[MLS]The Columbus Crew has already won three prestigious awards in the 2008 postseason yet for one of those so honored the most important trophy is yet to be handed out. Coach of the Year Sigi Schmid guided the Crew to the Supporters' Shield with a league-best record of 17-7-6 by melding a myriad mix of talents and personalities, and extracting performances like that of Chad Marshall, named 2008 Defender of the Year after finishing the 2007 season on injured-reserve following several concussions.
Along with his one previous Coach of the Year selection in 1999, Schmid has one MLS Cup to his credit, which he won with the Galaxy in 2002. For the team more than himself, his intent is to do the double.
There are only three players - Frankie Hedjuk, Duncan Oughton and Marshall - left from the Crew he inherited after an 11-16-5 season in 2005. His first season in Columbus went the wrong way, down to 8-15-6, but there were mitigating circumstances. Another sub-.500 record last year prompted calls for his dismissal, yet general manager Mark McCullersretained him.
"It's obviously very, very satisfying to me because of what we've built here in Columbus," says Schmid, 55. "Through some patience of the ownership, the first year really ended up being a lost year with all the injuries. I know Chivas went through a lot of injuries this year. I don't think it even compares to what I went through here in year one.
"We were able to get through that, we were able to build a foundation last year [9-11-10 record] and do better than that this year."
Columbus didn't avoid the injury bug this year. Scottish midfielder Adam Moffat played well but early in the season suffered an ACL injury. Schmid adapted, giving Brad Evans a greater role in midfield and tinkering with personnel and positions to maximize the talents of Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who topped MLS with 19 assists.
He counseled and mentored young attackers Robbie Rogers and Eddie Gaven, whose vast talents had often been subsumed by lackadaisical play, and occasionally benched them. "I told Robbie that at the end of the day, the confidence has to come from within you," said Schmid of Rogers, who finished third on the team in scoring with six goals and three assists.
"If you need the confidence to come from the coach, if you need confidence to come from outside sources, you're probably not going to make it as far as you want to make it. Just keep fighting and keep going and it will come."
Schmid also realigned the back line, signing Argentine left back Gino Padula and moving holding midfielder Danny O'Rourke to central defense alongside Marshall, which forced Marshall into a more prominent leadership role.
"We've talked a lot about that," says Schmid of Marshall, one of the league's top rookies in 2004 and a national-team candidate for several seasons until he managed just 12 games last year. "We've told him, 'You're good with the ball, you can do things with the ball, be confident with the ball.' I think that's the difference. Chad's playing with a lot of confidence, he's not afraid to have the ball, and he's always had the quality of defending."
In MLS, where talent is often spread more or less equally amongst the clubs except for the occasional superstars, instilling confidence and success is of paramount importance.
"The team's been consistent throughout the year," said assistant coach Robert Warzycha. "We've had players develop here under him. I wasn't thinking of anybody else other than Sigi getting this award."
A ceremony commemorating his 100th victory was held earlier this year. His lifetime regular-season record (113-86-57) puts him second in all-time MLS wins behind Bob Bradley (124). A 2-0 victory over Kansas City in the conference semifinals last weekend upped his count of playoff wins to 17, best in league history.
A new contract tendered by club management in September wasn't accepted and his current deal expires at the end of November, at which point Seattle, among other MLS clubs, may come calling.
Schmid is known more for being fired by the Galaxy in August, 2004, despite the team holding first place with a 9-6-7 record, than he is for winning an MLS Cup. Los Angeles had been struggling through a rough patch, and criticisms of the team's lackluster play prompted his dismissal.
Crew forward Alejandro Moreno, who had been drafted by Schmid early in 2002 -- the season that culminated with a 1-0 defeat of New England in MLS Cup -- believes Schmid has once again proved that his critics, in Los Angeles or Columbus or anywhere else, don't get it.
"I think what's special is that I was in L.A. when Sigi got fired," says Moreno. "It's something that at the time I thought it was wrong and even now I still think it was wrong, and even with the Galaxy having won the  MLS Cup the year after that I still feel it was wrong.
"He's taken over here in Columbus, he's had a challenge on his hands, and he's made the best of it. There's a lot of people who wrote him off and thought he wasn't the coach he was back with the Galaxy, and I'm here to tell you that he's still the same guy, he's still a guy who can get a team into winning situations.
"He's the coach of the year. We're all very proud of him and I'm certainly very proud of him."