It may have taken longer than anticipated, but Brian Schmetzer will remain with the Seattle Sounders for the foreseeable future, news that the Sounders made official with a Monday announcement that the two-time MLS Cup-winning coach has been signed to a multiyear contract extension.
It puts to rest one of the preeminent storylines that had been hanging over Seattle all offseason. Schmetzer's return to the sidelines for the Sounders had seemed like a foregone conclusion given their recent success during his tenure, but negotiations had trickled on all the way up until Monday's announcement officially confirmed the new deal.
Speaking with reporters on a video call shortly after his extension was announced, Schmetzer said he'd mulled over the idea of pursuing other opportunities in MLS or elsewhere, but that in his mind there was never a doubt that his first choice would be to remain with his hometown club.
"Seattle was always my preference," Schmetzer said. "That's the obvious answer. But there certainly were days where I thought about, 'Ok, what if this doesn't happen? What if there is an opportunity that I would seriously consider in another market with a different club?'
"The way the negotiations went over the course of time, yeah, there were certain issues there with COVID and the uncertainty of the way the season played out, but I'm pretty pragmatic, I'm pretty realistic. This is pro sports and nothing is ever guaranteed. The question could also be a question for the future. I've had thoughts about that, but it's obviously always been my first choice to remain here with the Sounders."
As for why the deal took so long to get finalized? It's a question many fans were asking themselves, but Schmetzer said that there isn't anything more to read into it other than delays that can sometimes come with the fine points of negotiations like this.
Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey had publicly stated that he believed the sides were aligned in their goal to bring Schmetzer back in the weeks leading up to Monday's announcement, and Schmetzer and majority owner Adrian Hanauer have a long-standing relationship dating back to Schmetzer's days as the coach of USL iteration of the club.
"I think there was negotiations that were ongoing from the start, even before COVID, and my representative was doing his best and Garth and Adrian have to protect the club," Schmetzer said. "Sometimes even the easiest negotiations can have little bumps in the road. But obviously the end result and the smile you see on my face is that I'm happy with the deal and I'm just glad it's done and thankful we can start moving on."
Now that his future with Seattle is secure, Schmetzer will set his sights on leading a Sounders team that will look quite a bit different in 2021, both on the field and behind the scenes.
In addition to a handful of offseason departures, last week star homegrown winger Jordan Morris completed a loan to English Championship side Swansea City and longtime sporting director Chris Henderson left to join the front office at Inter Miami CF, leaving the Sounders without some of the key cogs behind their recent run of four MLS Cup final appearances in five years.
What Seattle will look like on the field come the start of the 2021 season is something that will be established in preseason, but Schmetzer did tease the idea of trying out different looks tactically than the 4-2-3-1 formation that has been his go-to for virtually all of his time coaching the team. One possibility, Schmetzer said, would be a two-forward set-up that would pair Will Bruin and Raul Ruidiaz up top, which could help deal with Morris' absence.
"We'll wait and see, but I've toyed with that now for a while in the last couple years, trying to get two forwards up top to give Will Bruin more deserved playing time, get someone up there to help Raul. If we do it, when we do it, certainly that'll be decided in preseason," Schmetzer said. "If it looks good, it'll be handy to have a separate formation. Away from home you could go one way, at home you could play another. I'm naturally pretty conservative with my coaching, 4-2-3-1 has kind of been our base system, we've dealt with that. But there's 'no reason why we can't experiment a bit and see what the first half of the season looks like without Jordan."