TUKWILA, Wash. – On the eve of arguably the biggest regular season game of the year so far in Major League Soccer - and a potential glimpse into what MLS 3.0 might look like sometime in the future – Sigi Schmid stuck with what got him here.
The Seattle Sounders head coach – now 60 years old with a league-record 182 regular-season wins to his credit – joyfully took to his club’s training Saturday wearing tightly-laced adidas Copa Mundial cleats, something of an anachronistic relic from the past in the soccer world today.
“The German Copas have been with me since 1968, my first year in men’s soccer,” he quipped. “I got a free pair of Copas and I haven’t bought a pair of soccer shoes since.
“Dress shoes, unfortunately,” he added, “I spend too much money on.”
And so it goes for Schmid, taxed with melding the old and the new and the grit and the glitz in Seattle, where the costs of playing the game are higher than ever after the recent signing of US national team star Clint Dempsey, and so are the expectations.
Schmid spoke with MLSsoccer.com senior editor Nick Firchau about Dempsey’s arrival and the pressure building in Seattle ahead of the team’s match against the Portland Timbers on Sunday night.
MLSSOCCER.COM: The question most people want to know ahead of Sunday is pretty simple. How close are the Sounders to seeing the full Clint Dempsey?
SCHMID: Fitness-wise, I think he’s about 80-85 percent right now. And with that comes all the little things, and all those fine touches. He had a ball against Houston last week where he had a left-footed shot, and I think a fit Clint Dempsey bends that shot into the corner. He couldn’t get around it, and he just put it wide.
And his integration to the team is still going to take a couple games, but that’s tough. He’ll get those couple of games and then he’s gone with the national team, and then we have to start right over again.
MLSSOCCER.COM: It’s tough to say he really fell in your lap, because there was a significant financial investment here to bring him to Seattle. But it had to be an interesting way to acquire a player, since you didn’t have to scout him or do some of that extra leg work.
SCHMID: Yeah, it was a nice present under the tree. The last time that happened I was in Los Angeles, and they asked me if I would want Luis Hernandez (in 2000). In this one, it was nice to acquire Clint and nice to get him here, and when they presented it to me I was going, ‘well, sure!’
At midseason, the way it came, it wasn’t part of our long-term planning. It came up rather quickly. So now it’s just a matter of making sure everyone has the patience and is willing to give it time to mesh.
MLSSOCCER.COM: With the addition of a guy like Dempsey and the reported contract he’s playing under in MLS, how much of a distraction is it to players on your team to know about the disparity in their salaries?
SCHMID: It all comes down to the individual. It’s how the individual is and how he relates to his teammates. I can do whatever I want as a coach, I can stand on my head, but it’s the individual who determines that.
Clint is very down to earth, and he’s not a guy who flaunts things, so from that standpoint he’s fit in great with that team. And then they’re in that locker room there’s no feeling towards him that, ‘oh, he’s making so much money.’ I think everyone understands how the league works, and there are always guys who want to make more money. There are guys on every team who are underpaid and there are guys on every team that are sometimes overpaid. But it’s all about the personality, and Clint’s personality is very good, so it hasn’t been an issue.
MLSSOCCER.COM: How much of your job is managing the different personalities when it comes to this type of thing?
SCHMID: It’s a big job for a coach, but it’s not like I have to go in there and meet with guys individually and say, ‘hey, let me explain to you what’s going on here.’ Sometimes you meet with a couple key individuals and get their thoughts and make sure they’re okay with things, and we’ve done that. Now it’s just a matter of guys’ personalities meshing.
MLSSOCCER.COM: When you left Columbus to take this job, did you ever imagine it would get to this point, where you look out and see three DPs, and Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins on your roster?
SCHMID: No, I didn’t envision this at all. Even when I came here I thought things would be good and that the crowds would be consistent and supportive, 20-25,000 people for every game. But I never thought it would be 40,000. I never thought the fanbase would be as knowledgeable as it is, nor that the support would be as wide-ranging as it is.
And imagining I would have DPs of this quality – guys who played in the EPL and Serie A – it was something I hoped might be the case, but certainly, it’s been a pleasant surprise.
MLSSOCCER.COM: With Dempsey here, do you feel this is the most pressure you’ve been under to win?
SCHMID: There’s always pressure here. And people are adding pressure because Clint is here, and now everyone thinks we should win it. But there’s more that goes on than just adding one player – getting a good group, making sure they can all work together and complement each other – and those things are that will make a championship. But yes, certainly the expectations have risen.
MLSSOCCER.COM: What’s your relationship like with (Portland Timbers head coach) Caleb Porter?
SCHMID: We’ve spoken a lot in the past. We haven’t spoken a lot this year, but when he was still coaching in college, we spoke a lot. We spoke a lot when he was thinking about taking the D.C. United job. We spoke a lot when he was with the Olympic team. I’ve known Caleb since his days as an assistant at Indiana and even when he was still playing there.
This year, with him coaching down in Portland, though, we haven’t spoken a great deal. He’s sort of set his plan now, and he knows where he’s headed.
MLSSOCCER.COM: There’s a decent amount of buzz surrounding DeAndre Yedlin, to the point where there are people talking about his potential inclusion with the national team next summer in Brazil. Where do you fall on where he fits with the national team?
SCHMID: I think DeAndre has done really well, and he’s kept his feet on the ground. It’s tough when you’re a rookie and you’re a Homegrown player playing in front of your own fans, and you have success early. He could have just flown away on that success and forgotten what got him here.
There are still a lot of things he can improve upon, and he knows that. He’s going to work on those things. But now if it’s a case of when he moves up to the full team, it’s a matter of when Jurgen thinks it’s right. Because if you throw a player in too early and he sinks, it’s very difficult for that player to come back. DeAndre did well with the Under-20s and he had a good Under-20 World Cup, but now he has to continue to grow and develop.
For me, 2018 is what he should be looking at. If things happen earlier by 2014, that’s great for him. But he just to make sure he’s ready, and we have to make sure we don’t throw him in too early.
MLSSOCCER.COM: When it comes to the national team, where do you stand on players like John Brooks and Aron Johannson, and the idea that players who didn’t come through the traditional American soccer system could feature for the US in the World Cup?
SCHMID: Every country is doing that now, so you have to accumulate the best players you can. I know Jurgen and his guys have been following Johannson a long time. Johannson’s name got brought up to me well over a year ago, this guy in Iceland who could also play for America. People had seen him play and it was obvious that he could play. And Brooks’ name has obviously been bouncing around for a while as well.
If they are quality players and they have the ability to play for America, we can’t turn out backs on them. We’ve got to be able to accept them. And whether or not they come into the team late or early, that doesn’t really mater. Can they help the team? Are they here early enough to help the team? Going forward, Jurgen is the only one who will answer that.