Editor’s note: MLS Talk writer Josh Pedley recently sat down with Sigi Schmid to reflect on the 2009 season, to take stock of Seattle’s successful season and to look ahead to 2010.
Here is the transcript of that interview:
Before the season, you stated that making the play-offs would be a minimum requirement. Having achieved that, are you disappointed to go out at the first stage?
Yeah it was disappointing but at the same time we were the first expansion team to make the play-offs in their first year since Chicago in 1998. But we had high expectations because of the squad we had and having experienced players like Freddie Ljungberg and Kasey Keller.
Houston Dynamos have been one of the strongest teams over the past couple of seasons but it was a close game. What did you think was the difference between the two sides? How key was their experience of previous playoff campaigns?
Best way to describe it is that Houston’s 4 starting midfielders have been playing together since 2006 and for us, as a group, we are in our first season. They had a little bit more belief, were harder, a bit more physical and their experience definitely helped.
It was a big decision to leave Columbus Crew for a new franchise. What was it that attracted you in the first place?
Well, the contract negotiations were going bad with Columbus and dragging on. I heard what was happening in Seattle and spoke to the club and liked what heard. And speaking to Joe Roth (Sounders FC majority owner), Adrian Hanauer, Paul Allen and Drew Carey (minority owners), I knew something special was happening here.
Seattle has a soccer history and a huge amateur scene. But still have you been surprised by the soccer fever that has gripped the city?
The atmosphere has been unbelievable from the start. The owners did a good job in keeping guys from the previous Sounders around, to provide that link with the past, and the support has been fantastic. I think our attendance puts us up in the top 50 clubs in the world and you just have to go around the city and you will see lots of people with Sounders jersey’s on and people honking their horns and wishing you well.
How do you plan to take the team forward? Will there be big squad changes or do you plan to keep the nucleus together?
The planning starts now, we are already having meetings about next season and providing the players with their off-season plans so there ready to comeback fit. We are also looking around at players and I’m going out to a few college games as well. I think its easier in year two. Last season we didn’t know what we had. Now we do, so we know that we need a couple of wide guys and we need to add a little bit of guts to the team.
How do you feel Freddie Ljungberg has performed this season? It’s the first time in a while that he has been injury free?
We signed him on the basis that he would have surgery on his hip to correct that. And he came into the side after our second game and apart from missing one or two games with a migraine he has played.
We had games against Everton and Chelsea this summer and they noted that it’s the freshest they had seen him in a long time.
How important have the experienced players been in helping this season?
Having Freddie and Kasey has definitely helped. We have a lot of young guys and they would help them out and talk to them about things on the field, which has been great especially for a wide guy like Steve Zakuani.
The players got to know him and like him but the best example he set was by training hard. That has more effect than any words.
And what chances are there of him following Beckham and moving to Europe for the off-season?
It’s a possibility but Beckham needs to play because he has the World Cup on his mind. Freddie doesn’t have that as Sweden didn’t qualify, so he’s not been motivated towards that goal. I think he wants to take a little time off and relax and then comeback ready for next season.
Freddy Montero has been a great signing for the club. There were rumours about a move to Europe with Fulham. How far do you think he can go in the game?
He’s still young, just 21, and he can still get better. The biggest difference to a player like Montero is the adjustment to training. Getting used to the rhythm and the hard work of a European or North American training schedule is a lot different to that of South America and he will get better and better the more he gets used to it.
Highlights of the season?
Obviously winning the US Open Cup was definitely a highlight and no one will ever forget the opening game. It was a great day for the city and a great atmosphere.
And if the league were a single table (instead of two conferences) we would have finished just two points off first place. Just one win away from winning the regular season championship and that would have been an amazing achievement in our first season.
What are your experiences of the 1994 World Cup? And what would getting the world cup for 2018 mean?
It was a pretty unique time, as we had no professional league, so except for the guys playing in Europe, we were training like a club and trying to get games against teams to be ready. We played against countries I had never even heard of, like Moldova and Armenia, just to play.
Bora [Milutinovi?, USA Head Coach] really set a rhythm and a way of playing. We weren’t the most entertaining side but he set a structure that gave us the best chance.
If we get the World Cup in 2018 the US team will be a lot better. There will be more depth in the squad and I believe we will have the quality to beat any team on our day.
1994 was massive in raising the awareness of the game but 2018 would be on another level. The atmosphere was great in 1994 but the landscape has changed and people are more aware know of soccer. For example, in 1994 Seattle wasn’t a host city.
We have fantastic stadiums and due to the sheer size of our population, the games will be played to full grounds of 60,000 – 80,000 people.