On Saturday the Seattle Sounders welcome reigning MLS Cup champions Sporting Kansas City to Century Link Field (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) with the Sounders hoping this season will finally bring their first MLS title.
Head coach of the Seattle Sounders, Sigi Schmid, spoke to ProSoccerTalk exclusively on Friday to preview the match vs. Sporting, give an overview on the Sounders rebuild and share what he expects in 2014.
Schmid, in his sixth season at Seattle since they joined MLS in 2009, has seen his side reach the playoffs in every single one of their MLS campaigns. But each time they’ve come up short in the playoffs. Schmid speaks of his admiration for the job his former assistant Peter Vermes has done at Sporting, as the American coach led SKC to their first MLS title, since their rebrand, in 2013. That’s something Schmid will be eager to achieve up in the Emerald City this season, as despite record MLS crowds and multiple U.S. Open Cup titles, Seattle have yet to bring home an MLS Cup.
This season, after a massive rebuild which has seen several new players arrive, the 60-year-old coach is hoping an MLS crown will finally land at CenturyLink.
“Our goal, as always, is to win MLS Cup,” Schmid said before talking about Seattle’s new-look squad. “Our rebuilding is all about, ‘we want to win it now.’ We don’t want to miss the playoffs, we want to get in there and give ourselves a good opportunity. Our goal, every year, is to win MLS Cup.”
After six years at the helm, many around the MLS circuit believe Schmid has to deliver MLS Cup success this season or face seeing his time in Seattle come to an end. Although that may seem slightly harsh for a man who has helped build the franchise from scratch, the clubs fanatical supporters demand success.
Schmid is happy with the progress Seattle have made during his tenure, but accepted the demands put on him and his team by the fans is monumental.
“I wanted us to be very consistent and be a team that would always have a chance of winning trophies and winning titles,” Schmid said. “Our fanbase is huge, and as a result of that expectations are very big. Sometimes expectations become unrealistic. We understand the pressure that comes with being the Seattle Sounders FC. We accept that and embrace that. We feel good about where we are at but we still want to get those final pieces of the puzzle together and get the final prize at the end.”
One of the most intriguing factors of this season is seeing Seattle overhaul their playing squad. 11 new faces have arrived, mostly from the clubs academy and transfers from within MLS. That’s a real shift in the way Seattle have done their business, as in the past players such as Djimi Traore, Fredy Montero, Obafemi Martins and Michael Gspurning have come straight in from overseas with no real experience of MLS.
Schmid is delighted with the current mix of youth and experience in his squad and singled out a few players who have shone in preseason.
“The team is in a good place, the spirit of the team is good. We have built the depth and we’ve become younger in a few key places,” Schmid said. “Marco Pappa has played really well over the last two or three weeks of preseason, our young left full back Dylan Remick had three assists in our preseason games as an outside back getting forward. He’s making progress and coming along. Aaron Kovar and Sean Okoli are two of our other young academy kids we signed this year, they have done really well. Okoli, in particular, has really pushed himself forward. Those guys are continuing to grow and it is changing the direction we are going in as a club.”
Able to acquire some gems such as Stefan Frei, Jalil Anibaba and Kenny Cooper from within MLS was a big plus for Schmid as “they know what the league is all about.” One man Schimd was delighted to get on board was former Columbus Crew captain Chad Marshall. Schmid went as far as saying he was shocked the 29-year-old MLS veteran hadn’t had more of a look in at Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. national team squad.
“Our league is unique and we are happy to acquire someone like Chad Marshall, he’s one of the better center backs in the league,” Schmid said. “One of the biggest travesties is that Chad hasn’t played more for the national team, he’s of that quality. He doesn’t have to hide in comparison to Omar Gonzalez and [Matt] Besler, or any of those guys. It was great to get Chad in the team.”
A player Schmid doesn’t have to worry about getting international recognition is Seattle’s main man Clint Dempsey. Speaking of his offseason loan to Premier League side Fulham, Schmid believes Seattle will see the best of ‘Deuce’ this campaign.
“At the end of the day it was good for him, and for us it was good because he is fit and coming back with game fitness as well,” Schmid said. “Last year when he joined our team he hadn’t really had a preseason or any games, so he was trying to get fit in the middle of our season. That made it difficult for him. I’m looking forward to having him. I think he’s going to be good.”
For Schmid and his team in Seattle this season, things have to be more than good to satisfy the expectations of their own fans and others around the league. The biggest season of Schmid’s reign in Seattle is upon us. After a massive rebuild, everything is in place for the Sounders to make a charge for the title.
Seattle deserves success. After six years, Schmid is hoping he can deliver it.