A Few Thoughts About Sigi Schmid

It’s the end of an era. Quite literally.

The Seattle Sounders have only known one head coach in all their days. Through 250 MLS matches, a host of playoff games and some lengthy runs through the U.S. Open Cup and Champions League, Sigi Schmid has been the only man driving the bus. And now that ride has ended.

While Sigi was alone in compiling 115 wins, 69 losses and 66 draws from 2009-1016, the Seattle Mariners are now on a 5th manager to pull them out of their 573-660 streak.

Sigi will get criticism for not winning the MLS Cup, a compliant that seemed to heat up after the Seahawks got their ring three Super Bowls ago. And the cry of, “Well we’re still an expansion team” fell on deaf ears as soon as the hatred Portland Timbers raised the cup ahead of the Sounders. At that point, the knives were out.

But Is 2016 Sigi’s Fault?

The Sounders had a run of bad luck last year that stretched them thin, so they stocked up on some guys who were supposed to plug the holes and then provide depth in 2016. At this time this year, here is what the Sounders lineup was “supposed” to look like:

Forwards: Starters: Obafemi Martins, Dempsey, Valdez. Bench: Jordan Morris.
Mids: Alonso, Evans, Ivanschitz. Bench: Kovar, Roldan, Friberg.
Def: Mears, Torres, Marshall, Jones. Bench: Scott, Remick.

Instead, Torres is hurt and Martins is sitting on a bench in China. Dempsey missed a month on National team duty. The Sounders were trotting out a lineup of role players and hoping Jordan Morris could dramatically exceed any reasonable expectation of a rookie. Evans got shoved back to defense and couldn’t contribute on offense. When Dempsey was here, he had no one to pass to. The team was so slow that defenses could push high up the field and pressure guys like Scott into turning it over in front of goal.

A lot of things went wrong this year, and I’m not sure if any coach could make that lineup work. The Sigi detractors have a fair point – that with the players we ended up with, he stubbornly stuck to a formation that didn’t seem to fit them. It’s really a double edged sword. If he was switching formations every few games (the way we all would playing FIFA on XBox) and it didn’t work, we’d be yelling about that.

And so that leaves Sounderland in a little bit of a quandary. Sigi was “our guy” from the get go. Adrian is “our guy.” GM Garth Lagerway is a Real Salt Lake guy. “Our guy” took a fall because the coaching staff and management team couldn’t get results in 2016 with the product they put together. Now we have to trust in Lagerway to find the right players and the right coach.

I’ll miss Sigi. I’ll miss wondering how a guy who spends every day on a soccer field and eating meals specially prepared by a scientific driven training team could possibly weigh in at 3 bills. I’ll miss standing behind the bench trying to figure out what crazy substitution is coming next.

But this is a reminder that nothing lasts forever. The storybook start to the Sounders franchise, with Sigi leading us to a 3-1 win over New York, still hasn’t had the magical payoff moment we’ve been waiting for. I hope it comes soon enough that Schmid’s fingerprints are still on the team. I hope we get to see Brad Evans and Ozzie Alonso lift a cup and we can remember Sigi’s original influence.

So long sir. I feel lucky that we had you take the reins at the beginning and lead us to where we are today. Best of luck in whatever challenge you take on next.

What I Learned from Copa America Centenario

A few quick takeaways from what was a pretty cool tournament.

1) South American soccer is more fun than European soccer:
Sure, the Germans have technical skill that is fun to watch. But if you gave me the choice to randomly select two South American teams or two European teams to watch play, I’d choose the South Americans every time. With the exception of Bolivia, who played a 4-4-1 with their 11th guy being Messi’s shadow, the South American teams came out attacking. The irony is that they can do so because the good ones have such strong defenses that they can send an extra guy forward. As much as I love the Iceland story, even they play 10 guys deep and hope to get lucky on a long throw or corner kick.
Arg vs Bol

2) Argentina was just a superior team to see live:
Chile’s defense must be fantastic, because I don’t know how they shut Argentina down. Granted, when I saw them live they were facing an overmatched Bolivian team, but I think the result would have been the same against Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador or Columbia. They are so technically proficient with the ball, and can deliver pin-point passes from anywhere on the field. Their fullbacks are giants who can dribble and pass as well as U.S. forwards. Even their little guys are strong. And their 1st touch always seems to be placed in a direction that is away from a defender. You didn’t have to understand soccer to appreciate what they can do.

3) FIFA, Concacaf and Conmebol made a quick cash grab:
Great tournament, yes. But tickets were so expensive, that it turned into something I would like to attend and see once every 8-12 years or so. It was a shame that they priced families out of the market. I wouldn’t have dropped $600 to bring a family of 4 to see Peru vs Haiti. In a world where variable pricing is so easy to implement, I think they dropped the ball for the sake of trying to get as much up front cash as possible, since they forced you to buy tickets before the schedule came out. Then, they only sold tickets on one side of the stadium, so on TV it looked like there were more people in attendance.
Empty West Stands

4) The USMNT is probably right where they should be:
The U.S. benefited by Brazil and Uruguay not really showing for Copa America, and that probably lifted them from a loss in the round of 8 to a semi-final shot against a much superior Argentina squad. If they were in the Euros instead, I could probably name 6-8 teams who the U.S. should lose to, 6-8 they should beat, and a few that they’d probably just go 0-0 with. We have some good young speed and a decent defense, but no go-to scorer. If you are going to go into a tournament with those attributes, you can’t make mistakes – like handballs in the box, needlessly accumulating useless yellow cards or lashing out for stupid reds. If there’s one thing I can blame a coach for, it’s a lack of player discipline. Those careless mistakes need to get hammered out of players if you want to beat a team from Pot 1 or Pot 2 in a 2018 World Cup Match.


5) USMNT fans are a lot of fun:
The costumes, the flags, the cheers – the U.S. game had a fantastic atmosphere about it. Maybe it was because we were playing at home, but I’m glad we have joyous and positive fans, not thugs and brutes.

US Fans

7 Fun Facts About the St Vincent and the Grenadines Soccer Team

The U.S. Men’s National Team starts its World Cup Qualifying run vs St Vincent and the Grenadines tonight. Who the heck is the the St Vincent and the Grenadines soccer team? Well, here are some fun facts.

1) The island is here.

2) The country has 109,373 people. That is approximately 321,905,480 less people than there are in the U.S. For perspective, the United States has 4,186,778 registered soccer players.
3) Assuming the team has a standard 23 players, .021% of the country’s population is on the National team, or 1 out of every 4,750 people.
4) The team is ranked #129 in the world. That’s actually better than Luxembourg (146), New Zealand (159) and India (172).
5) There is an actual St Vincent and the Grenadines Professional Soccer League. It features the Toni Store Jugglers, Prospect United, Avenues United, Fitz Hughes Predators, JG & Sons Stingers, Camdonia Chelsea, System 3, Zodiac Football Club, Nemwil Hope International, Digicel Jebelle, Besco Pastures and K&R Strikers.
6) Two members of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Soccer Team, Myron Samuel and Oalex Anderson, play for Sounders FC 2. Put that in this perspective – the man with the most games played and most goals scored for this country, plays on the minor league version of the Sounders. If Oneil Fisher was from SVG, he could be a starter.
7) In the qualifying round for the 2014 World Cup, they were eliminated in the 2nd round, going 1-2-3 vs Guatemala, Belize and Grenada.

Did the MLS Playoff System Work, to the Detriment of the Sounders?

This may be a stretch.. but I think the MLS playoff structure did its job in the Sounders vs FC Dallas series.

– The Sounders had to field the best 11 they had for the last game of the season vs RSL, to ensure they made the playoffs.
– By finishing 4th, they then had to play again that Wednesday in a winner take all match vs LA Galaxy, so they had to field their best 11 again on 2 days rest, or rest a couple of guys and take their chances.
– Predictably, as an older team, this led to small injuries that over the course of a season would be recoverable, but in the case of the playoffs, was not.
– So Dallas, already built younger, goes into the series with 7 days rest vs our 3. We got the win in game 1, but we were clearly taxed at the end.
– Now we roll Oba and Dempsey out again for game 2. That’s Game #4 in 14 days for these guys. I think our 30+ year olds at the end of a 40 game season were simply tired vs a bunch of 25 year olds who had one less game to play.
– Thus, the system worked. Dallas was rewarded for having a better record. And that slight edge got them to the next round.

Why do we split young soccer players by gender?

Saturday morning, shortly after my friend Trevor and I had completely our lap around Greenback – at a blistering pace I might add – you could find us relaxing on the deck of our favorite coffee shop, Forza. There, we had the perfect view as parents and 5-8 year olds invaded the soccer fields and set up for their matches.

The games started and we watched with amusement as goalies who would eventually fit into their jersey 5 years from now whiffed on punts, entire packs of kids followed the ball around the field en masse, and 12 year olds ruled the field as referees.

But we noticed something odd. Even though the talent was the same on each field, each team was either all boys or all girls. We asked the question, “When kids are that young, why not have boys and girls play together?”

Yes, I understand that there’s an age where each gender’s bodies start developing at different paces and it makes sense to separate them. But at the very earliest ages, why not instill in kids that being good at what you do has nothing to do with gender?

I have no answer here. Just curious.

Saving Greece and Soccer at the Same Time

In case anyone wonders, this is a completely facetious comment. I don’t honestly believe this is a good idea… But in a make believe world, here’s how you could save Greece and International Soccer at the same time.

Qatar buys Greece.

Think about it. It’s win-win-win-win.

Win 1: Qatar gets the recognition it desires.
Qatar has a ton of money that it can’t spend. They want to change their image and have a larger presence in terms of global awareness. By buying Greece and renaming it “North Qatar,” they get all of the history that comes with it. Just like Gary Payton is somehow the leading scorer in Oklahoma City Thunder history, North Qatar would be where the Olympic games originated. Zeus and the rest of the Qatari gods lives on Mt. Olympus in North Qatar. And where would the world be without the contributions of famous Qataris such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle?

Win 2: Greece pays off its debt.
The banks want to get paid. The Greeks don’t want to pay anyone back. Qatar has dump trucks of cash sitting in gold plated garages. Let’s redistribute some of that cash and keep the country – and Europe – from collapsing.

Win 3: We don’t have to play soccer in 120 degree weather.
The 2022 World Cup can stay in Qatar – it’s just going to be played in North Qatar. (Except they’ll make Germany and the U.S. play their games in South Qatar out of spite.) Tourists will now want to attend the games. And Qatar can send all those poor abused migrant workers home.

Win 4: FIFA moves to North Qatar
Nothing significant in the world can happen without it benefitting Sepp Blatter in some way. This works for him. Qatar can revoke any extradition treaties it has with the U.S. and FIFA can build a 200,000 square fit office complex overlooking the Aegean Sea.

Could it happen? Of course not. Should it? Hmm….

An Open Letter to MLS and the MLSPU

Dear MLS Players and Owners:

With all due respect, you guys are idiots if you allow this season to start with a strike.

I understand both sides of the issue. Your league is experiencing the most growth it’s ever seen. The players feel they should benefit from all their sacrifice, and the owners feel like this is no time to upset the economic model that finally seems to be working.

You are both right. And you are both wrong.

First, I’m going to explain why the players are out of line for risking the health of their league.

Yes, it sucks that some of the guys in you league are making $40,000 a year and have no ability to switch teams. You want free agency and that seem like a fair request. But here’s the thing – you DO have free agency. There are something like 60-80 professional soccer leagues across the globe. You can go to Norway, low level English leagues, Belgium, India, Turkey, etc… Sure it’s hard to bring your wife and kids to Sweden, but that’s not the guys we’re talking about.

The argument is, “Well most of the guys we’re talking about CAN’T get jobs playing abroad so they should have free agency here.” Well, there’s the problem. If there is no demand for your services abroad, then you aren’t really in a good position to demand things here. Not only that, but you need to think long term. Let’s say minimum salaries get bumped up to $80k and there’s MLS free agency. Well the league suddenly became much more attractive for people who play in Norway, low level English leagues, Belgium, India, Turkey, etc… They HAVE demand from multiple leagues. And now your strike has created a financial plan that gives them reason to explore the U.S. as an option. I fear that some of you will be out of jobs.

On the flip side, I want to explain why I think the owners are out of line for risking the health of their league.

Good god people. If 10 years ago someone said you would be at the level of growth, TV revenue and prestige that you are at now, you never would have believed it. Don’t pat yourself on the backs too much, because you got lucky on a lot of levels. No one expected Seattle to become the financial catalyst that’s driving the league’s revenue engine. And then Portland came in and you had a regional rivalry that other rivalries could try to live up to.

Then you got even luckier. At the same time that every broadcast company decided that they needed they own Sports Network, all the Conferences in the NCAA decided they could keep their rights to themselves and start their own channels. Demand for content far exceeded supply and suddenly we had Barclay’s Premier League games on real channels just about every day. We also had TV deals for the MLS. These sports networks needed content and you were there to oblige.

So yea, you can give in a little to the players here. You don’t have to give in all the way, but you can certainly look at how the NBA has slots for player salaries and work that into some sort of restricted free-agency program. Look at how the NFL uses tricks like Franchise Tags to keep some players from driving up the free agent market. Let teams restrict a certain amount of their young guys. Give teams first chance to pluck unprotected players off teams that poach yours. Be creative. Come up with something.

Because here’s the thing. I’m sorry, but you don’t have the juice to survive a strike. MLB, NFL, NBA – they all suffer but survive work stoppages thanks to the 40-100 years they’ve been embedded in our national fabric. Hockey sat out a whole season and is still feeling the effects.

You have 17 home games – mostly weekend games – that my season ticket group has had to schedule our spring, summer and fall around. Do you realize what a pain in the arse it will be if you make us try to readjust our calendars because you couldn’t come to a consensus on how much profit you want to keep for yourselves vs sharing with the players? We’ll make maybe 2/3 of the games. And it will make us think about how many tickets to buy the following year.

So both of you get your act together and come to a compromise. You have some momentum now. You have a chance to say, “No we’re not like other leagues. We can solve problems because the fans are our most important asset.” Realize that you are a growing league, but recognize where you are in both in the U.S. fabric and the International Soccer landscape. This is the time to hit the accelerator, not slam on self-imposed brakes.

How Bad Will the 2022 Qatar World Cup Team Be?

The 2022 World Cup has been a controversial subject for a few years now, and will only become more so as more people call upon FIFA to change the location from Qatar. But here’s a sub-topic that came up in discussion last night, and I haven’t seen too much on it yet.

As host country, Qatar gets an automatic bid to the tournament, the same way Brazil, South Africa, Germany, Korea & Japan, France, the USA and Italy did, going back to 1990. Now, most of those teams were WC regulars or had at least been to a Finals before, so it was no big deal.

But we’re in uncharted waters, er desert, with Qatar. Let’s look at the Qatar National Team and some World Cup history.

  1. Qatar is currently ranked #100 by FIFA. For comparison that is between Zimbabwe (99) and Moldova (101).
  2. The lowest ranked team at the 2014 World Cup was Australia at #62. Australia went 0-0-3, scoring 3 goals and giving up 9 to the Netherlands, Chile and Spain. The next lowest seeded teams were Korea (57), Cameroon (56), Japan (46), Nigeria (44) and Iran (43). Those teams combined to go (1-4-11) with a Minus 18 Goal Differential.  (Note: Iran and Nigeria tied each other so if you pull those games out the 5 teams went 1-2-11.)
  3. In the history of the World Cup, the host nation with the worst ranking was South Africa in 2010. South Africa tied Mexico 1-1, got drubbed by Uruguay 3-0 and finished by beating a French team that had sent some of its players and a coach home early, 2-1.
  4. In 2014 World Cup qualifying, Qatar was ranked as the #8 Asian team, and survived a 3rd round group of Bahrain (5 ), Iran (7) and Indonesia (24.) Their record of 2-4-0 netted them 10 points to finish 2nd behind Iran (3-3-0), and advanced them to the 4th round, eliminating the favored Bahrain (2-3-1) in the process. In the 4th round, they finished out of contention in 4th place (at 2-1-5) behind Iran (7), South Korea (2) and Uzbekistan (9), and ahead of Lebanon (20.)

So what might happen in the next 8 years? Is it conceivable that a country investing Billions into hosting a World Cup might also invest in strengthening their National team? Could money talk and lure some of the top 14-18 year-olds in Asia and Africa to train in a newly developed Qatar Football Training Facility? Could Qatar become close to par with the top Asian Football squads – Japan, South Korea and Australia?

Perhaps. My friend Alex posits that Qatar will simply pay their Group Stage competitors not to drub them too badly. Give them $1MM for a 3-0 loss, $500k for a 4-0 loss and nothing for 5-0 or worse.

But barring a miracle, it seems that Group A in 2022 will be wide open, with all the other teams being assured an easy win over Qatar, and it could be important how much they win the game by.  It’s also conceivable that we’ll see the worst showing ever by a World Cup Finals team.

Trying to Decipher MLS Transfer Rules

Here’s something about MLS I don’t quite understand. DeAndre Yedlin could be headed to Anderlecht of the Belgian League. A friend of mine who knows a ton about soccer asked this series of questions:

Is this a big step up for Yedlin? I’m sure he’d get a raise, but I’m sure he could get a raise in MLS too. But in terms of advancing his career, does it make sense to go to a second tier (or third, or fourth?) Europe league? Or should he try to get a decent MLS salary after this year, and wait until England calls And what would the Sounders get out of this? Do they get any of the transfer fee? Do they get to set the transfer fee? Are we just out of luck? And we’re full on designated players too, right? So even if we got a ton of cash, we can’t really use it, right?

Here’s what I think I know. Please correct me if you know better.

1) Whether or not the play in Belgium is better than the MLS, there’s the perception in Europe that the play in the Dutch, Turkish, Norwegian, Belgian and Portuguese leagues is better than the MLS.

2) It’s easier for a Premier League, Spanish League, German League, Italian League or French League scout to catch a game in Belgium than Seattle.

3) The top teams in all the 2nd tier Europe Leagues at least get to compete in some round of the Champions League. Anderlecht won the Belgian First Division in 2013-2014, and are one of 22 teams to have already qualified for the Final 32 of the Champions League. That’s nice exposure he wouldn’t get here.

4) The MLS technically owns all the contracts of all the players. Essentially, the MLS is a giant talent agency that hosts matches in which to show off the talent they’ve recruited. Part of their revenue model is to find cheap players and develop them into players that other teams want to buy. They need the old guys to drive fans, but the real money is buying young guys low and selling high. It’s another reason the league wants parity and would rather have all the best players split amongst the teams to get playing time rather than having some great players sitting on the Sounders bench behind Dempsey and Martins for 34 games

5) There’s some sort of revenue split between the MLS and the team who scouts and signs the player. Not sure what it is.

6) MLS sets the transfer fee. I believe the team has some input based on whether they think the team and league would generate more revenue if they held the player another year.

7) Sounders would get some cash, but all it would do is help the ownership group. We can’t reinvest it into a higher salary cap.

Bottom line, the more Yedlins the league develops, the more revenue the league makes, the more revenue the teams split, the more designated players the teams can afford to have on each roster, the higher salary cap each team can have, and the more talent we can recruit to the league, which makes it easier to get the next Yedlin to play here, etc…

Let me know if you have more insight.


Here’s Your 2014 Sounders Transactions Merry-Go-Round, In One Easy List

Using the Seattle Times as a source, here’s as close as I can get to a complete list of how your old 2013 Sounders became your NEW 2014 Sounders. For the purpose of this list, I’m mainly only counting players who actually played or are expected to play.

If you remember, we ended 2013 on a sad note. Here’s what the roster looked like as the players packed up their gear in October 2013 (Starter types listed first).
GK: Gspurning, Hahnemann, Ford, Weber
DEF: Yedlin, Hurtado, Traore, Gonzales, Scott, Ianni, Burch, Remick
MID: Alonso, Evans, Rosales (c), Neagle, Moffat, Rose, Caskey, Joseph, Zakuani
FOR: Dempsey, Johnson, Martins, Estrada, Zavaleta (Note: I’m not sure when Ochoa was released.)
Non-Factors: Lund, Bates

So let’s see what happened next:
11/19: Alonso gets a new contract with a DP slot.
11/20: Evans gets long-term deal.
These two things mean that Dempsey, Martins and Alonso are your 3 DP’s, and Evans is presumably taking a good sized share of the salary cap. So now the team needs to trim payroll.

12/10: OUT: Michael Gspurning, March Burch, Steve Zakuani

12/11: OUT: Mauro Rosales to Chivas USA
12/11: IN: FOR Tristan Bowen from Chivas USA and No. 2 in Allocation Order
The Rosales deal ends up being very interesting for the Sounders. Chivas takes on an older, expensive player, gives up a younger, cheaper one, AND gives Seattle a high spot in the Allocation order, which becomes interesting later. Then later in the off-season, Chivas ownership sells the team back to the league.

12/10: IN: GK Stefan Frei TO Sounders from Toronto for 2015 1st Round Pick
12/12: IN: DEF Chad Marshall TO Seattle from Columbus for 2015 3rd round pick and Sounders Allocation placement
Remember, the Sounders got Chivas’ Allocation placement, so now they didn’t need theirs. Gspurning’s salary goes to Frei. Burch’s to Marshall (roughly).

12/12: Ford gets new deal to be 3rd string Goalie
12/13: IN: FOR Kenny Cooper to Seattle from Houston for Adam Moffat
12/16: Gonzales gets a new 1 year deal

12/17: OUT: Johnson to DC for allocation money
This has to happen because the team can’t afford Evans AND Johnson as non DP’s.

12/18: IN: FOR Chad Barrett via re-entry draft

1/6: Neagle gets extension
1/8: Hahnemann gets extension
1/9: IN: Homegrown players Sean Okoli and Aaron Kovar

1/16: OUT: Hurtado and Ianni (and No 13 Pick in 2014 Draft) to Chicago
1/16: IN: DEF Jalil Anibaba (and No 8 pick in 2014 Draft) from Chicago
This is a 2 for 1 deal. Sounders have too many center backs and need to cut some more costs.

1/31: IN: MID Marco Pappa via Allocation Draft
Remember the Rosales for Bowen deal? Now, it’s become Rosales for Bowen and Pappa. Nice.

2/28: OUT: Zavaleta loaned to Chivas USA
Now, that deal has sort of become Rosales and Zavaleta (on loan) for Bowen and Pappa.

Undated: OUT: Joseph training with New England

Grand total
OUT: Gspurning, Hurtado, Ianni, Burch, Joseph, Rosales, Zakuani, Johnson, Zavaleta (Loan)
IN: Frei, Marshall, Anibaba, Pappa, Cooper, Barrett, Bowen, Okoli, Kovar
KEPT/ENDORSED: Hahnemann, Ford, Gonzales, Alonso, Evans, Neagle
NO CHANGE: Yedlin, Scott, Traore, Remick, Rose, Caskey, Estrada, Dempsey, Martins
OTHER: Ockford (Loaned out), Lowe, Periera

Got it? Make sense? Good.