Sigi Schmid came to Seattle four years ago in a blaze of publicity.
Joe Roth and the ownership had signaled their intent to rock the MLS establishment by going and getting the most successful coach in the history of the league, a man who had won MLS titles at both a small town club Columbus Crew and at big city LA Galaxy, on every occasion within his first four years or within his first three full years.
There is no doubt that Sigi Schmid was the best coach in Major League Soccer and that Sounders by whatever means had got their man.
Columbus Crew accused them of tapping their coach, a charge that later led to Sounders paying out a large sum without an actual confession or acceptance of responsibility, but it didn’t matter to the Sounders. They’d got their man.
And they were the newest, biggest, loudest and best supported kid on the block.
Since then, the club that began by disregarding the sensitivities of others in Major League Soccer has continued in that vein and made a lot of enemies along the way.
The undignified borderline abuse of referees, vilification of opposing players, preferred treatment of favoured journalists and abuse aimed at other clubs’ fans have won them few friends over the four years in MLS.
It would be also unfair to let that critique pass without acknowledging that there have been considerable improvements in certain of those areas in 2012 and there are very positive signs that the club is maturing. But the damage has been done and the bleating at officials reached fever pitch yet again after their elimination by LA Galaxy on Sunday night.
On the upside, in four years the club also broken every attendance record in the book, paved the way for the two other Cascadian expansion sides (yes, they ARE in MLS because of the Sounders), and their fans have taken supporter culture and in particular traveling supporter culture to new levels.
Football has become a sought after prize for television companies, to a considerable extent because of great viewer numbers for Sounders games. Their tickets are now a valuable item on the corporate gift circuit. They have marketed replica jerseys in the most garish revolting colours and the market has spoken even louder than those shirts, proved die-hards wrong, and deemed most of the club’s marketing decisions a success. This has rightly also won them many admirers.
What they haven’t won along this trailblazing, groundbreaking, fascinating journey is the MLS Cup.
That does not mean the club has not been successful. To their credit, they have won three U.S. Open Cups, rejuvenating the competition, and only been defeated narrowly, and on a point of controversy, in their quest for a fourth.
They have qualified for four straight post seasons.
They have done increasingly well in the CONCACAF Cup, learned lessons along the way, and they are a very good bet to be a better side come next March when that resumes. They may still be the most likely club to be the next MLS side to win the CONCACAF side and play in the lucrative World Club Cup, despite the competing claim of the side who have just eliminated them.
But they haven’t done what they set out to do when they hired Schmid: win an MLS Cup within four years. Therefore, it is not unreasonable for fans and the owners to debate whether the most successful coach in MLS history deserves further time to achieve this, or if it is time to look elsewhere.
It is never easy to debate whether a man should lose his job or not. One must weigh the issue very carefully before advocating that he should. In a conversation around a pub table, everyone will have their say and no one will really have their mind persuaded one way or other from their original point of view. The views will also evaporate with the last round of drinks. Putting them down in writing is a different matter.
This is something we have thought long and hard about, and have come to the following conclusion: Sigi Schmid deserves another year as Sounders FC head coach and the ownership must avoid any hasty decision otherwise.
We do not say this because we believe that seventh place in the MLS table is acceptable for a club of Sounders stature. We say this because do not feel starting again at Square One with a new coach would make the Sounders v 5.0 automatically a better product than Sounders v 4.0. His formation for the away leg in LA was awful but how many successes has Sigi had in 2012 with juggling his rotation and pulling out great results while resting resources for the next game? He has produced as many rabbits out of the hat as cabbages.
They may say you are only as good as your last match. His last match was a 2-1 win and a very impressive performance. The match before was as awful as the home leg was exhilarating. It’s a great slogan, but unfortunately it’s rubbish. You are only as good as your next match.
Would a new coach, presumably a younger one, be able to control the competing egos in that locker room? Schmid has finally won Eddie Johnson’s trust and, having got inside that head, that head is now providing a glut of goals.
Who would replace him?
MLS might not look so fondly on Sounders tapping other clubs’ coaches again, so Ben Olsen, Jason Kreis and Dominic Kinnear cannot be sounded out without permission; Bob Bradley is a realistic alternative but what current MLS knowledge does he have?
The unemployed Jesse Marsch is the highest profile qualified free agent but he has just one year of experience at expansion Montreal, and he made a few enemies too.
It is hard to construct an argument that Marsch starting from Square One would make this side more competitive come play-off time 2013.
Many fans are of an opposite view to us saying it cannot go on like this. They say something must be done. Something has to change.
For 2013, it has to be a different Sigi Schmid, and it has to be a different Sounders FC. Furthermore Sigi’s retention of his post must be dependent on internal change.
First of all, Sigi must be allowed to have the players he wants.
Sounders have made enough money for expense not to be an object. If Sigi feels that big spending on a Robbie Keane or a Thierry Henry is what is required, the ownership must give him that.
If Sigi feels that a big name foreign import would disrupt his team harmony, that must also be respected.
A signing must not be made just for the sake of appeasing the fans and giving a false appearance that you are competing financially with, and are as big as club as, the LA Galaxy. Nor must Sigi be denied that big name player merely for the ownership to continue to reap a pecuniary harvest on their initial investment.
We agree unequivocally that Roth, Drew Carey, Adrian Hanauer and the Seahawks deserve to make a profit but so do the fans for all they have invested, and to them that profit is a side that can win this Cup, not merely the cheapestly assembled squad that might possibly have a decent chance of winning it.
The second thing we would like to change in Sigi is an end to the excuse-a-thon.
After almost every defeat, every setback, Sigi would be in a hurry to blame the referee, or blame the conditions, blame the schedule, blame the opponent’s tactics, or blame anyone except himself. But usually the referee. This has to end. Whether the referee was right or wrong.
Only the most gullible component of the Sounders fans now believe in a worldwide conspiracy to stop the Sounders sweeping all before them in a holy and righteous crusade.
Sigi’s consistent blaming of the referee has been largely tolerated by Major League Soccer until he did so, on national television, and within days of a massive fine against Portland’s owner. Twice he has made personal attacks on referees he accused of having a vendetta against him. The $2000 fine was paltry and the refereeing community was not happy.
The bleating has made the club look ridiculous and frankly they have verged on becoming a figure of fun around the league; a title that was hitherto proudly held further down the I-5 freeway. Last year Cascadia provided MLS with one circus freak show. This year it has been two. Next year it has to be zero.
For Sigi to get another year, there must be a complete end to the post-match blaming of referees. Full stop.
He is not solely to blame for this. This abstinence has to include even in press conferences when journalists press him to comment.
“We didn’t lose because of the referee. What is the next question?” has to be his stock response delivered with dignity.
This also has to include situations such as one earlier this season when he faced irresponsible goading in a post match press conference by Joe Roth, who offered to pay any fine if Schmid would criticise another refereeing performance. To be fair, everyone in the room thought it was amusing at the time but it put Schmid in a ridiculously awkward and unfair position.
On a side note, why is the club majority shareholder asking questions in time reserved for the media? Can you imagine Stan Kroenke turning up at the Emirates and asking Arsene Wenger in an Arsenal FC presser whether he thought Chelsea’s second goal was offside?
Roth may be able to easily pay the paltry fines MLS levies on the Sounders, but the real price is not measured in dollars but in the dignity of the club, and it is fans who predate – and will outlast - the Hollywood portion of the ownership that will bear that indignity.
Roth may legally own the club but there is more to a football club than shares, investment and dividends. The heart and soul of Sounders FC belongs to the fans and the City of Seattle. Sounders FC is more than a just an amusing though immensely profitable chew toy for Roth.
His reported farewell words of “Fuck You” to the CEO of Galaxy’s shirt sponsor last night in front of several journalists merely underline the need for more dignity and self censorship from the leadership, and that what he genuinely sees as acceptable humour might not universally be accepted as such by others.
Luckily there are immense amounts of commendable restraint and decorum available elsewhere inside the club, and it lies inside the hallowed sanctum of the locker room.
Even when a referee gets it wrong (as he will), Schmid should begin to accept responsibility for what happens on the pitch with the same regularity that the more mature of his players do. So often in the locker room, the mature players Tyrone Marshall, Jeff Parke, Kasey Keller, Brad Evans, Zach Scott, Pat Ianni, Marc Burch, Mike Gspurning have accepted responsibility for a poor performance while Sigi has simultaneously sought to shift it off himself to outside parties.
This is not leadership. This is self-preservation. It has to end.
The fans now deserve a more honest club with the leadership putting less emphasis on contorting the PR narrative to save their own reputations and more on being honest with the supporters. The minority who still swallow the ‘boo hoo us’ spin wholesale is dwindling, as those older fans who always knew it was whitewash are joined in their cynicism by an increasingly knowledgeable fanbase.
Schmid is not solely responsible. Our cry for a little more decorum covers occasional incidents like the public piling in by General Manager Hanauer whose remarks about Ricardo Salazar last month were as intemperate as his remarks about Brian Mullan last year.
The whipping up of the fanbase into apoplexy about the injustices of the world has been part of Sounders’ DNA for too long, and it would be unfair to place that solely on Schmid.
It seems to be deliberate club policy. Club ownership don’t have to take every opportunity to pander to the lowest common denominator.
That said, this website has gone on record for defending Adrian Hanauer’s passion for the club and the sport, and will continue to do so.
Sometimes perhaps it just gets the better of his judgment. That is a pardonable sin. We’ve all done it. He has nothing to prove.
However the regular deflection from bad results with a coordinated period of verbal hyperventilation can only mask what is happening on the pitch and the bald truth of the league table for so long. It’s time for some serious growing up. It’s time treat their supporters with more respect.
But it’s not time to throw the coach overboard. Just steer the ship in a different direction. And be a little more honest with the passengers.