Matt Pentz: Schmid wanted one more shot

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Matt Pentz is an award-winning sports reporter who writes weekly columns on Sounders FC for Prost Amerika. Matt’s work also appears on the Guardian, ESPNFC, FourFourTwo and Yahoo

Sigi Schmid as Sounders Head Coach in April 2016. Credit: Victor Araiza/Prost Amerika

Sigi Schmid never wavered in his commitment to landing another head coaching job in Major League Soccer. Privately, surely, he must’ve wondered whether the offer would ever come, as the weeks following his firing by the Sounders turned to months.

Yet he balked at any interest in transitioning into a front office role, or some kind of club ambassadorship. Schmid instead bided his time with a series of side gigs, doing some advisory work for US Soccer, filling in on studio coverage for ESPN’s national MLS broadcasts – always leaving the door open, just in case.

Schmid wanted one more coaching job, that’s it. Give him one last shot to prove himself, to let him go out on his own terms, and one way or the other, he said he would walk away content.

On Thursday morning, Schmid got his wish. His persistence paid off. He could have hardly scripted the circumstances any better himself.

Schmid will begin his second go-around as coach of the L.A. Galaxy against the Sounders on Saturday night in Carson, a year and three days following Seattle’s decision to let him go after seven-and-a-half seasons at the helm.

It isn’t just the timing, or the fact that he’ll open versus his former team, that makes this opportunity so golden for Schmid. The 64-year-old has accomplished more than just about any other coach in American soccer history, with championships at the NCAA and professional levels and more regular-season victories than anybody else in MLS history.

Yet the comparatively scarce disappointments still rankle Schmid – two, in particular.

Even more than a decade removed, Los Angeles’ decision to fire him midway through the 2004 season – with the Galaxy in first place in the West, the coach will be quick to remind you – still furrows Schmid’s brow. It was the first major setback of his career, and the sting lingered, especially given his deep ties to Southern California.

The timeline of Seattle’s decision to let him go haunted him for different reasons. Did the Sounders flourish, ultimately surging all the way to the club’s first MLS Cup title, because they needed to be rid of Schmid? Or was it because Nicolas Lodeiro arrived at Starfire the very day the coach got canned? It was impossible to untangle to Lodeiro’s influence from that of new coach Brian Schmetzer, or the return of influential defender Roman Torres from injury a few weeks later.

That lack of clarity ate at Schmid, especially since the least he felt he deserved after such a long and successful run in Seattle was the chance to make it work with Lodeiro. Might the Sounders have charted the same path to glory if they’d only given him a bit more time to turn things around?

With Los Angeles, he’s almost getting to run a real-life simulation, one year later. The Galaxy also sits well below the playoff cutoff line with a few influential midseason reinforcements on the way. Succeed or fail, at least this time, he’ll know for sure.

On Thursday, I kept flashing back to the breakfast I’d had with Schmid last September not far from his home at Manhattan Beach. The coach was sullen, and a bit dispirited that nothing had yet come up, but underpinning it all was a burning intensity.

“If I had finished up this season with the Sounders and we came in and said, ‘Look, maybe it’s time to move on,’ I probably would have said, ‘You know what, I’m probably ready to be a GM,’ ” Schmid said that morning. “But now, with it ending the way it did, I’m really not ready to give it up.

“There’s always the drive of proving yourself. When you talk to all good players, as soon as they step on the field, even though they’ve proven it before, they want to prove it again. For me as a coach, it’s the same thing, when you have something like that happen. The drive now is really strong to prove that this last half-year in Seattle is not who Sigi Schmid is as a coach.

“I don’t want my coaching career to end on a losing season. I haven’t had many losing seasons in my 30-some years as a coach.”

Whether it ends with another losing season or not remains to be seen. With Los Angeles currently sitting at 6-10-4, he’s certainly got some work to do to edge the Galaxy back above .500.

But all Schmid said he wanted was one more shot. He’s got it.

You can also read Matt Pentz’s work in Resurgence: How Sounders FC Roared Back to Win MLS Cup, Prost Publishing’s collaborative effort to commemorate Seattle’s first postseason crown. Pentz is joined by distinguished journalists Ari Liljenwall, Andrew Harvey, and Art Thiel along with Zach Scott himself.  Pre-sale available on August 1st.

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