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

Could the NBA Come to Seattle With Chinese Billionaire Owners?

An article on Forbes.com states,

“…let’s look at the NBA, and the chances for Alibaba or another company to make a bid for a U.S. basketball team in the next few years.

It’s hard to know which NBA clubs might be up for sale, though various websites say that a few could come into play if the right buyer emerges. Alibaba chief Jack Ma and Wanda founder Wang Jianlin probably head the field of most likely candidates to make such a bid, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of these big-name executives launch such an effort within the next 1-3 years.”

If the NBA wanted to get Chinese market more interested in the league (without moving a team to Shanghai), Chinese ownership of a franchise would be a good way to open up TV rights to games across the Pacific.

It would be natural to put an Asian owned team on the West Coast. We know Allen, Buss, Balmer and the Warriors or Kings owners aren’t interesting in selling. So would make sense to have a current owner cash out for a huge payday, and move the team to Seattle.

Farfetched? Maybe. But not out of the realm of possibility. Opening the Chinese market is a pretty big carrot to waive in front of NBA owners.

“I Have Front Row Seats to Kobe’s Last Game And…”

Well, I didn’t have seats to Kobe’s last game, in the front row, right next to the Lakers bench. But this woman in the photo below did. What would you do with such a prime location for such a milestone game? I’d probably do one or more of the following:

  • Watch intently
  • Take photos
  • Take video
  • During commercial breaks, post to a social channel or 12.

Now let’s see what this lucky person was doing. By all means, blow up the photo for a better view.

Kobe Bryant Last Game

What could should be doing? What’s your guess?

  • Checking Facebook
  • Calling an Uber so she can get out before the crowd
  • Texting her friends
  • Checking stats

Your thoughts?

Guest Post – The Referee’s Perspective: Sometimes We Know What We Are Doing

Editor’s Note: Garrett Galbreath is a high school basketball official in Washington State and a Board Member for the Snohomish County Basketball Officials. Since I am someone who has ALWAYS treated sports officials with the greatest of respect, and NEVER engaged in any kinds of disagreement with one rearding the idiocy of their calls, laziness on the field, or out and out incompetence, I wanted to get an opinion from his side of the whistle. Why do some parents, coaches, and players insist on arguing with these highly trained and well-meaning people, simply for screwing up a call on the field? This is the 1st post in the series of, “The Referee’s Perspective.”

As high school basketball official, I have heard just about every criticism a coach, player or parent can offer. Sometimes I register the good advice, “Watch the hook on the post!” …and consider it the next time I am in a position to observe post play.

garrettgalbreath_officialBut most of the time, we are bombarded with simple and contradictory instructions for how the game should be officiated. One minute its, “Call the foul!” The next, “Let them play!” What’s an official to do?

The answer is more nuanced than most people think. My general philosophy on officiating is broken into three mandates:
1) Keep the players safe
2) Enforce the rules
3) Consider the game

These (personal) rules are listed in order of importance, but numbers two and three blur a bit in many situations.

Some Examples

Parents Yelling 1Consider a typical 5th grade game. If we were to enforce all the rules in the NFHS rule book, the ball would never cross half-court because we would call travel violations on every possession. Nobody wants to sit through that. Instead, we have to balance where the rules must be enforced and when to let them slide for the sake of the kids trying to learn the game.

As officials, we try to balance the rules vs the game by looking at advantage/dis-advantage. Did a player gain an advantage by violating a rule? No? Maybe it’s best to let it go so the game continues.

Coaches Yelling 2We need to apply the same logic in a high school game. Although our tolerance for violations narrows a bit, we still have to consider the skill level of the players. Our 3A state champion team is probably going to have a different skill level than a rural 2B team with 6 varsity players. We have to figure out how to manage that gap in skill sets every single game.

So to you parents pleading for a foul at one end of the court while imploring that we let them play at the other end… Most of us saw the same thing you saw. By the rule book, you might be correct. We could make you sit through an hour of inbound passes.

Parents Yelling 2But remember, youth and high school sports are for the kids. In addition to being competitive events, they are teaching opportunities and a way for your kids to gain confidence. Our decisions might be different than yours, because we are working hard on blending a need to enforce the rules of the game while considering the quality of the experience.

Please include any questions in the comments below and I’ll be happy to answer them.

Friday Fantasy Question 4/1

Imagine you landed in some Fantasy Land where you could take over any major league baseball team in 2016. AND you can bring any one past season from any one player into the lineup or rotation. What historic player and season would you choose to include in your roster?

Explaining Why the Sounders are Playing Tonight, in 30 Seconds or Less

The Sounders play their 1st game of the MLS season on March 6. But today is February 23 and they have a home game that matters against a Mexican team called Club America. For you non-soccer fans, I will attempt to explain in the fewest words possible.

1) In 2014, while the regular season was being played, the Sounders won a different tournament called the U.S. Open Cup. That made them one of 4 American teams to qualify for yet another DIFFERENT 24 team tournament in 2015 called the Concacaf Champions League (Concacaf = Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football.)

2) In 2015, they played the “Group Stage,” where the 24 teams were split into 8 groups of 3, with the winner of each advancing to the next round. So the Sounders played 2 games against a team from Canada and 2 games against a team from Honduras. They won their Group, thus advancing to the final round of 8.

3) HOWEVER, due to the weird schedules of U.S. and Mexican leagues, you can’t actually play the quarterfinals, semi-finals and finals of the 2015 tournament in 2015. So these rounds are being played in February, March and April of 2016. In each round, the teams will play two games against their opponent, one at home, one on the road a week later. Most goals after two games wins.

4) Out of the 24 teams that qualified for the tournament originally, 4 were from the Mexican League and 4 were from the U.S. The other 16 came from all over Central America; Honduras, Trinidad, Guatemala, etc… All 4 teams from Mexico and all 4 teams from the U.S. advanced to the final round of 8. So if you are a math wizard, you are able to quickly see than ZERO of the 16 teams from the other countries made it past the U.S. and Mexican teams. In fact, when you look at the overall records in the Group Stage, U.S. teams were 10-5-1 and Mexican teams 10-4-2. Yes, in 32 games, U.S. and Mexican teams lost a total of 3 times.

Now, you might ask the question, “Well if the U.S. and Mexican teams are the only ones to make it through the Group Stage anyway, why do they play meaningless games in 2015 and delay the Knockout rounds until a full 2 seasons after the teams qualified? Why not skip the Group Stage and just have an 8 team Knockout in the right year?”

That’s a question I don’t really have a better answer for than, “Well, it’s soccer.”

Adding to the lunacy of the whole thing, because each group has 3 teams, by mathematical definition all the teams in the groups can’t play in the same 24 hours, like every other tournament in the world would schedule games. So in a quirk of fate, last year the Sounders won their group BEFORE the other two teams in their group had played their final game. Thus, Vancouver had to fly to Honduras in the middle of the week to play a game that didn’t matter, wasn’t on TV and no one wanted to go to. I think they sent like 13 of their youngsters and were in and out in 24 hours.

So that’s why the Sounders are playing tonight.

Imagining Presidential Candidates as League Commissioners

I don’t know what made me think about this, but indulge me if you will. If you took the remaining Presidential candidates and put them in charge of the sports leagues, which ones would they run? Here’s my proposal.

1) MLS
Let’s start with the easiest one first. Major League Soccer is by definition a socialist endeavor. The league revenues are split, the labor force has few rights for negotiating wages, and all transactions must go through the league office. This is Bernie Sanders’ league, plain and simple.

2) NFL
The country’s most powerful league is going to need a member of the establishment to carry out its charter. Someone who knows everyone on Wall Street as well as the rest of the Billionaire owners. They must have political clout to wield or they’ll be a lame duck. But also, the NFL needs someone who can deflect controversy, pretend things that are happening aren’t actually happening, and show a strong willingness to tiptoe on the wrong side of the rules. I think the NFL goes to Hillary Clinton.

3) MLB
This league is much harder to determine a proper commissioner for. Its leader must have the clout to appease 30 billionaire owners, manage municipalities to get stadiums built, and negotiate billion dollar TV deals, all while presiding over a sport that is losing its appeal to much of America. In some ways, to some people, MLB has become somewhat a relic of days gone by. A memory of what once was, rather than what will be. And with that in mind, I hand the keys to Jeb Bush.

4) NBA
Another tough decision. We’re looking for someone who can see the international picture while not overlooking the inner cities. Someone who can manage across different cultures. But also someone who can simply step into the shoes of his mentor and merely continue to operate the machine rather than create a new one from scratch. I think this role is given to Marco Rubio.

5) NHL
Here we have a league that not enough people get excited about. It rarely registers on your sports mind, even though the few times you pay attention to it, you find it quite enjoyable. It is the epitome of being John Kasich.

With this organization, we’re looking for a few key qualities. This leader must be fairly tone deaf to the cries from its labor force who want to be paid. The leader must embrace the idea of the 1% receiving all of the money, and have strong convictions about who should be let into the system. Plus this leader must be stubborn, resistant to the opinion of others, and able to hold true to their beliefs. I believe Ted Cruz is our answer here.

7) WWE
Come on, is this one really that hard? There’s only one Presidential candidate capable of running the circus that is Worldwide Wrestling. The one and only, Donald Trump.

Have I missed a league that needs a Presidential candidate as a commissioner? Let me know.

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.

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.