TUKWILA, Wash. – Brian Schmetzer could have left.

Before he took over as the Seattle Sounders' head coach, initially on an interim basis halfway through the 2016 regular season, Schmetzer was the top assistant for longtime Sounders boss Sigi Schmid for seven years. During that time, other teams around MLS took notice and he even interviewed with FC Dallas and the Montreal Impact.

“I had been here for quite some time,” Schmetzer told MLSsoccer.com in his office at Starfire Sports Complex earlier this season. “I interviewed in Montreal and in Dallas and I had felt that I could coach in the league.”

But Schmetzer would remain with the Sounders as Schmid’s second-in-command each time, staying with the club that he grew up watching and would eventually suit up for during his playing days in the 1980s.

After Schmid and the Sounders parted ways halfway through the season, Schmetzer took over and wound up presiding over one of the biggest turnarounds in MLS history. His interim tag was officially removed in November and he will man the sidelines when the Sounders take the field for the franchise’s first-ever MLS Cup final against Toronto FC on Saturday (8 pm ET; FOX, UniMás in US, TSN1/3/4/5, RDS).

Schmetzer declined to elaborate on his thought process during the periods in which he was considering other opportunities after Seattle’s practice on Wednesday, saying he would prefer to reflect on that matter after MLS Cup is over. But he’s made no secret throughout the season of how deep a connection he feels to his hometown franchise.

“When I played soccer for a living, it was the greatest job ever,” he said. “It just happened to be with the Seattle Sounders, my hometown team. I was very lucky back then to sign a pro contract with the Sounders of the NASL. One step back, I was first a fan when they were playing in Memorial Stadium. I grew up watching this team.”

Schmetzer coached the USL iteration of the Sounders to two league championships, and was one of the top candidates to take the lead job when the Sounders first made the leap to MLS back in 2009 – before it wound up going to Schmid.

Loyalty pays off with MLS Cup opportunity for Sounders' Brian Schmetzer - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/styles/image_landscape/s3/images/Schmetzer-and-Scott.png

Speaking after the club announced Schmetzer had been hired for the permanent position at their Alliance Annual Business Meeting for season ticket holders last month, Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer said Schmetzer was likely disappointed to not get the job initially, but added that the learning period might be one factor that’s helped him find success now.

“When we hired Sigi, I thought that Brian was capable of being an MLS coach,” Hanauer said. “I’m not sure what Brian would say, but I think the years with Sigi have prepared him in a really meaningful way.

“Brian didn’t know much about MLS when he finished up with the USL team and there’s a lot of nuance to being successful in MLS. He learned from the master. Seven-and-a-half years was a really, really good lesson for him and I think prepared him even more so to be successful now.”

Even if you’re of the belief that the acquisition of star midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro has been the biggest factor that has led to Seattle’s turnaround and subsequent run to MLS Cup, Schmetzer’s message of imparting ownership of the team onto his players has clearly resonated.

Sounders defender Zach Scott noted as much this week when asked about Schmetzer’s role in guiding the Sounders to the doorstep of championship glory.

“You guys have heard it before, but he’s a player’s coach,” said Scott, who has ties to Schmetzer dating back to his days as a member of those championship-winning USL squads. “That’s really the change that happened. It became less of a coaches vs. players thing and more of a ‘Hey, if we’re going to do this, it’s got to be collaborative.’ He really drove the players to make the change. He said, ‘There’s nothing we can really do as coaches. It’s got to be you guys here in the locker room that find the results that get us into the playoffs.’

“He’s just been great. I love Brian. He’s been instrumental in my career and I see the way he takes a lot of young guys under his wing. He wants to see them succeed.”