SEATTLE – A season with so much success still ended with a painful feeling for Sigi Schmid, whose Seattle Sounders were dumped out of the MLS Cup Playoffs early for the third straight year.
But the magic at CenturyLink Field is alive and well for the club. MLSsoccer.com recently caught up with runner-up in the MLS Coach of the Year voting to discuss the season that was and his plans to keep the team together in 2012.
MLSsoccer.com: What in your mind went right in 2011?
Schmid: A lot of things went right for us this year. For a good part of the season, we found different ways to win games. The success of winning games and gaining confidence this year, that was a part that definitely went right for us the majority of the season.
MLSsoccer.com: What didn’t go so well?
Schmid: Obviously, the disappointment in the playoffs. We set big goals for ourselves and we achieved almost all of our goals: We advanced in Champions League, we won the Open Cup again, we pushed ourselves up to the second-highest point total in the league. We were in the competition for the Supporters’ Shield and we won our first playoff game, but we didn’t advance in that first round. That’s now the big next step for us.
MLSsoccer.com: What are the team’s expectations for 2012?
Schmid: Our goals are to go after the things we didn’t get this year. There’s got to be a real hunger inside ourselves. We want to achieve things that we haven’t achieved yet. We want to win our division in the regular season. We’d like to win a Supporters’ Shield. We definitely want to advance in the playoffs. So those things are goals that are still ahead of us. You always want to get the things you haven’t gotten before.
MLSsoccer.com: One of the players who emerged in 2011 was Lamar Neagle. What did you think of his season?
Schmid: Lamar certainly built a good case for himself and advanced himself. I think Lamar’s advancement showed a reflection of two things. One is the benefit of the Reserve League. At the beginning of the season, when we were fully healthy, before Steve Zakuani got injured, those were the games and the opportunities that he got. They allowed him to stay sharp and show us he was improving.
Then when the opportunities came along, he was able to take advantage of them. That’s an important aspect and I think he’s a player that will continue to grow. Hopefully, he will be a member of the Sounders for a while to come.
MLSsoccer.com: How hard is it to resist interest from other clubs – both within the league and abroad – for guys like Fredy Montero and Osvaldo Alonso, and how does that process work?
Schmid: The process for most teams is the same: Everybody listens. Some of the discussions that take place between teams are things that you have to think over and chew on. Others, you can dismiss rather quickly. The way our league is structured because of the salary cap, it’s usually that you have to subtract before you can add. It’s very difficult sometimes to add without getting rid of some things.
Keeping the nucleus together is difficult at times. We always listen to what interest is out there. If there is something legitimate that makes sense for our club and also makes sense for the player – we never want to hold a player back if he has the ability to advance his career and get into a situation that’s better for him, whether it be financially or anything else. [Ed. note: Erik Friberg was granted his request this week to transfer back to his native Sweden, citing family reasons.]
Those are situations we always listen to. So far, we’ve been able to keep the core of the team together. Hopefully we will be the same for 2012.
MLSsoccer.com: You’ve solved your most pressing need, in signing Michael Gspurning to replace Kasey Keller. What other positions are you looking to reinforce?
Schmid: For us, we’d like to be a little better playing the ball out of the back. We want to make sure we maintain options in the middle of the field so we have to look at that a little bit. We have a couple of question marks.
Is O’Brian White going to make it back? That right now is a significant question mark. When Steve Zakuani feels better, he’ll be back, but how long will it take for him to be the same sort of player? Do we have the depth to carry us early in the season until they get back? What happens if O’Brian White never gets back? How do we fill that void?
MLSsoccer.com: What did you think of the Santos Laguna draw in the Champions League quarterfinals?
Schmid: Any draw at this stage is difficult. We’re happy we don’t have to go to altitude to play away, so we’re happy about not having to go into Mexico City. Like I said, any draw at this stage of the competition is difficult. These two-leg competitions – we’ve been through them now, certainly in the MLS Cup Playoffs. That’s something we have to use and build upon.
With the first game at home, we have to come out and get after it and get ourselves a good result and then play it appropriately when we’re on the road. I think it’s a solvable equation, but a difficult one. Hopefully we’ll be able to move on and face the Toronto-LA winner.
Andrew Winner covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com.