So Sigi Schmid has gone the way of all coaches who don’t win games, or don’t win enough games, or don’t win the important games ... coaches who, we are told, have lost the locker room, or who have run their course, while the club needs to take “another path,” to move “to the next level,” and so on and so forth and what have you.
There’s no reason at all to doubt that this was a difficult decision for owner Adrian Hanauer, if only because Schmid is an immensely likeable man. But a man who lost touch with the Big W -- and there is no arguing when that happens.
Schmid had to go, and we should all feel sad about that. I certainly do, at a personal level -- a level I rarely use in professional relationships. But Schmid -- I’ll call him Sigi, that’s the name that feels right -- was always a comfortable, friendly presence, even during those uncomfortable occasions when we were clearly at odds over some of his coaching activities.
The thought of Sigi not being around any more brings on a sadness that I cannot easily explain, a feeling that this shouldn’t happen, that he deserves better than this. Sentimentality, of course, but so what? It has driven me to dig into my archival notebooks (no easy procedure, I assure you, given their chaotic condition) to check on Sigi as I first knew him.
As a sophomore player for UCLA, in the 1972 NCAA final four at the Orange Bowl. Well, that’s 44 years ago, so maybe I can be forgiven for a muddled memory. Yes, I recall Sigi as one of those solidly built players who always manage to run -- or so it seems -- without bending their back, a smooth running midfielder who was capable of delivering good passes. Not something that was necessarily a given in the college game of those days. I had him tabbed as unspectacular ... but reliable. That was my word for Sigi -- reliable.
But my archives show that “reliable” is not the word for my memory. Because the 1972 tournament program has Sigi wearing No. 4 followed by a B. B for back. A defender. UCLA played in the final four again in 1973, and there was Sigi again, this time wearing No. 10 -- now how could that be a defender’s number? But it was -- defined as a FB.
Oh well -- but the important thing is, I can now see, that I was impressed with UCLA as mixture of Americans and foreigners who wanted to play soccer they way I like it -- a skillful passing game, with the ball on the ground. A finesse team, as their coach (Dennis Storer, an English rugby player!) described them. That, quite definitely, was not (and to an extent is still not) the way the college game was usually played.
In no time at all, Sigi moved on to coaching UCLA. And doing what he never did as a player, winning the college title. Again, useful, neat, intelligent soccer. Not enough attacking bite for my liking, so inevitably Sigi and I did not see eye to eye when UCLA won the championship without scoring a single goal in the final four -- 0-0 ties in the semis and the final and two shootout wins did the trick in 1990. Really, Sigi!
Yes, I did have serious doubts about the ability of college coaches to succeed in the professional MLS. But Bruce Arena and Sigi rather quickly forced me into a re-think. Sigi’s MLS teams -- the Galaxy, Columbus, and then the Sounders -- were always worth watching, though I’ll confess I was never quite satisfied, I was always hoping that a Latin American playmaker -- a Javier Morales, a David Ferreira, a Diego Valeri or a Mauro Diaz -- would arrive to give us a “finesse team.”
Instead, at Seattle, we got Osvaldo Alonso. That was hard to swallow.
MLS without Sigi? I really hope not. Sigi -- the reliable Sigi as I first saw him -- became over the years the urbane Sigi, cool, articulate and dignified at press conferences. As a journalist, what more could one ask?
Well, we may get more -- the usual move for coaches after they lose their jobs is to go straight to the television booth. I’m not at all sure I’ll like a TV version of Sigi. His easy style at press conferences, his ability to inject humor, may not come over that way in front of the camera, where things have a tendency to tighten up into dry pedagogy.
MLS without Sigi will not seem right. Surely there’s a coaching opportunity available, there must be. I’ll just hope it’s not with the Jurgen Klinsmann clique.
Whatever, good luck Sigi. A coach who has already done so much for MLS and soccer in general. And I cannot believe that there isn’t plenty more to follow.