Sighs of relief, hearty handshakes, jokes and reminisces, and a few tears highlighted the official announcement Tuesday of Seattle Sounders FC landing Sigi Schmid as its head coach.
"This is a truly a defining moment for our franchise," said general manager Adrian Hanauer, whose family is one of the franchise's investors. "Someone was mentioning that I was wearing a tie for one of the very few times recently. When we announced this franchise, I wasn't wearing a tie. So Sigi, that's how big a day it is for us here in Seattle."
A prolonged waiting period, imposed by Columbus to prevent Seattle from speaking with Schmid until his contract expired Nov. 30, occasionally roiled with accusations of tampering and impropriety. Once he'd won his second MLS Cup with the Crew and that period ended, Schmid and Seattle quickly reached a deal to bring Schmid closer to his Southern California roots and to an area where he has family.
"We've always had a special bond," said Schmid of his brother Roland, who played for Schmid at UCLA. "I'm getting emotional again. Part of it is my mother passed away at an early age. He was 13 at the time. I was 23. There's always been a bond between us because of that.
"So being able to know that he's around and his family is around and I've got nephews, nieces in the area as well certainly makes it a great situation."
In addition to his brother and other family members, Schmid joins another one of his former players, ex-U.S. international Chris Henderson, who is Seattle's technical director.
"Of any coach in America, I've played for a lot of coaches, Sigi knows more about individual details of the players," said Henderson, who won an NCAA title with Schmid at UCLA in 1990. "You name a player. He'll tell you how he runs, what he uses, what his strengths and weaknesses are. He knows players in this country. He has a unique way of getting the most out of each guy."
MLS did not impose a fine on Seattle for its pursuit of Schmid, as was reported in Tuesday's SoccerAmericaDaily. A Sounders source, speaking on condition of anonymity, reiterated the league's statement that it found no evidence of tampering.
The league confirmed the existence of a non-compete clause, effective through 2009, in Schmid's contract as cited by Columbus, and directed the teams to negotiate compensation. Seattle bought out the clause in Schmid's contract for $25,000 and an unspecified amount of allocation money.
Schmid covered a lot of bases in his comments and even hearkened back to the days of the NASL Sounders, which drew large crowds in its early years before withering and fading from sight after the 1983 season. Hanauer helped revive soccer in the area and retained the nickname for teams that played in the lower American leagues, including the A-League and United Soccer Leagues.
His efforts to join MLS were rebuffed until entertainment mogul Joe Rothsigned on as primary investor and the company that runs the NFL Seahawks, Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, and CEO Tod Leiwekecame aboard on behalf of Microsoft co-founderPaul Allen. Actor and producer Drew Carey is a minority investor.
"There's a gentleman in this room who was a part of the original Sounders by the name of Jimmy Gabriel," said Schmid. "And he said something to me a long time ago that has always stuck with me. And he said, 'soccer can't be fun, fun, and it can't be serious, serious. It's got to be serious fun.'
"So, I'm telling you right now, in these years ahead we're going to have some serious fun. And I'm very happy to be here in Seattle."