The future is uncertain, but full of potential for both Sigi Schmid and the Seattle Sounders, according to veteran MLS pundits who know the iconic MLS coach well.
In the wake of Schmid's parting of ways with Seattle on Tuesday after nearly eight seasons, MLSsoccer.com reached out to several leading television analysts for their perspectives, and what might happen next for both coach and club. While none were surprised by the news, given the Sounders' well-chronicled woes in 2016, all emphasized the achievements of the past as well as the momentous choices that lie just ahead.
“A high-profile team, what is purported to be an MLS elite, a superclub, making a change of the head coach should catch nobody by surprise,” said Fox commentator Alexi Lalas, who played both for and against Schmid in his own playing career. “That it lasted this long, in a strange way, represents the respect and the body of work that Sigi Schmid has. This is a guy who understands MLS today. MLS is a very unique and difficult type of league, and a guy with his understanding of the league is going to have opportunities going forward.
“But this is a team that has positioned itself as one of the elite teams in MLS and without that crowning achievement of MLS Cup, there was always going to be something missing, regardless of the success.”
ESPN analyst Taylor Twellman also knew Schmid as both a coach and competitor, and felt that this week's development had become inevitable, though he shot down the idea that Seattle's woeful performance in a 3-0 loss at Sporting Kansas City on Sunday played a role in the timing of the move.
“For the first time in his tenure in Seattle, you saw a team that just kind of looked – for lack of a better word – lifeless,” said Twellman, “lacking an identity, which is unusual under Sigi.
“Yeah, [Sunday] was a disappointing performance but I'm not going to sit here and sugarcoat it: I think I've seen that [type of Sounders] performance a couple times this year … But I don't think Seattle Sounders and their front office are going to make a decision based on one game. It's a culmination of events and a culmination of results, and I just think it was time.”
Twellman suggested that the 2015 MLS Cup triumph of their biggest rivals, the Portland Timbers, has complicated the picture in Seattle, and doubts that the “homegrown manager” phenomenon seen at clubs like Colorado, D.C. and New England would work on Puget Sound.
“This is a massive decision. The trend in Major League Soccer is to give some inexperienced coaches time,” he said. “But when you look at it, I don't think Seattle can be that kind of franchise. I don't think Seattle wants to be that kind of franchise. With Portland, their archrivals, winning MLS Cup last year and how disappointing this season's been, they've got to be very calculated and make the right decision.
“And for the players, it's a wake-up call, because now the performance this weekend against LA, that reaction – often you get a great reaction, you see players jump out of their seats. But if they don't? Then I think the question starts: Maybe the issue wasn't Sigi Schmid.”
ESPN's Alejandro Moreno played for Schmid in LA and Columbus, in the process winning the 2002 and 2008 MLS Cups, respectively, and forging a deep bond of trust and respect. He hopes his former boss takes his time in deciding his next move, but suspects Schmid's passion for coaching may not allow it.
“I don't like to see him go out this way, but I also think he's done enough in Major League Soccer,” said Moreno. “He's had his health issues, his health concerns. So part of me selfishly says, 'Sigi, how about you just be with your family and then sit back and be able to appreciate your career for what it has been?' But I know that there's a fire that burns within Sigi and maybe he wants to continue coaching, and maybe he'll get an opportunity elsewhere.
“There's a part of him that right now says, 'I'm going to be back and I'm going to show you and I'm going to do these things that have made me successful over the course of my career.' I just hope that perspective, that big picture becomes more significant than going after another title.”
“I don't know if Sigi has it in his system to take time off,” he said. “My advice to Sigi, my two cents on it, if I was Sigi I would take time off. Because does he really want to jump into an expansion-type situation in Atlanta, at LAFC, at Minnesota? … I think it's in Sigi's best interest to step away for a bit, look in from the outside. He deserves that time. He's earned that right. And he's obviously got a proven track record in Major League Soccer. But I think he should be calculated with the next move.
“But knowing Sigi, I don't know if it's in his blood … I don't think Sigi's ever taken a month off.”
For Lalas, Schmid's departure now shines a brighter spotlight on Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey, the architect (along with Orlando City's new coach Jason Kreis) of Real Salt Lake's turn-of-the-decade heyday but an understated presence in Seattle thus far.
“Sigi Schmid is a big personality and he casts a very long shadow. And when you hire a guy like Garth Lagerwey at the beginning of 2015, in a certain sense Garth Lagerwey's job started today,” said Lalas. “And it's not that he wasn't doing things and working behind the scenes, but when you have somebody as big and as renowned as Sigi Schmid as your head coach that was already there when you came – and this is nothing against either of those guys – you have to ingratiate yourself and you have to work within that system.
“I'm interested to see what the Seattle Sounders look like now that Garth Lagerwey for all intents and purposes has a blank slate… I'm not saying that they didn't work well, but when you're building a team, what you want is to have a technical director or GM who then hires the coach.”
Schmid was already a coaching legend on his arrival in the Emerald City thanks to sustained achievement with Columbus Crew SC, the LA Galaxy and UCLA, and Lalas offered insight into the roots of his success.
“He is a pragmatic coach,” said Lalas, “and sometimes when you say a coach is pragmatic it's a backhanded type of compliment, but I intend it as a complete compliment in that he's very good at sussing out a situation very quickly and recognizing what he has at his disposal, and putting the team and the individual players in position to succeed. In this day and age when we talk about 'getting out of your comfort zone,' Sigi recognizes the value of putting players in their comfort zone and adjusting to fit the reality of a club's situation. And I think he has done that consistently wherever he's been.”
Both Lalas and Twellman expect Schmid to be considered for roles at upcoming MLS expansion sides – and possibly even the US national team – though not necessarily as a head coach.
“You have LAFC, Atlanta, Minnesota, these teams are a part of MLS going forward and I think he will be part of those discussions – but also from a national-team perspective,” said Lalas. “He's been involved in the past with the US national team and I think that will be a part of the equation. I also think as these legends like Bruce Arena, Sigi Schmid get into the twilight of their managing careers, these technical director positions and overseers and consultancy type of positions I think will become more and more appealing, considering their great body of work and the things they have done.”