If Sigi Schmid had simply retired from coaching in 1999, he still would have been one of the most important and influential figures in the history of American soccer. His legacy at UCLA was well-secured after nineteen seasons, three titles, and alumni such as Paul Caligiuri, Cobi Jones, Brad Friedel, Joe-Max Moore, Carlos Bocanegra and Nick Rimando. He would have made the Hall of Fame merely as a scout.
Of course he won at UCLA, all the time. So naturally, he was criticized for not winning more often, by more goals, with more elegance. Schmid's first two championship teams won their final games 1-0 (after eight overtimes) and 0-0 (after overtime and penalty kicks) (NCAA rules were always comedic). And of course, Virginia upstaged Schmid's Bruins in the 1990's something fierce. Sure, coaches are there to be criticized, and fans always want more. Schmid seemed unusually bedeviled by fans who wouldn't accept winning almost everything in sight most of the time, though.
And, to be fair, you'd think a coach who rustled up, in succession, Friedel, Kevin Hartman, Matt Reis, and Rimando would have been a little bit more confident going forward. It was rare for the Bruins to kick off from center circle more than once a week.
It was actually a sign of the growing prestige of Major League Soccer that a pro team was able to lure Schmid away from UCLA. And, as we have seen in retrospect, that might have ended up the wrong move, had MLS closed after the 2001 season. Schmid would have coached the Galaxy for three years, won one Open Cup, lost two MLS Cups, and faced the decision to either elbow his way back into UCLA or find another university coaching position.
Fortunately for all of us, the league lived on, and allowed Schmid to be the first to turn Galaxy fans into the spoiled brats we are today. The Galaxy also helpfully wrote the occasional name onto the lineup card for him, which goes a long way towards explaining why Schmid followed up the 2002 double with the 2003 and 2004 nothing. Sigi was by no means the first, and was by no means the last coach to be saddled with players neither taking nor living up to responsibility. (Although as of this writing, Sigi is actually the most recent to take the fall for such players.)
Most of the credit for the astounding 2008 Columbus Crew success is given to Guillermo Barros Schelotto, and to a certain extent this is fair and correct. Barros Schelotto and the Crew did win the Shield the following year, after all. But Schmid's departure to a high-spending expansion team has probably made him a less revered figure in Columbus than he should be. The Sounders were widely believed to have violated league tampering rules in hiring Schmid, probably because that's precisely what the Sounders did do.
It was the right decision for the Sounders in retrospect; Schmid was absolutely worth the money. Without Sigi the Sounders would never have backed up their outsized boasts, at least not on the field. The huge crowds that were uninterested in the USL Sounders were amply rewarded and entertained by Sigi's MLS team. The Sounders were the most successful expansion team on the field since the Chicago Fire, and one of the most successful expansion teams in the history of American sports, when you factor in both wins and attendance. Sounders fans enthusiastically made this case, as was their right, nay, their duty.
The Sounders never won the league championship, and failed to win the league championship in ways that must have been irritatingly reminiscent of the 1990's, at least to Sigi Schmid. Seattle won everything else, though. Well, apart from the CONCACAF championship – but Sigi already had one of those tucked away in the closet somewhere.
During the 2009 season, Schmid added the all-time MLS win record to his long list of accomplishments. Arguably, his most impressive accomplishment lay ahead.
We can all agree, however reluctantly, that the US Open Cup is a consolation prize. The Open Cup can make a mediocre season much more enjoyable, but it is no substitute for the championship. Seattle fans were probably happier with their shot-free MLS Cup win than with the Open Cup success in previous years.
Nevertheless, the Sounders and the Open Cup were the best things that ever happened to each other. The Open Cup's history and prestige gave the Sounders a page in American soccer history from launch, much like the Chicago Fire in the previous decade. The Sounders followed that up with some amazing records. Every important attendance record for the Open Cup now belongs to Seattle. Sigi guided the Sounders to three consecutive Open Cup championships, a feat that hadn't been accomplished since Lyndon Johnson was President. They made it the final game four years in a row, which hadn't been done since Stix, Baer and Fuller in 1934, and were perilously close to winning the Cup four years in a row, which hadn't been done since ever. The Sounders have to settle for merely being mentioned in the same breath as the Fall River Marksmen.
Schmid's success with the Sounders has probably made him the all-time most successful Open Cup coach. If Sigi were a club, he'd share the all-time wins record with Bethlehem Steel and Los Angeles Maccabi. Was that accomplishment enough to keep him secure with the Sounders? No, but then again, whenever you're in a club so exclusive that the royal "we" covers the entire membership, that's a pretty impressive historical achievement.
His career doesn't need to be embellished with counterfactuals, but one wonders what would have happened if he had coached, or one day coached, the US men's national team. Almost certainly he would have enjoyed considerable, maybe unprecedented success…with fans carping and criticizing how he did it every step of the way, until he was inevitably fired. He did not leave the Sounders on his own terms, and he did not leave the Galaxy on his own terms either time. That doesn't prove anything, except that he coached soccer for a living.
All this is merely Sigi from a fan's point of view. Schmid's legacy is welded into American soccer, and will be remembered as long as long as the sport is followed in this country. His accomplishments don't exhaust his legacy – it probably only scratches the surface. Literally hundreds of people had the opportunity to play for him, dozens have coached with him. He wasn't universally liked – you simply can't be a coach and please everyone – but he was unfailingly charming and likeable. He will be sorely missed.