When Sigi Schmid was announced as the Columbus Crew's new head coach, it didn't take long to understand what he meant when he proclaimed himself as an 'L.A. guy'. But in recounting his time spent at UCLA and the Los Angeles Galaxy, it wasn't long before it became evident there are many other bridges connecting the Crew organization and the West Coast.
Before MLS existed, Schmid led UCLA to two national championships in 1985 and 1990 (he added a third in 1997). Two members of that first title team were original members of the Crew -- and highlighted a reason what Schmid loved most about coaching the sport.
"Being a coach is a way to have an influence on people, hopefully in a very positive way. It is a way to build bonds and to build friendships," Schmid said. "I was talking to Billy Thompson and Mike Lapper, two guys that used to play for me at UCLA. We were talking about the 20-year anniversary of the 1985 championship team. That was just a special moment."
In addition to those former Crew players, he coached Chris Henderson and Frankie Hejduk at UCLA. Schmid's connection to current Crew players is not just limited to UCLA, but also goes back to his more recent time as boss of the Galaxy. In fact, both of the Crew captains, Robin Fraser and Simon Elliott, were traded from the Galaxy while Schmid was at the helm.
"Trades are part of the business. It was the end of a season where we didn't do very well. Sigi did what he had to do to try to get the team playing better for the next year," said Elliott, who was traded to the Crew before the 2004 season after the Galaxy finished fourth in the Western Conference the previous season (Columbus missed the playoffs despite having more points than L.A.).
Fraser was dealt to the Colorado Rapids following Schmid's second season running the Galaxy. Schmid could have a great influence on whether Fraser comes back for his 11th MLS campaign.
"Robin has been a great player. To think that he is still playing at 39, I don't think a lot of people would have thought that," said Schmid. "He is still playing very effectively.
"I went through this with Mauricio Cienfuegos and Paul Caligiuri. I think great players like that get to go out on their own terms. That is something that Robin and I need to talk. He knows better than I about how he feels physically and how many years he has left," Schmid added. "Look at Preki and how effective he was at 40 and 41. Robin is in that same capacity. A lot of it has to do with what he wants to do. He has been a quality player for this team and a quality player in the league."
Schmid also looks forward to the first Crew-Galaxy clash of the 2006 campaign after being let go during the 2004 season despite having his club in first place at the time.
"Is their going to extra motivation when we are playing against L.A.? I would be lying if I said there wasn't," said Schmid. "There is motivation to beat every team, but that was a unique situation. You don't expect to lose your job when you are in first place."
John Kuhn is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.