2012 in Review: Q&A with Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid

MLSsoccer.com continues to take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.

2012 record: 15-8-11 (56 points); 51 GF / 33 GA (+18 GD)

2012 Seattle Sounders statistics

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SEATTLE — Sigi Schmid likes to say he’s his own biggest critic. Although he gave himself a passing grade for the job he did during the Seattle Sounders 2012 campaign, it’s clear that he’s spent a good deal of the offseason looking at some of the decisions that may have contributed to an earlier-than-desired playoff exit.

Specifically, he admits to spending considerable time ruminating on the fateful decision to deploy a 4-5-1 formation in the away leg against the LA Galaxy. How big of a role the formation played in the Sounders’ 3-0 loss is obviously impossible to say, but it’s perhaps the one decision that was easiest to second guess.

That loss aside, he found plenty of things to be encouraged by and insists that the Sounders are not far off from really breaking through.

MLSsoccer.com: With some time to let it settle in, how would you characterize this season? Did the Sounders improve, hold steady or decline?

Schmid: I think we progressed again. When you look at our season, we’re disappointed obviously in not getting to the MLS Cup. We’re disappointed in not winning the US Open Cup. We put ourselves in a position to win the Open Cup. That was a really frustrating night, for sure. Our playoff record this year was 2-1-1, so we’re showing ourselves capable of winning playoff games. Winning a playoff game on the road in Salt Lake. Obviously that 3-0 loss hurt us. We’ve made progress in that we’ve improved our ability to win playoff games. Now we have to take that one step further and make sure we advance. We’ve grown. We were a more mature team, and I don’t think we’re that far away, but the league with the salary cap always makes it intriguing.

MLSsoccer.com: How do you feel your stint with the Sounders compares to your time with the Crew and the Galaxy?

Schmid: With the Crew, it was really a three-year situation where we grew fairly quickly. There was some initial money to build it, had to tear it down and build it. I thought we were getting close at the end of Year 2 and Year 3 ended up really well for us [Columbus won the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup]. Everything also bounced right for us. It worked really well. With the Galaxy, I thought we were really a steady, solid team all the way from 1999-2002 and even into 2003. Even though we stumbled out of the gate, we caught ourselves and we were going well in 2004 [Schmid was fired during midseason despite guiding the Galaxy to first place]. We were always very steady, we were getting to finals, we won championships [under his guidance the Galaxy won the 2000 CONCACAF Champions Cup, the 2001 US Open Cup, the 2002 MLS Cup and the 2002 Supporters’ Shield]. This is more comparable to the Galaxy. We’ve been very steady. We’ve been in the thick of every competition we’ve entered. It’s just a matter of bringing home that final prize.

WATCH: End of season press conference

MLSsoccer.com: Do you feel like there’s a big gap between the Sounders and the Galaxy or has it closed to a reasonable degree at this point?

Schmid: I don’t think there’s a big gap. We played them five times this year and we won three of them. In four of them, we were right there. I think our ability to play with them is very good. I think their cold-heartedness is maybe better than ours at times. But certainly I don’t think there’s a lot that separates our two teams. I don’t think a lot has separated our two teams in the last 3-4 years. It’s been enough that they’ve been able to get to that mountain top a few times and we haven’t. We have to deal with that reality for sure. I don’t think we’re miles away.

MLSsoccer.com: How would you assess your own performance?

Schmid: You can always do a better job. It’s the first thing I look at: Where can I improve, what can I approve upon? What more can I do for the team to allow players to continue to grow and for us as a team to continue to play better and better soccer? I think the job I did was good. Nobody ever thinks the coach did a perfect job unless they bring back the title. My job as a coach is to make sure we’re in a position to be able to win as many games as possible and as many trophies as possible. From that side of it, I think we accomplished a goal. Did we win a trophy? No, so there’s still an improvement and better decisions that have to take place surrounding those final events.

MLSsoccer.com: Who do you think made the biggest leap forward this year?

Schmid: A lot of guys improved. Jeff Parke improved. Osvaldo Alonso improved. I think Brad Evans’ game in the second half of the season took a major step forward. All those guys took a leap forward. Some of the young kids, we didn’t expect as much out of Andy Rose and Alex Caskey as we got from them. David Estrada had a phenomenal start that was set back because of the injury. How much more could he have given if he had avoided that injury? Those are the guys that stand out in my mind.

MLSsoccer.com: Which players do you feel are poised for a breakout season?

Schmid: That’s hard to predict. A lot of it depends on the offseason work they put in. Are they ready to go? Steve Zakuani coming off his injury. Mario Martínez, who came to us in midseason but was in and out. With him being around a whole season, I think he has a chance to make a major step forward as well.

MLSsoccer.com: Zakuani made a remarkable recovery and has already come so far. He says he’s basically back, physically. What are the chances he returns to the form he was showing in early 2011 and possibly even exceeds it?

Schmid: I think returning and exceeding his form is definitely possible. That is so much a function of that player and his desire and his drive. I think his desire is very good right now. I think his drive is very good. The talent is there. He needed this year, the games he got, to regain his confidence. I know it was up and down for him a little bit, but I think he needed to go through that as well to get back to place he’s at right now. If he can build on that last performance he had against the Galaxy, which I think was one of his best all-around performances, and play with that kind of drive and tenacity combined with the skill and ability he has, he’ll exceed where he was before.

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MLSsoccer.com: Are you second-guessing that lineup decision in LA or are you still feeling pretty confident about it?

Schmid: In all my years of coaching, my philosophy has been you don’t play differently on the road than you do at home. You maybe tweak a thing here or there, but you don’t play significantly different. The situation in LA was one that we definitely knew Eddie wasn’t able to start in that game or we would have taken a huge risk in losing him for the next game. Based upon that, should we have come with Sammy Ochoa or Estrada up front in combination with Fredy [Montero] and stayed more in a traditional 4-4-2? In retrospect, maybe we should have came with two forwards because we always created chances against the Galaxy.

Then you look at the other side of the coin, we were one minute away from having what we did in the first half working very well for us. It’s one that, as a coach, you constantly think about and analyze and you say well maybe I should have done this or that. At the time, you make what you think was the best decision. Afterward, it becomes easy to second guess and I second guess myself as much as any of the fans do. Those are situations you learn from. Would I do it differently? I couldn’t tell you until I’m presented with that situation again.

In both cases, in the LA game and the Salt Lake City game, we took a couple goals in quick succession, that’s the bigger issue of, as a coach you can’t call a timeout, who on the field is going to grab a hold of group and say, "That’s it. We’ve got to tighten it up right now." That’s been the thing that’s hurt us over the past two years. We have a lot of guys that individually do a lot but sometimes that ability to rally the troops and wrap them around is something guys are getting better at and are close to but haven’t really stepped forward yet. That’s not putting the blame on the players, understand that, that’s just something you can’t get a handle on from the outside.

Usually we react properly, but a couple of times we’ve reacted poorly and we’ve taken two goals is quick succession and it’s basically doomed our playoff hopes.