On Saturday night, Sigi Schmid will return to The Home Depot Center for the first time as an MLS coach since being fired by the Los Angeles Galaxy at the tail end of the 2004 season.
Now the head coach of the Columbus Crew, Schmid is still trying to lead his young squad to their first win of the season. The fact that the first victory can come against his former team is probably providing even more motivation for Schmid.
Still, the former Galaxy coach has several strong ties with many players on the current Galaxy roster. For guys like Pete Vagenas, Cobi Jones and Kevin Hartman, the relationship dates back to their high school days when Schmid was trying to recruit them. All three went on to play for Schmid at UCLA, then as fate would have it, played under him as professionals with the Galaxy.
Even though there obviously is a ton of respect between former coach and players alike, don't be fooled into thinking that a bit of a friendly rivalry hasn't crept into the minds of everyone involved.
"Any situation where you're playing a former colleague, player or coach, you always want to be able to have the smile on your face," said Jones earlier this week in training. "So yeah, we definitely want to get the win here."
What might have been lost in the headlines with Schmid's return to Los Angeles is the fact that both teams have struggled a bit to start the season. Columbus has managed to pick up just one point from their first three matches, while the Galaxy were minutes away from opening the season winless in their first three games before last weekend's last-gasp victory against Chivas USA.
Hartman, the Galaxy's long-time goalkeeper, is looking forward to the opportunity to see his old coach, but insists that any rivalry, friendly or otherwise is secondary to picking up three points.
"I feel like I'm competing against the Columbus Crew. I don't feel like I'm playing against Sigi," said Hartman. "I look forward to seeing him. He didn't leave this organization with the players with a bad feeling. For me, it's a chance to see Sigi, say hello, and go out and beat his team."
No matter how strong the protestations are out of the Galaxy camp that this is just another game on the schedule, it is obvious there are still bragging rights on the line in addition to the points.
"I definitely want to go one up on him," said Galaxy captain Vagenas. "I think it will be an emotional night. But once that whistle blows I'm going to want to kick his butt, to be honest."
Greg Daurio is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.