Schmid, 64, returned to the Galaxy last season to replace Curt Onalfo and finished out the worst season in team history: 18 losses and 67 goals conceded. The team has returned from Tucson to continue preseason training at StubHub Center.
Photo courtesy of LA Galaxy
SOCCER AMERICA: Just about everything went wrong last year. Lots of key injuries, younger players who didn’t come through, and
a big dropoff for Giovani dos Santos after a good debut season in MLS. What did you see as the main problems?
SIGI SCHMID: It was hard for the team last year to get into any kind of flow. With the changes, with the injuries, and then more injuries, it was just tough. When I came in and took over the team, we lost 75 percent of our defense within four weeks. We had a carousel in goal a little bit, which is not ideal.
That makes it tougher to build consistently out of the back and find Gio where he needs to find the ball. That forced him at times to come deeper for the ball and that takes from his effectiveness.
SA: You mentioned the carousel in goal, which is one position you’ve revamped. Can you give us a quick rundown of what you expect from the players you have added?
SIGI SCHMID: We wanted to strengthen ourselves in certain positions. One, for sure, was goalkeeper, so with the addition of David Bingham we’re confident he can rebound to the form that he had. I know last year was a tough year for him for a number of reasons. Bringing in Jorgen Skjelvik gives us a defender who has very good pace. He’s a very good passer of the ball out of the back, which helps us.
Rolf [Feltscher] is a guy who’s played outside back at the international level in a lot of different countries. He’s a very good lockdown defender so hopefully he adds things. Perry Kitchen is a player who loves to talk, loves to organize, which is something I felt we needed in the midfield. And obviously Ola Kamara is someone who has shown he can score goals in this league.
SA: Midfielder Sebastian Lletget hasn’t played a competitive match since he suffered a severe Lisfanc injury playing for the USA last March. How is he progressing and will he be ready for the first game of the season?
SIGI SCHMID: We’ve got to be real careful with Sebastian. He’s doing fine. There have been no setbacks, his training regimen has gone good. We’ve just got to make sure we don’t push too hard, too early because he was out for a long time. He’s a vital player to our team. It’s like adding a new player with him coming in.
By opening day is he starting, is he coming off the bench? Probably more coming off the bench but slowly building into it. We’ve been monitoring his daily activities pretty closely.
(Editor’s note: Lletget played 20 minutes Saturday in a preseason game against Real Salt Lake.)
SA: Despite the team’s record last year, Romain Alessandrini (photo) lit it up as one of the league’s top newcomers. You didn’t coach against him when you were in Seattle. With a year of MLS experience what can he attain this year?
SIGI SCHMID: We expect Roman to be just as impactful as last year and to have some better options as well all around him. We’re really happy with him. He came in extremely fit and ready to go. That shows his level of dedication. He wants to have another outstanding season.
It was a very positive thing for him and the club in every regard. He’s a unique player. He’s got this great skill set. There are other players in this league who are dribblers but there’s times where he gets through situations that you just shake your head and you can’t believe he what he did.
Photo courtesy of Seattle Sounders
SA: You mentioned the injuries and other factors that impaired the team’s attempts to set tempo and consistency. How do you want this team to
SIGI SCHMID: Right now, we’re just working on all the new players getting to understand each other and read each other and know what they can do for each other.
We want to be a team that can play out of the back, build out of the back, and have a possession style. Last year there were times when we completed passes but they weren’t the best option. We’re working on that as a team so we find better options: find Giovani, find Roman, find Kamara, find Jonathan dos Santos. Find those players in better positions.
SA: Last year you hired former Quakes head coach Dominic Kinnear as an assistant, and you’ve also brought in Ezra Hendrickson, who had been coaching the Sounders’ USL team. How are you dividing up responsibilities?
SIGI SCHMID: My belief is that you hire good coaches and you don’t worry so much about their areas of expertise. It’s a question of whether it’s something they want to do. Dom was in a situation obviously where things had changed for him in San Jose so he and I talked and thought about it a little bit and at first I was just looking for him to come on board and help get us through the season but he decided he wanted to stay. We’re very happy that he did.
SA: What is a direct advantage of having so much playing experience and coaching background on your staff?
SIGI SCHMID: It allows us to concentrate on aspects of our game. We like to break it down a little more. Obviously, we have Oka [Nikolov] for the goalkeepers. We have somebody for defenders, somebody for the midfielders, and somebody for the forwards. We like to split it up.
It’s helpful. You’re breaking down more video, you’re putting guys in smaller groups to look at the video, so you’re doing a lot of those things positionally. There’s a lot more input than their used to be in terms of sports-performance data that’s available and using video to push more information out to the players. It has something that’s changed dramatically over the years.
SA: The Sounders have been one of the league’s most innovative teams in the area of sports science and performance analysis. Have you adopted some of those principles?
SIGI SCHMID: We’re moving in that direction as well. Pierre Barrieu came on board [as director of sports performance] right before I did and we’re very happy with Pierre. He was able to hire two people this year that he wanted so he can grow and expand that area.
SA: It’s likely both of the dos Santos brothers will miss about two months of the season to play for Mexico at the World Cup. How do you fill those holes?
SIGI SCHMID: That’s a period that’s going to be tough for us. One of the big areas of improvement for our club is the depth. That will help us in that period of time when they’re gone. Jonathan has been great. He was the most fit player coming into camp. As he showed with his assist [in a preseason game], he’s playing well. With Giovani, as [Mexico head coach] Juan Carlos Osorio said, it’s the best offseason he’s ever had. He’s really prepared to go.
SA: You’ve worked as a coach in this country for nearly four decades and twice coached the U.S. U-20 team. Failure to qualify for the World Cup has triggered a firestorm of criticism and suggested changes. What you see as the major issues to be resolved?
SIGI SCHMID: Certainly not getting there is cause for reflection and to re-look at everything we’re doing. But that should be just a normal process: reflecting upon our development system of our players and how we’re pushing players on, that should be done on yearly or at least bi-yearly basis. Not qualifying accelerated everybody’s focus on that.
For me, the one area is just the player identification process. I think sometimes we drift into categorical evaluations. There was certainly a period of time under past coaches -- I’m going back 25, 30 years to when bigger, stronger, faster is what we needed -- and maybe now we’ve gone too far in the other direction.
The claim is that, ‘[Lionel] Messi wouldn’t have developed in the U.S.’ Well, the question is also would [Paul] Pogba have developed in the U.S. because at 14 or 15, he was probably not real silky smooth. There’s both aspects. Player identification is an important aspect in terms of our player development system.
A player who was big and strong and maybe not as smooth with the ball. Would he have been bypassed? You can’t bypass either. You can’t miss Messi and you can’t miss Pogba, so our player identification process needs to identify both sides of the coin.
But there are a lot of factors that enter into it. The presidential election, I’m not voting, so I don’t have anything to say. I know it’s a pretty complicated voting process and we’ll see what comes out of it in the end.
SA: The federation acknowledges it needs to get into communities far off the beaten track to expand its player searches. Are you also saying the players who are seen aren’t being evaluated properly?
SIGI SCHMID: Everybody’s eyes are different and without a doubt some people are better at it. Can you identify everybody? No. But I think [U-20 head coach] Tab [Ramos] is probably right now working hard to establish a player identification model that points out what he wants coaches and scouts to be looking for. We want to improve our selection process.
What people or scouts see is always a variable question. You might have five coaches look at the same player and get five different answers.
SA: While you were at UCLA you said if a player couldn’t contribute as a freshman he probably wasn’t going to be good enough down the line. That may seem a harsh standard but it seems to have worked pretty well.
SIGI SCHMID: That’s always been my philosophy. I have to see something in a player so he can help me now. The other thing is I feel players have to have a special quality, something that sets him apart. I think sometimes in our player development system we spend a lot of time trying to improve a player’s weakness and forget about making a strong area into a super-strength.
We need to improve strong areas so we have players who are exceptional dribblers, exceptional headers of the ball, exceptional one-on-one defenders, exceptional passers, exceptional finishers. You’ve got to hone in on that and get people to grow the areas they’re already very good at.
SA: For quite a while Eric Wynalda, among others, has criticized a coaching philosophy that values all-around players at the expense of specialists.
SIGI SCHMID: That definitely happens. Sometimes I look at wide players and they can’t cross the ball. If you’re a wide player, you’ve got to be able to cross the ball a little bit. It’s still part of the game. We build more and we play more through the middle than we ever have and I understand that, but players still need to do both.
The main thing is to identify a player’s strength, and to grow it, just as Eric said.
SA: As a native of Germany who knows the soccer system well, what are the key components of player development in that country?
SIGI SCHMID: The scouting and player identification is a big part of it. The other thing that happened in Germany is the federation invested real money into their regional coaching staffs. The size of the country is much smaller, so the opportunity to bring players into a regional training camp on a consistent basis is much greater.
Our country is much bigger so it poses unique problems. I don’t think we’ve ever truly addressed how we can get our top players into a regional situation so, at the very least, we’re getting them 40 to 50 days [per year] with the coaches who are trying to evaluate and grow their talent within the national-team program.
We went to Bradenton, which was really for a select few, and we missed out on a big part of the population. Now that Bradenton’s over, do we use some of that money to build regional training centers? Probably not. That’s a huge investment. But there are so many collegiate facilities you could rent it every third or fourth week to run a regional camp.
It’s an investment that needs to come from U.S. Soccer. It’s a re-think as to how we can touch these players more often.
SA: In many countries, professional teams take the time and expense to find and scout players. Is MLS catching up in this aspect of the game?
SIGI SCHMID: My first time around with the Galaxy a lot of times I was the guy who found the player and scouted the player. Now you just can’t afford to do that.