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November 15, 2011 at 1:32 AM

Schmid on ’11 evaluation, protection lists, goal setting & more

schmid mug.jpgA couple reporters got a last chance to discuss some more in-depth topics with Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid last week. The conversation covered the 2011 season, Schmid’s reflection on his own coaching, the state of the locker room, putting together a coaching staff, putting together an protected XI for the expansion draft, goalkeeping strategy, setting high goals for 2012 and more.

Here’s a transcript of the interview.

* * *

(How do you think you did this year?) “I think the team did a good job. For me, you always want to take the team to the highest level possible. Obviously I feel disappointed because the goal at the end of the day, in terms of the highest level, is Supporters’ Shield and is also MLS Cup, so we didn’t quite achieve that. But I think there are a lot of goals along the way that we achieved. With no (disrespect) to Salt Like, in three years we’ve taken an expansion team and we’ve put ourselves where we were the second-best team this year in the league. I think that’s a pretty good climb. I think that consistency early on — we’ve gotten a little better each year — is something that I’m very proud of, for an expansion team to do that that quickly.

“So now, the big goal is we want to go a little further. We want to establish ourselves permanently in the top two-, three teams in this league all the time. So, from that standpoint, I’m happy because we were able to move forward and progress again over the last year. I’m also happy that we were able to overcome some obstacles. I was reading somewhere on something that this team had this injury and had to overcome this and that. I don’t think we really talked about it an awful lot. I mean we lost the best scoring wide player in the league from the year before. We lost a guy who I felt had abilities and was starting to show his abilities in O’Brian White, and so seven games into the season we lost our two best offensive players — our most dangerous offensive players — at that time point. Fredy Montero was struggling a bit. And nobody really said anything. It was like, ‘OK,’ but we were able to keep going, the team was able to refocus, different people stepped up.

“I also think every year you have to add a few pieces, and I think we did a good job of that. I thought Rosales was a good piece to add, obviously. I thought Erik Friberg was also a good piece to add. Lamar Neagle emerging. So there were like three guys that at the beginning of the year nobody had on their charts of, ‘OK these guys are (going to have) an impact.’ So I was happy that we were able to incorporate new pieces, I was happy that we became better as a team and I was happy that we achieved the majority of our goals, but still disappointed that we didn’t the ultimate one.”

(But with those injuries and still accomplishing what you did, was this one of the best coaching seasons you had?) “Yeah, I think it was a good one. It’s funny because I think even though it was probably my worst record ever, I think my first year at Columbus (in 2006) was probably one of the best seasons I coached just because of the fact that in that season at one point we had I think 35-percent of our cap out injured. Just tell somebody ‘OK, you have a budget of a million dollars. You now have to perform at the same level, but you’re only going to do it on $600,000.’ It’s like are you kidding me? And we were able to keep going. We never lost the locker room. The guys kept believing and even though we had a bad record and finished at the bottom, we were starting to be able to assemble the pieces. I was really happy with the job that year because I had never had a losing team and I always wondered, if I have a losing team I’m going to lose these guys? They’re going to go off to left field and they’re not going to believe in their coach. And for us to be able to keep their focus and keep them motivated and keep them trying and not lose the locker room, I thought was great.

“This year’s job was different, but I’m happy with it. It’s more than just me; the assistant coaches I have here are tremendous. They do a great amount of work. As you get older as a coach, I’m sure it’s the same for Bruce, you’re still out there, I’m still more of a hands-on coach than some guys, but you also step back a little bit more. They hear other voices a little more. So it becomes a little bit more of delegating duties at the right time. I don’t know if ‘evolve’ is the right word, but for sure you change as a coach. I’m happy I’ve been able to change with the times and adjust and so forth. Yeah, so I’m happy with the job I did, but every year is different. I think I do a good job every year, but I’m sure there are people who disagree.”

(You mentioned the locker room earlier when talking about Columbus, was the locker room here the best it’s been?) “Yeah, the locker room was very good I thought this year. It’s gotten a little bit better each year. Germans always talk, because a lot of my soccer background is German-based because a lot of the people I had talked to and worked with when I was younger were of that inclination, but they always talked about the hierarchy within your team. I thought our hierarchy was very sort of clear cut this year. I think in past years it got a little muddled as you got near the top. Not that there was necessarily competition, but there was a little ‘Who’s in charge here now?’ kind of thing. I think the locker room hierarchy was very clear cut, there was no trying to shake that hierarchy or climb that ladder or do anything like that, so from that standpoint I thought it was good.

“The guys have also been around each other a little while longer. We had some key guys step in because Peter Vagenas and Tyrone (Marshall) were good guys in the locker room. Losing them left a little bit of a void, but the addition of Mauro Rosales was a big help in that regard. Friberg was a good guy in the locker room, fit in very well. Sometimes the guys that don’t play as much, like the Noonans and the Levesques and the Jaquas, those guys are also good guys in the locker room. Even if they’re not playing they’re good pros, and that’s what helps your locker room be good. They come out and they compete every day and they have some funny thing to say. People respect them because they’ve been around the league for a while, but the respect is really there because they go out every day and they work. So people look at it and, ‘Yeah, well he’s not playing, but he’s entitled to say something because he still goes out and works every day,’ so that was good.”

(Your coaching staff has stayed intact the last couple years, what’s important to you in putting one together?) “For me in putting together a coaching staff, you want to have some diversity in it. When I was in L.A., I basically had the same coaching staff until I went into my last year, where I made a change. When I coached all my years at UCLA, the only time we really made a change in the coaching staff was when guys moved on to become head coaches. I think in all my years there’s only been two coaches that I’ve actually had to say, ‘Thank you very much,’ and let go. I’m very proud of the fact that in Columbus — with the exception of there was obviously one opening when Robert (Warzycha) became the head coach — but the rest of the staff is still the same as when I was there.

“I’m happy with this staff, and diversity is very important for me, and also having a coaching staff of strong personalities — guys that I think are capable of being head coaches. Certainly Brian Schmetzer has shown that in the past. He was the head coach of the USL Sounders and he’s been a great assistant. I think he’s very loyal, but he’s also not afraid to offer his opinion and to express it. Ezra (Hendrickson) sometimes comes from a very different direction, probably the one who’s been most recently a player, so he’ll bring a different perspective into discussions. Goalkeeper coaches are very special to me from a standpoint that when I first began at UCLA we were one of the first universities to have a goalkeeper coach. And I have a different philosophy than the hundreds of goalkeeper camps that are out there. I think sometimes there’s a lot of misdirection there, so for me the goalkeeper coach has to fit into what my philosophy of goalkeeping is. I think I’ve had good success and Tommy Dutra fits into that without a doubt. That was the thing, I wanted to see him work for a week and watch him work — talk to him about goalkeeping a little bit — and I saw that his view of it was very similar to mine. He does a great job, plus he makes us laugh more than anybody, so he’s good that way.

“Dave Tenney. I had a great fitness coach in Columbus, who’s know at Everton, Steve Tashjian. I wanted to bring Steve out here when I became the coach out here and there was technically a problem. I still don’t quite understand it because he wasn’t actually an employee of the Crew, but we couldn’t bring him out there and Dave was the guy that Steve recommended. He said, ‘If I could recommend anybody in the league, that’s the guy.’ And Chris (Henderson) had worked with him. So we brought Dave in and I don’t know if everybody realizes the amount of work he does. I’ll get from him the OmegaWave reports or the reports from the heart-rate monitors and the practice workload — that will get emailed to me sometimes at 10 o’ clock at night, 10:30-11 o’ clock at night because he’s still printing out that report. So there’s a lot of work that he puts into it as well.

“Kurt, I like his father, so he’s a good guy in that way. But he’s another one who does a lot of work in terms of our scouting, then jumps in and trains the guys when we’re not around. He does a lot of individual work with some of the younger players. He does a lot of talking with them, sometimes showing them video. What’s amazing to me is yesterday we had a call where teams had submitted their discovery lists and so if a player was on multiple discovery lists there was almost like a draft thing that you have to go through. So we’re on the call for that and teams are picking the players they’re in conflict with and they’re going through all these players. I swear I knew one out of every eight names and Kurt knew seven out of eight names. I’d go, ‘Who’s that guy?’ ‘Oh this guy plays left fullback. He’s playing over at Fredrikstad. I’m like going, ‘Holy (crap)!’ Then I said, ‘Just send me a little email on these other guys in the first round’ and there was one guy out of 18 that he didn’t know where he was from or didn’t have that information. So again that’s huge, along with Chris who does his job and so forth.

“And for me, I’m lucky too as a coach because sometimes I’ll lean on Chris a little bit. Chris was a good player and I’ve known Chris and I’ve coached Chris. He’s a little more (on the) outside. All of coaches are sort of like in the middle of the forest sometimes and he’s outside. To be very honest, sometimes I talk to Grant Clark because I know Grant. He played for me. He was a good player. I think the people around who played youth soccer for him over on Bainbridge Island realize that he’s a pretty good coach. I tried to get him to be my assistant coach at UCLA about three times, always something came up, but he would’ve been a great coach. So sometimes I’ll talk to him because he sees the players again from a different perspective and sees what we’re doing. I’ll ask him, ‘Am I missing something?’ and so forth. But the whole staff, everybody likes each other. As a result, when you like each other and you like coming to work, you work harder.”

(Can you expand a bit more on what’s different about your goalkeeping philosophy?) “A lot of goalkeeping coaching and goalkeeping camps, sometimes it’s form over substance. It’s ‘Do you look good making the dive?’ rather than ‘Did you stop the ball?’ The object of the position is still to stop the freakin’ ball, make sure the ball doesn’t go beyond you. Just like a field player, you’re not going to change somebody’s running style and you’re not going to change dramatically somebody’s approach to stopping shots. So what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to make little corrections that make them better without changing their basic style. I think a lot of goalkeeping coaches and goalkeeping schools out there just try to change a guy’s style: ‘Well, this is the way it should be. And if the shot’s here then you have to come over this way.’ Well maybe I couldn’t get there in time (this way) I have to go (that way).

“I don’t know how much soccer you watch outside of ours, but when you when you watch a lot of goalkeepers, young goalkeepers when they come to us all do the same (thing). When a guy is ready to shoot, it’s like one-two-hop, and they spread their feet, or the put their feet out wide, and then they get their feet wider than their shoulder width and then they can’t push — they fall over. I’m a big believer that your feet have to be at shoulder width or inside your shoulder width so you can get that little step that gives you that drive. And Tommy believes in the same thing. In Columbus it took me a while to find a guy who did that and eventually I found Vadim (Kirillov), who was a Russian immigrant guy working in New York that somebody had seen and a friend of mine said, ‘I think you’d like him.’ So I flew him out and had him work with goalies for a week and said, ‘Yep, he’s the guy.’

“So that philosophy is definitely different, (and there’s) the philosophy of being clean on your saves. Sometimes a lot of it is pressure training — save right, left, right, left – so they make seven saves, but none of them are clean. Yeah, there’s pressure training that you need to do, but the pressure training is ‘OK, that save’s not done until it’s done, and then we’ll go onto the next save.’ And a lot of goalkeeping coaches out there it’s ‘OK, just parry that over there and let’s get ready for the next one.’ Well, you just left that thing three feet from you and the guy’s going to put the rebound in — and Tommy’s the same. It’s like, ‘OK, you parry it there and it’s three feet away. You’d better pounce on it and finish that save before I give you the next ball.’ Those are some of the main differences.

“The other things are presence and control of your box. There’s a big emphasis, too, on being connected to your back four and playing off your line. I saw a goalkeeper last night in Division 2 and what that guy’s doing playing off his line, I don’t know. But I knew his goalkeeper coach because they’re from the South Bay and I’d seen him play as a youth goalkeeper, so all the bad qualities that he had I could see in his goalkeeper. They were all there.”

(Have you found such a keeper?) “Like I’ve said, we started the search for goalkeepers (a while ago). We knew Kasey was going to retire. I don’t know if I told you guys the story, but the search already started for me last year. When I was on vacation in Germany, I was already talking to people. We started the search and honed it down to a few guys — three or four. It’s interesting last night because a goalkeeper we were very interested in, an agent called me last night and said, ‘Would you have an interest in this guy?’ And I go, ‘Yeah, we had one.’ (He said), ‘Well did you ever talk to the team about him?’ I said, ‘We talked to that team 50 times and never got anywhere.’ We were actually offering this team a deal that was like, ‘Keep him until the end of the year. We don’t even want him now because we’re OK. Keep him, because this is what you need and we’ll give you a player that will help your need and we’ll give you a draft pick for next year, so we get this guy the year after. So you become better this year, you keep your goalkeeper and you get a guy positionally that you really need and you get a draft pick next year,’ and they’re like, ‘No, no. That doesn’t work.’ So the agent was like, ‘Really? How come I wasn’t aware of that?’ I said, ‘We’re not supposed to talk to you. We’re supposed to talk to the team.’ So we’ll see. I think we’re close. I don’t know when we’re able to announce.”

(GM Adrian Hanauer was saying the other day that it’s hard to improve when you’re a good team. How do you find that last five to 10 percent extra you need to become a championship team?) “Yeah, and the other thing that makes it harder to improve when you’re a good team in this league, the way the environment is with the salary cap and so forth, is that you really have to subtract in order to add. Sometimes you’re not quite sure what you add is going to be better than what you’re subtracting. So you’ve got something that fits pretty well and maybe on a scale of 1-10 is a six or seven and you’re looking for that eight or nine. Now you’re saying, ‘OK, let’s get rid of the six or seven,’ and you find out the guy you thought was an eight or nine ends up being a four or five. Now you’ve subtracted. Sometimes the discussion is, ‘OK, we’d like a better player here, but are we really going to be able to find a better player for X dollars. At X dollars this might be the best guy we can get at this position.’ That makes it harder, too, because you’re generally closer to your salary cap and things like that.

“When you look at situations, and I don’t know if Houston’s completely rebuilt at this stage, because they didn’t make the playoffs last year, and obviously they’re in the MLS Cup… Dom and I texted each other and I said it must be nice to be in the East and he’s goes, ‘Yeah, the East is a lot nicer than the West.’ But the whole thing there is because they had a bad season, all of a sudden there’s more allocation money. They have a significant draft choice, even though that guy didn’t work out for them per se, but now all of a sudden they’re able to make moves. They got rid of some players and things fit, things worked. Nobody talks to him and says the two forwards you traded away combined this year for 30 goals — Oduro and Wondolowski. They’re back winning and they have their certain style, so he was able to fit it in. When you drop down like that, then you can build again because basically you have financial resources, you have salary, you have salary cap openings because you’ve gotten rid of players because it didn’t work. When you’re doing well, players come in and ask for a raise. So then you want to keep the guy, so you give the guy a raise. Now all of a sudden you’re up against the cap limit. Now you’re saying, ‘I’d like to be better in position X and, yeah, this guy makes me better, but also costs $40,000 more against the cap. I don’t know if I can do it. I can do that, but then I’ve got to get rid of this guy in the other position and replace him (with a guy making) $40,000 less.’ You’re hoping this guy can be as good as the guy you got rid of and that the other guy’s going to be significantly better than the guy you’re giving away. That what makes it hard at the end of the day.”

(How much is the protected list for the expansion draft just your best 11 players and how much is strategy?) “Yeah, it’s a little bit of that. People always think protection is protecting your best players. Sometimes it’s not like that. In the first year, the original understanding was that we didn’t have to protect DPs. So we actually had Sebastien on our protected list. Then we were told we had to protect (Freddie) Ljungberg, so that became more of a positional decision and we end up losing Sebastien.

“Last year it was that we had heard an awful lot that Portland and (coach John Spencer) really liked (Mike) Fucito. So we were thinking if we expose (Mike) Fucito there’s a good chance we’ll lose him and maybe if we expose Sanna (Nyassi) there’s a smaller chance. We didn’t know that Colorado was all excited about Sanna and so we ended up losing him that way. So what you’re looking at a little bit is you’re looking at who do you think they would want? Or is there another team out there that really wants somebody that bad that they might try to sneak him that way?

“Then you’re looking at, ‘Is a team really going to pick (this player)? OK, this guy’s an important player to us, but maybe he’s a little older, so are they really going to pick an older guy? OK, positionally, these are some of the guys who should be out there. So yeah, our guy’s good, but they’ll probably take this guy because he’s a lower budget number versus taking that guy, who’s a higher budget number.’ So you look at all those things and then you try to figure out who you’re going to protect. Yes, you are protecting your best players, but then you look at the last three to four guys and it’s a little bit of a game on who you think somebody’s going to take.

“OK, Steve Zakuani’s coming off an injury. Is he going to make it back 100-percent? Do you protect him or not protect him? Chances are if you don’t protect him, he’s probably gone. Now you’ve got to protect him, but is he coming back? We don’t know. O’Brian White, is he going to make it off his injury? We don’t know. He’s still only able to run at 50-percent. So do you protect him or not protect him? What happens if you don’t protect him? Does he get taken?

“Salt Lake didn’t think that (Robbie) Findley was going to get taken since he’d said, I’m going to Europe,’ but yet he did. Now if he fails after one more year at Nottingham Forest and comes back, then he belongs to Portland. That was a risk that (Spencer) was willing to take, so you’re trying to gauge the coach and, ‘What’s he going to take?’ You look at who Montreal took in the discovery (picks). They took a defender who’s playing in Denmark, an American kid, and then they took a big forward in the USL, the guy who’s the leading goal-scorer. Does that mean they’ll necessarily pick a big forward (in the expansion draft)? Maybe we can expose a big forward. Sometimes you guess right and sometimes you guess wrong. For sure the better teams stand a better chance of possibly losing a player.”

(When you evaluate your players this offseason, are some getting to the point where you need to see something?) “Yeah, some guys develop a little faster than others. Everybody’s circumstances are a little bit different. You look (Mike) Seamon, who played I think 900 minutes in his rookie year and last year it went down to like 100. But then he also had that strange little injury with the nerve in his foot. We finally figured that out with the orthotic and the last month he trained better. And now he’s bought into being a professional on and off the field, in terms of eating and all that stuff. I guess I gave him enough of a hard time with my sarcasm, so now he’s trying to get his body fat down and all this stuff. Now you got to look at him and say, ‘OK, where’s he going to be?’ One of the things you look at, too, is if you pick up a guy’s option, does that mean it’s guaranteed because he’s going into his fourth year. If he’s going into his third year, it’s not necessarily guaranteed, so you can maybe pick up the option and if it doesn’t work out you can let him go.

“Certain guys get to a point like a David Estrada where he needs games at this stage. Are there enough reserve games to warrant it? Do you loan him out for a couple months? We did that with (Michael) Tetteh — we loaned him out for a short period of time. Do you have him just go play USL and keeps tabs on him like we did with Lamar (Neagle)? Those are things you’re looking at. One of the best midfielders in the league right now, Jeff Larentowicz, never touched the field in his first two years in New England. It was just all on the reserve team and then all of a sudden he broke lose. Mike Chabala, who’s starting now for Portland, for three years he didn’t touch the field in Houston. Everybody’s a little different. In general for me, it’s like you said, after two years it’s like, ‘OK, we’ve got to see why this isn’t happening. It’s (not) happening because you don’t have it. It’s not happening because you’re stubborn. Isn’t not happening because maybe positionally we have too many people there. Maybe it’s not happening because you need to get games and you’ve lost you confidence a little bit, but we still believe in you.’ It’s a matter of all those things together. The reason we sent Lamar away early was because he was a Seattle guy. For me it was, ‘How badly do you want to be a soccer play? I know it’s pretty cool being a local guy playing for the Sounders. That’s pretty cool, but do you really want to be a soccer player or do you just want to be a Seattle Sounders soccer player?’ Obviously he said he wanted to be a soccer player and I’m so happy for him and what we was able to accomplish this year. Everybody’s situation is different.”

(Do you think some teams are built more for regular-season success versus postseason success?) “Nah, I don’t really think there’s a distinction there in terms of regular-season success versus postseason success. I think they’re really pretty much interrelated. The difficult with our postseason the way it is, is it’s become a cup competition, so if you get a hot streak at the right time… Again, I don’t mean any (disrespect) to Salt Lake here, but everybody’s thought of Salt Lake as, ‘They’re a consistent team. They’re a good team.’ I mean, do people forget they won on PKs? It’s not they killed the Galaxy in the final. They won on PKs. They had a .500 season, won on PKs, had a good season the next season and had a well-above-average season this year, but got knocked out. They made it to one championship game. So I think it’s the same, regular season and postseason.”

(Why aim for Supporters’ Shield now and not earlier?) “I think goals have to be attainable. If somebody says to you in your line of work or what you’re doing, ‘OK, I’m going to give budget of $100, I want to see you make that work,’ and it’s so unrealistic it’s meaningless to you. Then somebody says, ‘Well, you’ve got to make this work under this budget,’ and you say, ‘OK, I can do that.’ If the goal is create this much in revenue, if it’s way out there, what’s the use? If I come into an expansion team and I say in our first year we want to win the Supporters’ Shield, is that really a realistic goal? Yeah, it’s always a goal. Every year it’s a goal. But for me to state that as a team goal, it’s like ‘Are you kidding me? OK, thanks. Great, coach. It’s nice, but we can’t get there.’ So it was, ‘OK, let’s make the playoffs,’ and we won the Open Cup. And so the second year it was like, ‘Hey, we want to be a little more solid. We’re in the Champions League and we want to do this, we want to do that.’ Obviously we didn’t do well in the Champions League in Year 2, and we had to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps to get into the playoffs in Year 2. But this year I think we sort of became more stable and established ourselves with that stability and moving on in the Champions League and so forth. Now I feel the Supporters’ Shield is an attainable goal. I think it is something that’s within our reach. We were only four points away from it this year. So it’s something now, ‘Yeah, that’s an achievable goal.’

“And when you look at it as a club within our league, there are not that many things that we haven’t accomplished. … I don’t know how many teams have been in the playoffs the last three years consecutively. … I think us and L.A. and maybe Salt Lake and Columbus might be the only four teams in the league that have been in the playoffs the last three years. That’s what you’re trying to attain. You’re trying to be there year in and year out. Look at club like D.C. United, which has an illustrious history and has MLS Cups, but they’ve also had some major droughts. They’ve gone — what is it? — three years now in a row without making the playoffs and they went through one run where they went four years in a row without making the playoffs. That’s what you want to avoid. You want to be consistently there all the time. So for us, that’s why our goal now is Supporters Shield and that’s why our goal now is MLS Cup and moving further.

“I think last year hurt, and some guys learned from it. Unfortunately some guys who learned from it weren’t on the field when we played again this time. But this year I think the learning was better because of the poor performance we had at Salt Lake and then the quality performance we had at home. So the guys not only learned, ‘Geez, here we got destroyed because we didn’t do this,’ but also, ‘This is what it takes. This is what it takes to win.’ So I think they’ve got a better feeling now, and now you’ve got to have that hunger in your belly. L.A. isn’t driven by Bruce Arena, just like we aren’t driven by me. They’re driven by Beckham and they’re driven by Donovan, and those guys have great desire to win the Cup. Beckham has a great desire to win the Cup and Donovan does as well, because he hasn’t won it since 2005. So those are the guys who drive them, game after game. Those are the guys who, as the playoffs go, alter their game to do whatever it takes to win the game, and that’s what has to happen for us. Guys have to alter their game to do what’s needed to win. Because, and this comes back to your question before, sometimes in the playoffs it’s different, but the difference is just that the concentration is better, the hardness steps up a notch, people don’t give things away as easily, they fight a little more for the ball and now you’ve got to match that. You’ve got to have players out there who say, ‘We are not going to lose. I don’t care. Get on my back. We are not going to lose.’ ”

* * *

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