TUKWILA, Wash. – As far as auditions go, you would be hard-pressed to find one that has started off much smoother than that of Seattle Sounders interim head coach Brian Schmetzer.
Since Schmetzer took over head coaching duties on July 31, the Sounders have notched a 7-1-4 record. It’s been a dramatic turnaround that has shifted the narrative surrounding Seattle’s 2016 campaign entirely – and one that few would have predicted after the team’s 6-12-2 start to the season culminated in the departure of longtime head coach Sigi Schmid.
Even so, Schmetzer hasn’t been afforded any guarantees regarding an eventual shedding of that interim tag.
Speaking with MLSsoccer.com from his office at Starfire Sports Complex in Tuwkila earlier in the week ahead of Wednesday's 0-0 draw vs. Houston, Schmetzer said both Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer and general manager Garth Lagerwey told him that any discussion surrounding his long-term future would likely have to wait until after the season was over.
“Both Adrian and Garth were very open and honest,” Schmetzer said. “They said, ‘Look, you’re the interim coach. Let’s talk about stuff in the future and leave everything else to the past. Let’s see if we can’t get the team right.’ I agreed with that.”
Schmetzer isn’t just trying to demonstrate that he can coach at the MLS level. He’s also trying to leave his mark on his hometown club.
The 54-year-old is a true Sounders lifer, with an affiliation to the club dating back to his childhood. He attended games as a fan at the team’s original home of Memorial Stadium before joining the NASL iteration of the club as a player in 1980, under the tutelage of former Sounders coach and broadcaster Alan Hinton.
He interviewed with other MLS clubs during his seven-season run as Schmid’s top assistant – including FC Dallas and the Montreal Impact – but ultimately chose to stay in Seattle each time.
“I’ve been very lucky,” Schmetzer said. “I’ve found myself really fortunate to have worked with some really good people over the years. Alan was a big part of my life as a player. He helped me earn a living. When I got the coaching gig, it was Adrian who gave me my first job.
“I got to work under Sigi for seven years. Now, I get to coach this team, yes, in my hometown. I’m very fortunate.”
Exactly how much of Seattle’s recent reversal of fortune can be attributed to the midseason coaching change is up for debate.
It’s no coincidence that the Sounders’ recent tear began almost immediately following the arrival of Uruguyan playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro, who has taken MLS by storm since signing with Seattle from Argentine powerhouse Boca Juniors.
The continued progression of Homegrown phenom Jordan Morris, another standout campaign from veteran midfielder Osvaldo Alonso and the return of defensive stalwart Roman Torres are also undeniably additional contributing factors.
But Schmetzer’s role in the revival isn’t lost on his players.
“He’s a coach who knows what he wants. He’s demanding of players, which I think is good,” defender Chad Marshall said. “He’s not afraid to tell you if you’re not doing well, no matter how long you’ve been in the league, how many games you have for your national team, he’s going to tell you how he feels.
“I think players respect that. Everyone’s buying in to what he’s selling. Obviously, since he’s come in, things have turned around and we’re playing really well. It’s a credit to him and the mentality he brings every day.”
Schmetzer often says that a major tenet of his coaching philosophy revolves around a concerted emphasis on imparting ownership of the team to his players – a mentality that he says was forged during his own playing days under Hinton.
“It comes from my own personal experience,” he said. “When I joined the Sounders in 1980, I was 17 years old. I was just a young, green kid. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just happy to be there.
“The team was the team. Alan was the manager, he set the starting lineup and poked us when we needed to be poked. He was running things, but the players ran the team in some sense. That’s just the way it was. … I think that has always been part of the successes that I had as I grew up in the game. That’s what I believe in.”
Seattle forward Herculez Gomez, an MLS veteran who has played for five of the league's franchises, also pointed to that philosophy when asked about Schmetzer’s style and why his message appeared to be resonating with Sounders players.
“I think he throws responsibility at you. He makes you feel that it’s your job and if the ship’s going down, you’re part of why it’s going down and if you’re succeeding, you’re part of why it’s succeeding,” Gomez said.
“Whether you’re the oldest guy on the team or the youngest guy, you have that same responsibility. I think that’s refreshing.”
The Sounders’ current priority is trying to complete their improbable turnaround and clinch a spot in the MLS Cup playoffs – something they can do this weekend when they travel to face FC Dallas (5 pm ET on MLS LIVE).
In the meantime, Schmetzer says the best mechanism for making his case for the permanent gig is a simple one.
“Giving [the players] ownership, managing their personalities, knowing when to push and when to back off, I think that would be my skillset,” he said. “Finally, what I think is that the results will do all the talking that I don’t feel comfortable with.
“If I do my job and the team wins, you won’t have to ask me that question. It’s clear for everybody to see.”