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November 7, 2011 at 5:31 PM

Schmid covers dozens of topics in season’s last interview

schmid mug.jpgAs mentioned earlier, the Sounders held their final interviews of the season on Monday. There will be team meetings the next few days and then everyone will head off in different directions for the offseason.

Coach Sigi Schmid took questions for nearly 18 minutes on a variety of topics — e.g. where the team needs to improve, injury updates, replacing Kasey Keller, playing Mauro Rosales in the Chivas USA game and more. Here’s the transcript of the group interview.

* * *

(How is the mentally different going into this offseason?) “Obviously we know we have something very important at play right at the beginning of the year, because we’re coming back into CONCACAF quarterfinal play. We know that that begins before the regular season begins, so it’s a little more urgency in terms of coming in fit into preseason. As I told the guys, normally you look to be about 75-minutes fit going into your first regular-season MLS game. Everybody’s sort of at the same stage. But now, going into a CONCACAF game you’re going against teams that are playing and in playing rhythm and are 90-minutes fit, so we have to be 90-minutes fit. That means better preparation in the offseason and a little alteration as to how we go through our training regimen in preseason.”

(Compared to last offseasons, how different do you think the club will be in 2012?) “There are always going to be changes. Like I told the guys, you look around it’s never the same group from one year to the other. You’re always going to make some changes — that’s just the nature of the job and the nature of professional sports. But I think we’re at a stage right now where we need to add a piece here or there. Obviously missing guys like Steve Zakuani and O’Brian White and Rosales at key moments for us certainly hurt our team, and having those guys back will help our team. But now we need to take that final jump. Based on the regular season we were the second-best team. We want to be the first team now. We want to go after Supporters’ Shield. We want to go after MLS Cup next year. So we’ve just got to take that little jump forward from here.”

(Where do you need to improve?) “Consistency is certainly something that you’re always looking at. In the playoff series, compare the first game and the second game. Tactically we really didn’t do anything much different, but the games certainly played much differently. That was a little bit of intensity, a little bit of determination from the players. You can view that as consistency. But I think our ability to play out of the back I think has to get better. So much of the modern game deals with the ball being at the feet of your outside backs. I think the outside backs’ contributions to the offensive aspects of your team becomes important. I think we found the back of the net very well this year. I think we have to get more shutouts. There’s got to be an improved toughness, hardness, just maturity still in us in those difficult moments of difficult games, and that little bit of leadership. I think those are aspects, and consistency of play in the middle of midfield as well, in terms of just being the engine room, of maybe being a little more creative at times when a teams drops back and just makes it difficult to play.”

(What do you think of the LA-Houston matchup for the MLS Cup?) “Obviously it’s great to be in the East for Houston. They switch conferences and they’re back in the playoffs. Obviously if they had been in the West their fortunes would have been different because they would have been a wild card and a lot of things would’ve been different for them. But it’s a good matchup. Houston’s played very well at the end of the season. Dominic (Kinnear has) done a good job of putting that team back together again after they didn’t make the playoffs last year. But over the last three years L.A.’s been the most consistent team in the league, and you could see by Beckham’s attitude of chasing a guy 50 yards and sprinting down the middle of the field that here’s a guy who really wants this thing. I think it’s a good matchup. You have a team that’s been playing well at the end of the year and you’re playing against a team that’s been the most consistent team in the league for the last three years. So it’s a good matchup.”

(As you understand it, would you advance to the CCL group-stage if L.A. wins?) “Wow, that would be nice. Can you put that down in a memo and send that to the league? Maybe the league hasn’t thought about that yet. I haven’t thought about it yet. Yeah, that would be great. I wouldn’t mind that at all. … I don’t know if the league’s thought that through, but yeah, it would be good not to have to do the play-ins, because we’re already looking at the possibility of six games at the beginning of the year that are in addition to what we played this year, and then looking at all the other games we played this year as well, so again we’ve got to be a deep team.”

(What’s the process of replacing Kasey Keller?) “Looking and searching and so forth. It’s a process that we’ve begun long ago. I went on vacation with my wife last year in December and I was already talking with people about this situation. It’s something that we’ve been working on for a year. We don’t replace Kasey. What we’re doing is looking for another goalkeeper, and we’re looking for the best goalkeeper that we can find that makes it work within our cap, within the league rules, and gives us the most quality we can have.”

(Is there any concern that Keller’s shadow will be too big?) “I really think that depends on the next guy and what his attitude is and so forth. I think if you hand Kasey’s job to a rookie, or you hand it to a very young goalkeeper, then I think it becomes a big shadow. But I think we’re looking more for a veteran guy, so I think that’ll help in terms of that transition. Like I said, our objective is not to replace Kasey. You don’t want the guy thinking about, ‘Oh, I hope I can do this as well as Kasey.’ It’s just a matter of going out there and being yourself and establishing yourself.”

(On guys stepping up and improving for next year…) “As a player, you always look upon it and say, ‘Well, coach has his favorites. He’s only going to play this guy or going to play that guy.’ What’s good is when you see guys like Lamar Neagle — who’s probably the most prominent example on our team — and you see them emerge and, ‘Oh, Sigi’s playing him.’ Then it’s like, you know what? It doesn’t have anything to do with who’s been with the team, or your longevity, or who you think I like or don’t like. My only objective is to put the best players on the field, so when the guys see that, all the other guys realize, ‘Hey, if I do my job, I can get on the field as well.’ I think it’s always good when you can produce from within and when you can have guys grow and add playing time to their resume. That’s something we’ve been able to do over the years here.”

(On the competition at midfield…) “It’s always good to have quality players. The more quality players we have the better it is. We also need guys ready to go on March 7. We have to be aware of that factor. When is Steve Zakuani going to be in full form? When is O’Brian White going to be in full form? Obviously our expectations are that they’re going to make full recoveries and get back to where they were, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. We have to be prepared for that, as well. It could be crowded. That’s something we’re talking about now. We also want to improve ourselves in some areas, so that might require some changes also. If you have to make trades or you have to make changes, sometimes you give away from an area that you have some depth in order to acquire something in an area that you don’t have enough depth in. That’s where we’re at a little bit.”

(Could you move guys from outside to inside or around?) “Guys from outside could end up going forward. Guys from inside could go backward. We’ve got to look at how we can make our team a little bit better to get over the hump and get ourselves a Supporters’ Shield and an MLS Cup. That’s our goal for next year. If we can take the Champions League along the way, we’re certainly not going to turn that down. It’s something that we’re going to discuss. That’s what we’re going to be doing as a coaching staff, as a technical group, as an ownership group, looking at what are the options available to us that can take us that next step?”

(Hindsight always makes things clearer, but would you have changed how you handled Mauro Rosales’ time at the end of the year?) “No, because that could’ve happened in the first minute of the Salt Lake game and I think it would’ve been an even harder thing to overcome at that point. I think we did the right thing by trying to stay in rhythm. I can’t completely explain why we came out so flat at times against Salt Lake. I know it’s something I kick myself over and say, ‘Is there something else I could’ve done?’ Could I have done something different?’ That was the only bad tackle in that game. It happened to get Mauro. It was unfortunate. Yeah, in hindsight you say, ‘OK, let’s no play him, and we’d be ready to play the next game,’ but you never know. Then, maybe he’s rusty or he’s off. You just have to trust your instincts there and go with it. Every time, as a coach, you learn from those situations. Maybe the next time you do it a little differently or not. If you do it wrong too often, you get fired.”

(Do you see it as this is a team that could’ve won MLS Cup if not for that bad game or do you think this team wasn’t quite ready for that?) “I think when I look at the two-game series with Salt Lake, for sure they dominated us in Salt Lake. I don’t think they dominated us to the extent that we dominated them here in Seattle. So from that standpoint, I was very pleased with our effort in game two and the resolve that we showed in that game. But on the same token, you sit there and say, ‘Hey, we think we could have done better. We think we could have advanced. We think we could have gotten ourselves into the game against the Galaxy last night,’ but obviously, that’s something we didn’t do. Now we look back on it and say, ‘OK, we came up short and we have to make sure we don’t come up short.’ ”

(Are any offseason surgeries are planned?) “No, from that standpoint we’re actually pretty good. The last couple of years we’ve had quite a few guys have to do offseason surgeries. Last year I know it was (Terry) Boss and (Jeff) Parke and (Nate) Jaqua and (Pat) Noonan and so forth. … Even a guy like (Brad) Evans, who last offseason we had to shut everything down because of a patella tendon injury. I think one of the things we’re looking forward to is we should come into preseason with guys, who last year weren’t able to do a lot, being able to do more. Even Steve Zakuani and O’Brian White are getting closer to that stage where hopefully by mid-December, for sure by early-January, are able to really pull the load and be ready when we start.”

(On Alvaro Fernandez’s potential call up to the Uruguayan National Team…) “I don’t know in terms of the call up if anything’s changed. He’s really the one that has to make the determination with his hamstring, how bad it is. I know the doctors felt it was a strain, but wasn’t of the severe variety, but enough to keep him out of that particular game. It really depends on how his recovery has been going.”

(On if he has a preference who they play in Champions League…) “It’s all about the same. What we’re going to root for is that whoever we draw we’re going to beat. That’s what we’re rooting for.”

(Will anyone be training overseas?) “We might have that opportunity for a few of the guys. That’s something that we’re going to discuss. We’ve got individual player meetings coming up Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and that’s something we’ll talk about in those meetings.”

(Will Miguel Montano be part of the preseason next year?) “That’s something that’s a little gray right now. Obviously, he was at Montreal and we want him to be able to return to a situation that makes the most sense for him. So whether it’s here or whether it’s at Montreal or whether it’s back in South America, that’s something we’re discussing right now, as well.”

(On the state of MLS…) “I think the league’s good. I think the state of the league’s good. I think the quality of play is up, as well. Certain teams that have a particular way of playing, like Houston, that’s maybe a little bit different. But I think overall the quality of play is up. In fact, I talked to somebody in regards to a national team coach, just saying how guys playing in the U.S. don’t get as much respect as the guy playing in Argentina or the guy playing in Spain does, but it’s changing. It’s definitely changing and I think that’s a good thing for our league. I think our league is starting to get more respect from other countries and hopefully from national team coaches, even Ireland and (coach Giovanni) Trapattoni realizing that (Robbie) Keane’s form isn’t suffering because he’s playing in L.A. I think those are all things important for our league’s respect. I think the league’s in good position right now. Montreal comes in next year. We wish it would be 20 right away so we wouldn’t have an uneven schedule but I think this was a good year for the league overall and a good stride forward for the sport of soccer. Every city you go into now there’s great supporter-bases. Even if there’s not maybe a packed house there’s a core group of fans that are really into it and everybody overall is doing a little bit better at the gate with a few exceptions. I’m not Don Garber — he’s the one that can address the state of the union, which he will do, I’m sure, in two weeks — but from what I see in my years in the league I think we’re in a good place.”

(What are your offseason plans?) “I’m going to try and see my house in Manhattan Beach for a few days, make sure it’s still there and still on its foundation. It’s going to be work. There’s going to be some time off, a little bit of relaxation, get away. Just like the players, I think you need a little bit of time to basically recover, or resuscitate. Maybe that’s a better word sometimes because you feel like you’re sinking. For me, 2012 started Thursday morning so we’re already working on that. All our meetings are directed on that. We’re already looking at player options and situations for us. There’s obviously always a lot of little things to do, so there will be some relaxation but it will be mixed with work.”

(Who will be the next captain?) “That we’ll figure out next year. That sort of shakes itself out by themselves. In all my years I very rarely have a team vote on it because I don’t want it to turn into a political campaign, then they’d elect the wrong candidate or something — which happens often in politics, doesn’t it once in a while? We’ll see how it shakes out next year.”

* * *

UPDATE 5:31 p.m. — Here’s the video version from SoundersFC.com

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