By Paul Kennedy
Jurgen Klinsmann and Sigi Schmid share a lot in common. Both are from the Stuttgart area in southern Germany, both speak Swabian, the local dialect, and both come from families that emphasize hard work.
Klinsmann's father was a baker from outside Stuttgart and wanted his son to take over the family bakery so young Jurgen worked as an apprentice baker before he turned pro at 18 with Stuttgarter Kickers.
Schmid was born in Tuebingen, about 20 miles south of Stuttgart, and emigrated from Germany when he was 4 to Southern California, where his father worked for Pabst Brewery and his mother ran a German deli. There were few opportunities in soccer in the late 1970s so Schmid's parents insisted that he pursue a career in accounting, which he did even during his first few years as the head soccer coach at his alma mater, UCLA.
Schmid says he only knew Klinsmann, the German star of the 1980s and 1990s, from afar.
"My youngest son had his No. 18 jersey and his No. 18 towel in his room because he was a big Jurgen fan," he says.
But after Klinsmann retired and moved to Southern California, chance brought Schmid and Klinsmann together, and Schmid became Klinsmann's connection to MLS.
"When he went for his German [coaching] license," says Schmid, who coached the Los Angeles Galaxy in 1999-2004, "one of the things you need to do is a three-month practical with a pro team. He did his practical with the Galaxy, so we really got to know each other during that period of time."
That close-up knowledge of one of MLS's flagship teams and the teams and players around the league gave Klinsmann the insight in to American soccer to pursue the U.S. national team coaching position in 2006, after he led Germany to third place at the World Cup, and again in 2011 when he took the job in place of Bob Bradley.
"We're from a similar area in Germany," says Schmid. "Our hometowns are not that far apart, so our dialect is the same. So when he and me get together, we get into it. When he was coaching Germany, him and myself and [former German assistant and current head coach] Jogi Loew -- he's from down there as well -- were all talking and really getting into the dialect and [Andreas Koepke], the goalie coach, said, 'I don't understand any of this," and walked away."
Klinsmann and Schmid, the Seattle Sounders coach since 2009, talk regularly, every two weeks or so, according to Schmid, and they caught up on things before the national team's practice Sunday at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
Two of Schmid's Sounders, Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans, are with Klinsmann on the national team, and Schmid says he even broached the subject of Evans playing right back -- the position he now holds -- with Klinsmann. Those longstanding ties as coaches allow them to freely bounce around ideas. It doesn't hurt that they feel a connection back to their homeland.
"I think that helped because we're from the same part of Germany," says Klinsmann, "and there's a -- not necessarily a camaraderie -- but an understanding that exists and we're considered frugal and hard-working people so there were similarities there."