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What the important Sigi Schmid decision says about Seattle Sounders FC

Nov 16, 2013, 9:09 PM EDT

Two two games in hand, Sigi Schmid and the Seattle Sounders are only two points behind Western Conference leading Real Salt Lake, their 1.77 points per game the best rate in Major League Soccer. AP

Only time will tell whether retaining Sigi Schmidt for a sixth season in Seattle was the correct call or not.

The pressure is certainly now dialed to the ‘on’ position for the organization. (Ironically, if you think about it, the pressure on Schmid diminishes now. In a sense, he’s playing with ‘house money’ at this point. He knows the deal, with pretty much zero ambiguity about it: get the job done in 2014 by advancing into MLS Cup or at very least into the conference finals, or prepare for the next career move.)

But we know a little more about the Sounders organization now, about the larger club mindset and sense of itself. And it looks pretty good.

Seattle is a bit of an outlier in MLS as we all know – and for all the right reasons. Its success in attendance and regional market impact created a specialness about Seattle from even before its first kick of an MLS ball in 2009.

But there was always an inherent danger, a peril connected to the attached expectations.

It’s great to be ambitious. It’s fantastic to want good things for your fans, especially when there are so blessed many of them.

But none of that means any club ‘deserves’ an MLS Cup or a U.S. Open Cup or a Champions League spot or whatever. Those are competitive pursuits, and they are earned … nothing more, nothing less. That’s why I always wince when I hear that these fans or that organization or this owner deserves a championship.

No, they don’t. They deserve a fair chance … everything else you earn.

With Seattle there was always a danger of some creeping sense of entitlement due to the club’s tremendous fan support, because of what the Sounders do for the league. (And the Sounders certainly do a lot, it should be said.) But the moment any air of entitlement gains a harmful hold, there becomes a chance that organizational decisions might reflect such a false feeling of privilege. And that is when things can really go sideways.

I always thought that’s what happened in D.C. United, where a club that pulled ahead early in MLS days (when it was easier to do so, in all honesty) began ‘reading its own press clients,’ so to speak. When things went slightly askew, this drive to get things done quickly – you know, because of those contaminating feelings that this “is what we do … we win championships!” – impacts and corrupts the process. Before you know it, you miss the playoffs five of the last six years, and have the worst season ever in MLS.

At the highest organizational levels, the deciders at D.C. United apparently believed themselves to be the smartest people in the room. And that is fine, I suppose … until it begins to influence the way you make important decisions. Then you’re in trouble.

Back to Seattle, that club of tremendous ambition.

Every club must carefully balance the righteous drive for glory with a grounded sense of what is realistically possible. It has to be balanced with a reasonable level of expectation. Because what you badly want and what you can reasonably expect to achieve might be two very different animals.

Seattle in Sigi Schmid’s time? Not all candy corn and lollipops … but not that bad, either.

Today, it looks like upper management knows that.

Again, we won’t know if this was the best call for a few months or maybe even longer. But we do know today that the deciders around CenturyLink Field have a firm grounding on reality. That’s a pretty solid place to start.

  1. discnutt - Nov 16, 2013 at 9:36 PM

    I agree that fans or the organization shouldn’t think that they deserve a championship for the great following.

    But along with the fans not thinking that, I think the external expectations that they should have already won a championship is unfair. I think outsiders calling out the Sounders for not winning it in their first 5 years is absurd.

    I’ve seen a lot of “it’s great that they have a lot of fans, but they haven’t won the MLS cup”. If Sounders fans should temper their entitlements issues, others should also be realistic as how many championships they have won so far. As great as their following is and as good as their teams have been, it’s still hard to win the MLS cup. Just one champion a year after all.

    • overtherepermanently - Nov 17, 2013 at 9:48 AM

      There would be far less of that is a certain fan base didn’t act like MLS was founded in 2009.

  2. rswestbrook - Nov 17, 2013 at 7:01 AM

    Interesting view on DCU…I haven’t viewed it as entitlement before, but it makes some sense. I have thought that Payne was guilty of hubris (the architect of a dynasty), and that could lead to a club-wide sense of entitlement. The years of Kasper’s poor decision making combined with owner cost control, a crumbling relic of a stadium and poor results on the field should certainly break them of any delusions from this point forward.

    • joeyt360 - Nov 17, 2013 at 12:36 PM

      I think there’s a particular moment where that theory rings true–in 2008, DC United broke up a winning team and a still serviceable Christian Gomez to sign Marcelo Gallardo for close to $2 million, back when the DP rule had serious strings attached to it (as far as cap space the DP took up). That and a couple other moves the team made to win international competitions and increase the team’s profile in Latin America turned out to be a reach, it left the team with an imbalanced roster and was a factor in the club’s down period after that.

  3. rswestbrook - Nov 17, 2013 at 7:07 AM

    By the way, I have one of those DCU shirts that says, “We win trophies”…and I’m not feeling so great about it these days, but the pride (not the t-shirt) will be worn again once the new stadium is under construction and if we put up a fight in the CCL.

    • overtherepermanently - Nov 17, 2013 at 9:49 AM

      Hey, they won a trophy this year. The Open Cup counts for something.

  4. northseattlebruce - Nov 17, 2013 at 2:39 PM

    Seattle in Sigi Schmid’s time? Not all candy corn and lollipops … but not that bad, either.

    Candy corn?

    Don’t you mean candy canes?

    Candy canes = tasty. Candy corn = revolting.

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