“When I look at my fellow coaches, I kind of think we’re pretty much what we are. We’re coaches and we couldn’t do much more,” said LA Galaxy and former U.S. MNT head coach Bruce Arena. “Sigi Schmid is so intelligent that there are a lot of things he could do besides coaching soccer.”
That was the idea for Sigi Schmid’s parents. Despite being a starting midfielder for UCLA in the 1970s, they pushed him to pursue a career outside of soccer. The case for the game in the United States at the time wasn’t strong, and though the family hailed from soccer-mad Germany, it was hard for them to see a future in the sport for their son.
While playing at UCLA, Schmid earned a Bachelor of Economics and later a Master of Business Administration from USC, and while he pursued his soccer dream by becoming an assistant and later head coach of the Bruins, from 1977-1984, he also worked as a Certified Public Accountant for eight months out of the year.
Almost 40 years on, having led his teams to three collegiate National Championships, 10 professional domestic titles, a continental championship and after winning three Coach of the Year awards, Schmid deservedly enters the National Soccer Hall of Fame as one of the game’s biggest builders.
“In the 1970s and 1980s, the sport of soccer in the U.S. went from St. Louis, east,” continued Arena. “There was a guy named Sigi Schmid out here on the west coast that helped the game get recognized nationwide with his collegiate teams and what he did professionally and the work he did in Southern California to help advance the sport.
“We’re very fortunate Sigi chose soccer for his profession.” Arena continued.
Soccer was ultimately the choice, but t it seems the split track Schmid took in his early days as a coach at UCLA helped inform his approach to management.
“Sigi is the reason I’m sitting here today,” said former U.S. international Brad Friedel. “I played every sport under the sun and I got recruited in other sports and not soccer. “Dean Wurzberger, the assistant coach at the time at UCLA, saw me playing in a small tournament in Virginia and Sigi ended up coming out and recruiting me. I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I knew I loved soccer, but being from Ohio, I didn’t realize the soccer factory that Sigi had setup on the west coast in UCLA.”
From training sessions to recruitment, the way Schmid went about building the UCLA program was meticulous, well-designed, and all encompassing.
“Begin by getting the best players in southern California so UCLA would always be the best at least in southern California,” Friedel continued. “He was confident enough to get a few from out of state, so that then he could compete to be the number one team on the west coast, which would always get you into the NCAA Tournament. Sprinkle that in with some competition on the east coast and you got a very strong season in front of you, accumulated a good record and got yourself into the tournament.
“When you’re in the tournament, your players are on exposure to the National Team system and the Olympic team. He’s very much forward thinking, not just about the training session and preparing for the game. He’s forward thinking on how to get his players on a platform where they could get seen by the National Team coaches or perhaps even professional coaches, so the players could move on in their career.”
Despite never having been in the U.S. youth team setup, Friedel says it took just six weeks at UCLA for Schmid to get on the phone to U.S. Olympic coach Lothar Osiander to recommend he get a look with the U-23 side.
“He went to bat for you,” Friedel said. “He did the same for Joe-Max Moore, Chris Henderson was already in the system, but he went to bat for him, Cobi Jones, Mike Lapper, Sam George – a lot of names, the list goes on and on.”
Having so many talented players in his system, Schmid also had a great understanding of how to handle them for the greater good of the team.
“The great coaches I’ve experienced have a lot of humility within the team, they have a great ability to manage players and personalities on and off the field,” said another UCLA alumnus and U.S. international Eddie Lewis. “We had a lot of talent at UCLA, but being surrounded by talent isn’t as easy as a lot of people think. He’s always done a very good job of managing the young players, the more experienced players, the hot personalities and the steadier ones. That’s a fine art that I think it isn’t necessarily talked about.”
Having helped produce a number of players for the National Team, Schmid also took a step up while still at UCLA, serving as an assistant coach to Bora Milutinovic on the 1994 U.S. World Cup squad. Like his fellow 2015 Hall of Fame inductee Glenn “Mooch” Myernick, that appointment set him on a long course of involvement with the National Team program, continuing as an assistant coach at the 1995 Pan-American Games before the first of two stints with the U.S. U-20 team, helping the side out of their group in both the 1999 and 2005 FIFA World Youth Championships.
Schmid is perhaps best known for his long-run in the professional game, which began rather abruptly back in 1999. Having just returned from coaching the U.S. at that year’s World Youth Championships in Nigeria, he was named the new head coach of the LA Galaxy, replacing Octavio Zambrano five matches into the season.
The Galaxy would go on to lift its first trophy under Schmid by winning the CONCACAF Champions Cup in early January 2001. A Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title came later that year and was followed the next by the MLS Cup and Supporters Shield “Double” in 2002, before he eventually parted ways with the Galaxy in 2004.
He returned to his U.S. U-20 post for the 2005 World Youth Championship cycle, and even after the team qualified was looking to add pieces for the side’s run in the Netherlands. As he searched, just like in his days at UCLA, he uncovered an unheralded yet talented midfielder named Brad Evans, who was playing in Schmid’s back yard at UC Irvine.
“For me that was very significant in the way that he recruited and the way he looks at players even to this day,” said the Sounders FC captain and U.S. international defender. “He could have gone with the team that got him through qualifying, but that wasn’t good enough for him. He was still looking to uncover the next player and always trying to make that team better. I think that says a lot about Sigi and his approach to the game overall. He’s always trying to get better, he’s ever evolving. Just because you were good enough one day, if there’s a better player that’s going to make the team better, that’s the way he approaches it.”
After his stint with the U.S. U-20 Team, Schmid returned to MLS with Columbus Crew SC in 2006, where he drafted Evans one year later. Though he experienced a rocky start to his tenure, he set things right in 2008, helping the club to its first MLS Cup and second Supporters Shield while winning the domestic league double for the second time in his career.
“I think that was the first year in Columbus he had the players he really wanted,” said Davis. “He was still dealing with players from the previous management that weren’t in his plans. He made some good signings and things really started to click for us on and off the field. He was very eager and pushing us to not be satisfied and it really resonated with that group and probably made us easier to manage. In the end, the 2008 season speaks for itself.”
A hot commodity on the American soccer scene following the double-winning campaign in Columbus, Schmid was tapped to be the first head coach of Seattle Sounders FC as they entered Major League Soccer in 2009. The only manager the club has ever known, Schmid has since been the center piece in soccer-mad Seattle’s success, leading the side to an MLS record four Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup titles in six years, as well as another Supporters Shield title in 2014.
“He’s had full control here in Seattle from day one, he’s been able to have the last word on who he’s brought in and who is going to make this team successful,” said Evans, who followed Schmid to Seattle. “He brought in a very good staff and from minute one it wasn’t run like an expansion team. That’s credit to the front office and Sigi as well – there were no lulls in the season or this is going to be a rebuilding year.”
Sitting on the cusp of a seventh playoff appearance in as many years – a berth which would break the Chicago Fire’s mark of six straight playoff appearances following the team’s expansion season - could this be the year for Schmid to become the first manager to win MLS Cup with three different clubs?
“Sigi has wanted to make this a championship club and we still strive to hit that goal,” Evans continued. “We’ve won a few Open Cups, but the elusive MLS Cup is still there and I know he’s hungry and all the players are hungry for him. It’s been special here since day one and that’s a credit to him.”
Whether or not Schmid brings an MLS Cup to Seattle in 2015, his induction is well deserved and long overdue according to Friedel.
“In my opinion he would have been there many years earlier,” he said. “People like Sigi deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. He deserves his name in history and I’m very thankful for what he’s done for me and I’m very thankful now that he’s now in the Hall of Fame.”
“To see a coach like Sigi Schmid inducted into the U.S. Hall of Fame is something that was always going to happen, it was just a matter of when,” agreed Eddie Lewis. “I think he’s proven himself at the highest level for the last 30 years. His record speaks for itself, his championships speak for themselves and I think more than anything, the thing I enjoy most is that he still has that young, neurotic passion for the game that he had almost 20-30 years ago. To see him still get excited in the same way he did when we were in college is a true testament to not only the game, but his passion for coaching.”