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Why haven’t the Sounders given Brian Schmetzer an extension yet?

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The Sounders head coach confirmed he’s out of contract at the end of the year despite an impressive resume.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

When Brian Schmetzer signed his first contract extension after the 2017 season, it was kept so quiet — apparently at his request — that it didn’t even become public knowledge until after the 2018 season. No details of that contract were ever widely shared, but it was understood to run through the 2020 season.

So it wasn’t entirely surprising that we hadn’t heard anything about his contract status ever since. On Monday, however, Paul Tenorio of The Athletic was able to confirm that Schmetzer is, indeed, in the final year of his deal. More than that, it’s pretty obvious that Schmetzer isn’t entirely comfortable with where things stand.

“It would seem to me pretty obvious you would want to re-sign the best staff in the league, I would think that would be pretty obvious,” Schmetzer said. “Have there been talks? Yes. Have the talks gone slow? Are we close? You can certainly ask (Sounders GM) Garth (Lagerwey) those questions. I am certainly hopeful that I would remain a Seattle Sounder, but I have not signed anything yet and it’s getting late in the year.”

Tenorio also talked to Lagerwey, who said he was hopeful about bringing back both Schmetzer and his staff.

That’s exactly what you’d expect Lagerwey to say given Schmetzer’s success. In addition to leading the Sounders to their first two MLS Cup victories and a third final in just four seasons, Schmetzer has compiled a regular-season record of 66-37-33, which equates to 1.70 points per game. No current or former MLS coach with at least 70 games can match his record.

Even more impressive is Schmetzer’s playoff record, where he’s gone 12-3-2. Only four coaches in MLS history have more playoff wins, Bruce Arena (five) is the only head coach with more MLS Cups and no coach has a better playoff winning percentage (.765).

Just for good measure, Schmetzer was also one of the USL’s most successful all-time coaches with a 100-57-41 regular-season record and two league titles over seven seasons.

While I don’t have any details on Schmetzer’s existing contract terms, it would not be at all surprising if they reflect a certain hometown discount. It would also not be surprising if Schmetzer is hoping to secure a contract that more accurately reflects his resumé.

Potentially adding further complications is that it’s entirely likely that some of Schmetzer’s staff — as well as Schmetzer himself — could be in contention for top jobs elsewhere in MLS. Without the season even being over, there are currently vacancies at Atlanta United, D.C. United and the LA Galaxy.

Gonzalo Pineda, in particular, has been prominently mentioned as a candidate for the Galaxy position. He’s also continuously mentioned as a candidate for various jobs in Liga MX, most recently with Pumas.

My suspicion is that Lagerwey is going to try to do a few things at once, and I’m not sure where they fall in terms of priority.

Maintain continuity

It’s been well documented that the Sounders have never missed the playoffs during their 12 MLS seasons. Even going all the way back to their 1994 professional revival, they’ve only failed to make the postseason twice. What’s especially amazing about that run of success is the degree of continuity they’ve maintained. Since Adrian Hanauer took over as owner and GM of the USL Sounders in 2002 and promptly hired Schmetzer as his coach, the organization has had just two GMs (Hanauer and Lagerwey), two majority owners (Hanauer and Joe Roth) and two head coaches (Schmetzer and Sigi Schmid). They’ve won two USL titles, two MLS Cups, four U.S. Open Cups and a Supporters’ Shield during that time.

As confident as Lagerwey may be in his ability to make changes if that’s what’s required, I’m sure he’s very aware of how important continuity is to the organization’s unparalleled success. He’s not looking to blow this up.

Cost control

Let’s not kid ourselves: If this were just about Schmetzer wanting to be here and the Sounders wanting him back, a contract extension would have been finalized by now. I have no idea what the Sounders are offering or what Schmetzer’s asking for, but my suspicion is there’s currently a significant gap between those two things.

It’s easy enough to say that Lagerwey should just pay the man — he’s undeniably earned it and probably deserves some backpay, too — but there’s surely a budget. Money the Sounders pay Schmetzer is potentially money that can’t be spent elsewhere.

That said, Schmetzer deserves to at least be paid like a top 5 coach in MLS.

Flexibility

If there’s one thing Lagerwey is not, it’s sentimental. As open as he is to bringing back players, he’s just as willing to let them walk in the first place. The success the Sounders have enjoyed over the past four seasons is impressive, but Lagewey’s job is to be more worried about the next four years.

At 58, Schmetzer is the fourth oldest head coach in MLS. On one hand, that’s still 11 years younger than Arena and five years younger than Bob Bradley, two coaches who are still piling up wins. On the other, MLS seems to be trending toward younger coaches and Schmetzer is four years older than the next oldest head coach.

That leaves Schmetzer in a somewhat odd space. He’s not young enough to be considered up and coming, but not yet old enough to be seriously considering retirement. Schmetzer probably wants to coach at least another four or five years before potentially taking another job within the organization.

The Sounders are probably going to want some flexibility, which will probably feel like instability to Schmetzer.

Let’s say the Sounders see Pineda as Schmetzer’s successor. Pineda is 38 and probably at the point where he’s itching for a top job. Can the Sounders keep them both happy?

The bottom line

If I had to guess, I think the Sounders and Schmetzer figure out a way to keep this going. They are, after all, potentially in the middle of a dynasty. But I’m also not naive enough to believe this will all just quietly blow over. You don’t have to be an expert in reading between the lines to surmise that Schmetzer is frustrated with that status of negotiations. It’s probably unfair for this to stretch into the offseason, but that might be where this is heading.

Schmetzer has been wildly successful by virtually any metric and deserves to be treated like one of the top coaches in MLS history. I certainly hope he and the Sounders can find a way to satisfy everyone.