounders were supposed to be just another step on the way to crowing a new king of MLS.

And if anyone was going to stop LAFC, it certainly wasn’t going to be someone like Schmetzer who national pundits are constantly telling us is some sort of tactical Forrest Gump. The league has long moved on from coaches like Schmetzer, coaches who are more likely to explain their philosophy of empowering players than wowing you with tactical breakdowns.

That’s the thing about Schmetzer, he knows what everyone is saying. Maybe he’s too aware of it, but he’s reading the comments. He sees what’s being said on Twitter. He definitely knows he’s being underestimated. While I have no doubt that he’s annoyed by that, it also allows him to openly embrace analytics and advanced video scouting while still being seen as some sort of luddite. That’s how he can amass a 5-0-0 record in conference finals matches — three of which were on the road — and become just the fourth coach in league history to lead his team to three MLS Cup finals without even being mentioned among the coaching elite.

I can’t pretend to really know how great of a tactician Schmetzer is, but I do get the sense that he’s smart enough to know what he doesn’t know. He’s the type of leader who is confident enough to surround himself with talented people, let them do their jobs and not get wrapped up in who gets the credit. I’ll take that over a coach who insists on being seen as the smartest person in the room any day.