“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.”
Touching tributes poured in on social media from all corners of the soccer community as news spread that Hall of Fame coach Sigi Schmid had passed away on Christmas Day 2018. And amid the sadness shared by so many who knew him, the messages also provided the rest of us a glimpse into the kind of man that Sigi was, and reminded everyone of the influence Sigi had on the American soccer landscape.
For newer fans of the game, Sigi will be remembered as one of the greatest of MLS coaches, leading the Columbus Crew, Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy to multiple trophies each. Older fans may recall the soccer factory he created while coaching UCLA to numerous NCAA Championships in the 1980 and ‘90s, churning out future U.S. Soccer legends like Cobi Jones, Brad Friedel, Paul Caligiuri, Joe Max-Moore, Frankie Hejduk, Eddie Lewis and Chris Henderson, among others.
It’s also important to highlight the impact he had with two teams he coached for shorter time frames: the U.S. U-20 MNTs that participated in the 1999 and 2005 FIFA U-20 World Youth Championships, each time advancing to the knockout stage while facing the likes of Argentina, England, Germany, Spain and Italy.
Seven players from those U-20 teams would go on to represent the MNT at senior FIFA World Cups, while many others also had solid pro careers. And if not for Schmid, we may never have known some of those players. We caught up with a few from each team:
1999 FIFA U-20 World Cup Championship:
While at UCLA, Sigi also assisted the MNT at 1994 FIFA World Cup and coached the following year’s Pan-American Games. In 1997, he was also coaching the U-18 MNT when he went to scout a player who had just played in the U-17 FIFA World Youth Championship and was playing for his high school in Southern California. However, as Carlos Bocanegra tells it, there was a mistake on the published schedule and the team that Sigi went to see was not playing. Sigi stuck around anyway, and watched the promising football wide receiver, Bocanegra, play soccer for his Alta Loma High School.
“I think about that all the time,” the two-time World Cup veteran Bocanegra told ussoccer.com this week. “That was my break. That was my chance. He gave me the opportunity and I was able to take that opportunity. That’s how I was able to kick-start my soccer career – pure coincidence that he was watching my game that got mixed up and he saw me play.”
Schmid invited Bocanegra, a junior at the time, to a U-18 camp. The next year he continued his pursuit of the talented defender and recruited Bocanegra to join him at UCLA. Their bond strengthened when Schmid took over the U-20 MNT and made Bocanegra a key member of the USA’s 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship side in Nigeria.
That team also included fellow future senior World Cup players Tim Howard, Steve Cherundolo, Nick Rimando and Chris Albright, as well as long-time pros Danny Califf, Nick Garcia, Cory Gibbs, John Thorrington and Taylor Twellman, who became one of the most prolific American goalscorers in the pro ranks.
“That World Cup, playing with Sigi, had a massive impact on me and ultimately convinced me that I needed to go pro,” said Twellman, who at the time was also contemplating if his future would be in baseball, where he also excelled.
At the tournament, the USA defeated an England side that featured Ashley Cole and Peter Crouch, fell to Shinji Ono’s Japan, and defeated Cameroon in group play before falling by a score of 3-2 in the Round of 16 to eventual champions Spain that included Iker Casillas and Xavi.
In the lead up to that tournament, Sigi broke from the past and brought the team overseas for training, including to Morocco for two games and on a two-week fitness camp in Germany, where the team stayed at a bed-and-breakfast.
Bocanegra in action vs. Argentina in 2003, a few short years after graduating from Schmid's tutelage.
“He really tried to give us good experiences that he thought would help us later in our career,” said Bocanegra. “He always tried to set trips up around where we could watch games at a higher level and get experiences to challenge ourselves in different ways than was maybe common practice. He always wanted the best for the group and to give us the best experiences to try to better ourselves, not only on the field but in life and to become well-rounded in the game.”
As a reward for the hard work in Germany, Sigi brought the U20s to France to attend the 1998 World Cup match between the USA and Germany.
“Sigi had such a feel for the game of soccer, domestically and globally,” said Chris Albright. “He always communicated that we were putting on our nations colors and flag, representing the country. He drilled that in us that this was not to take it for granted, that it was not to be taken lightly.”
Like Bocanegra, Sigi introduced Albright to the National Team scene. Later he helped pick him up when things were not going well at D.C., trading for him in LA. At the suggestion of then MNT coach Bruce Arena, Sigi helped convert Albright from a forward into a defender, a move that later landed Chris on the 2006 World Cup team.
“He had an excellent ability to teach multiple positions; he could make me a better forward, wide midfielder, defender,” Albright said. “He could teach principles of different positions to help each player grow, and that teaching element in developing us at that time was unique.”
Twellman scored four goals in the tournament, good for third overall, thus becoming the first American to capture a scoring award (Bronze Boot) in a FIFA World Youth Championship.
Twellman accepts the Bronze Boot alongside then U.S. Soccer president Dr. Robert S. Contiguglia.
“When people talk about Sigi, they talk about his love of the game,” Twellman said, who a few months later would leave Maryland to sign with 1860 Munich in Germany. “But he was also a gentleman and was kind off the field. Every single one of us on that team, if we saw Sigi 3-4-5-10 years down the road…he always watched our games, even when he was not our coach. He was always willing to talk to us, showed interested in us, asked us about our lives.”
Now the Technical Director of MLS Cup champion Atlanta United, Bocanegra draws from those early experiences under Schmid.
“Even though we were young, he really tried to instill the professionalism in us,” Bocanegra said. “The detail, structure, organization – challenging us. He always made time to make people feel important. He never stopped, through college, through pros, was always available. He was pretty special.”
2005 Under-20 World Youth Championship
A week after that 1999 U-20 tournament came to an end for the USA, Sigi also began his pro career, taking the helm of his hometown LA Galaxy for the next five seasons.
He returned to coach the U-20 MNT in October 2014, having only a couple months to scout and prep players for January’s U-20 Concacaf Championship.
Two years earlier, Schmid’s Galaxy had eliminated Kansas City and veteran National Team player Peter Vermes from the MLS Cup Playoffs. After the game, Vermes recalled this week, Schmid approached him and told him he’d like to have him on his staff one day.
Fast-forward to fall 2014, a since-retired Vermes called Sigi and reminded him of that conversation. Schmid held true and invited Vermes to a three-week U-20 camp. After a week of evaluating, Schmid told Vermes he had earned one of the assistant coach positions.
“It was a great opportunity for me just to be around somebody like him with as much knowledge and experience that he had,” Vermes said, who enters the 2019 season as the longest tenured MLS coach, having taken the reigns of Sporting KC in 2009. “I already knew I wanted to coach for a long time, but what those experiences give you is like anything – when you first want to do something, you’re excited, you’re ambitious, you’re motivated, you’re all those things. But sometimes you lack the confidence. For me, Sigi gave me a direction that I felt comfortable with because I had gotten a chance to see a lot of different things that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t get that chance to be with him and spend all that time, and the preparation, and everything. It was a great experience.”
Schmid’s first friendly was in November in Ft. Lauderdale. Due to College Cup, some would-be regulars were not available, so Schmid called in four new players, including UCLA speedster Marvell Wynne, who had never been called to any YNT camp before.
“I think I should have been more in the moment with everything that happened,” Wynne admits. “When I got called in I remember thinking ‘these guys are way better than me.’ But Sigi kept calling me back. When he said I made the team, I was definitely shocked.”
For a mid-December camp Schmid called in 30 players, including UCLA walk-on midfielder Benny Feilhaber, who also had never been on any Youth National Team. Like Wynne, Feilhaber also made a formidable impression.
Wynne and Feilhaber were instrumental in helping the USA qualify for the
2005 FIFA U-20 World Youth Championship three weeks later.
Let’s back up for a second. Sigi’s sons also played college soccer in the LA area around that era. And, family man that he was, he would always attend their games, first Kurt’s at UCLA, and later Kyle’s at UC-Irvine.
“It’s what jump-started my entire career,” said newly retired 12-year pro Brad Evans. “The only reason I made that U-20 team is because Kyle Schmid transferred to UC Irvine. Without Kyle transferring there was absolutely no reason for Sigi to come watch UCI play.”
Schmid had spotted Evans that fall at UCI, but it wasn’t until after the U-20s had qualified for the World Cup that he called in the versatile player to his first National Team camp at any level.
Vermes explained how Sigi gave the preliminary roster to rest of the coaching staff and told them that they could each make a case for one player to either be replaced or be added.
“A lot of guys in that position would never consult the rest of staff,” Vermes said. “I thought that showed a lot of security and confidence on his part, to know what his decisions were but also want to know what his staff’s decisions were, and ultimately to make the best decision. There’s no doubt that that has helped me, and I would say that a lot of the players that were identified are players that are still playing or who had great careers because they were identified correctly.”
Wynne, Feilhaber and Evans were on the final 21-player roster, along with Jonathan Spector, Sacha Kljestan, Lee Nguyen, Freddy Adu, Chad Barret and Eddie Gaven, among others who also had solid pro careers.
The team shocked the world in the tournament opener, defeating Argentina 1-0 thanks to a Barrett goal assisted by Wynne. It would be the only loss and shutout suffered by the South Americans, who won their next six matches en route the lifting the championship trophy with future international stars Sergio Aguero, Lucas Biglia, Pablo Zabaleta, Fernando Gago and Golden Ball and Golden Boot winner, Lionel Messi.
Chad Barrett, who would go on to play professionally under Schmid in MLS, scored the game-winner vs. Argentina at the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship.
The 20s then played Germany to a scoreless draw and defeated Egypt 1-0 before losing 3-1 to Italy in the Round of 16. The experience and exposure provided opportunities to a number of players.
Feilhaber would soon sign with Hamburg, and later would score one of the best goals of the USA’s rivalry against Mexico, helping the MNT win the 2007 Gold Cup. And despite interest from international clubs, Wynne and Evans returned to school. Wynne became the top pick in the next MLS SuperDraft and Evans was selected 15th overall the following year by Columbus’s new coach, Sigi Schmid.
“He means more than I can really describe,” Feilhaber said, who along with Spector also made the 2010 FIFA World Cup roster. “Getting that opportunity with the 20s led to everything else in my life. I have no idea if I would have become a pro. I know I would not have been as successful financially, [and] going to Europe that early helped me immensely as a player. I don’t know if I would have ever played on the National Team let alone in a World Cup. I’m really grateful for Sigi having that keen eye and for giving me that opportunity.”
Sigi not only gave Evans his international debut and professional debut but would also bring him to Seattle on their way to spending 10 pro seasons together.
“He was the pivot for me in my entire career,” Evans said. “You have youth coaches, parents, but if you want to talk about the person who I’m able to talk about 12 years later and say I played professionally because of them…yes, it comes from within, but you have to have someone who pushes you and really believed in you, and Sigi was the guy for me.”
Sigi’s memorial took place on Friday, Jan. 18 in Los Angeles.
In March 2017, after more than 300 MLS games and having also represented the USA in the 2008 Olympics and 2009 Confederations Cup, Wynne’s career came to an end after undergoing a heart procedure.
When he came to from the operation, one of the first voicemails he listened to was from Sigi Schmid.
“Sigi was the reason I became a pro,” Wynne said. “He got me on to the scene, kept me there, had confidence in me and he kept me going. In terms of coaching, it was more, ‘get the basics right and perfect them.’ He was the first one to hammer that home, and if you ever saw my career, it was basic.”
A reflective Wynne made a special trip to an LA Galaxy game last year to meet up with his former coach.
“We talked about my heart situation, and caught up about everything,” Wynne said. “And I told him, ‘you’re the reason I went pro.’ I was able to tell him face to face, but I hoped he knew.”
“Yea, the opportunity, experience and all those other things were great, but the best thing for me, to be honest, was that he and I became friends after that 2005 Youth Championship,” Vermes said. “We always, always talked and kept in touch and spent time with each other. We had a very good relationship.”
“I sense that he knew what he meant to me,” Feilhaber said. “The way that we spoke was not in a way that most coaches to ex-players do. We were friends - he understood how much of an influence he had on me. We had respect for each other, and I’m going to miss him a lot, but it’s so important to have these memories about him.”
“We talk about a coaching tree a lot, but Sigi’s got the player tree, the coaching tree, the soccer tree really,” Bocanegra said. “So many people spiraled off the opportunities he gave them. Through soccer he gave so many people their start. But the biggest part that everybody remembers is that he cared about each and every person. He wanted to get the best out of them, and did not give up. He would give second chances, third chances - if you were his guys, and you worked for him he was going to his damndest to get the best out of you and make you a better player or person in general.”
“When I think back on it, especially the last couple of weeks, we always talked about getting the ‘Sigi shirt-tug,’” Evans reminisced. “Once he got a hold of your shirt and put his arm around you, there was no getting away from it. But I remember him being very honest with me in everything. He never blew smoke up my tail or thought that I was better or worse than I was. He always believed in me. We really trusted each other when it came to soccer and had an unspoken relationship that just worked. It’s something that I’ll cherish and remember forever.”Read more