Sigi Schmid, One-on-One: Galaxy’s struggles, watching Seattle and playing for pennies in L.A.’s ethnic leagues

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

A coaching icon is back in his hometown, trying to revitalize the winningest club in MLS history.

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Sigi Schmid is MLS' winningest coach, with 231 victories, two MLS Cups, Supporters' Shields with three different clubs, five U.S. Open Cup titles and a CONCACAF Champions' Cup trophy, and now he faces perhaps the most difficult challenge of his coaching career.

The German-born, L.A.-bred Schmid, 64, began his second stint as LA Galaxy coach a year and a day after his seven-and-a-half-year tenure in charge of the Seattle Sounders ended, stepping in for Curt Onalfo as the club's new direction following Bruce Arena's departure went awry. LA finished bottom of the league, missing the postseason for only the fourth time -- and first since 2008 -- and there are far more questions at this point about the club's future than there are answers.

Following the 2017 MLS season, Schmid assumed responsibility for all player personnel decisions from Pete Vagenas, who remains with LA as VP of soccer operations.

FourFourTwo caught up with Schmid to talk about what's going on with the Galaxy, how this work compares with what he did as head coach of the Galaxy from 1999 to 2004 and then with the Columbus Crew and Seattle, his time on Bora Milutinovic's U.S. staff for the 1994 World Cup, and learning the game on L.A.'s streets, as part of the first AYSO class, and in local ethnic leagues in the 1950s and 1960s.

FFT: What needs to be done to make things right in LA?

SS: It's something that we've already started on, in terms of looking at possibilities, evaluating players, seeing exactly which vehicles we have that can help us improve the team. Some of that's going to be within the league, some of that's going to be outside the league, but that's our process that's already begun, and we're earnestly spending time with that, for sure.

Certainly, the goalkeeping situation has been a little bit of a merry-go-round year, so we've got to tend to that. Is that from within or is that from without? That's what we've got to look at. Center back with the departure of Jelle Van Damme [for Royal Antwerp], you know, opened up a little bit of a hole. [French defender Michael] Ciani's trying to get adjusted to the league, but still that's an area we could probably use a little bit of help.

And the other area is probably center forward. We've played Gio [Dos Santos] up there, although that might not be his best position. [Gyasi] Zardes, I think, is stronger as a wide player than he is as a center forward, and he becomes better when he has somebody to take the focus off of him a little bit. Then he becomes more dangerous as well.

Really, those three positions, and we can use depth in other positions, as well.

FFT: Does this require a big overseas signing?

SS: I think we're looking overseas [for] player possibilities, as certainly that's something we have to look at. We have three DPs, so a DP right now doesn't look like it's a possibility, but you can never say never in this world, and we'll see what happens.

FFT: The Galaxy were vocal this year about relying on youth and promoting young players from the academy through Galaxy II. How will the club approach this in the near future?

SS: That's something we're in the process of really talking about and looking at. I think the academy is an important part of our club, and when you look at a player like Bradford Jamieson right now, certainly an academy player who's starting to prove his worth at that level, so we've got to continue to look at the academy. But we cannot ignore college players out there that are leaving college, we cannot ignore USL players -- there's some young players in the USL that have some possibilities. We have to look at those arenas as well to find young players. And even young players from overseas that can possibly come in.

FFT: Is the challenge to turn things around any greater, any more imperative, with LAFC coming into the market next year?

SS: LAFC was coming in the market anyway. So that really doesn't change it. Obviously, aesthetically from outside, it looks like this was a bad time to have a bad year. But it is what it is. You can't change that. All I know is we are the LA Galaxy, we still intend on being L.A.'s team, and we're looking forward to the rivalry.

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

FFT: Looking at the two-thirds of the season you had last year in Seattle and your time so far with the Galaxy his year, it's almost a full season, and your record is 7-19-4. How has going through these struggled made you a different coach, a better coach?

SS: You always learn things. I learned how much I hate losing.

I think each situation was different. When I left Seattle, I left a pretty good team behind. We had some stuff there, injuries as well, but everybody got healthy, it seems, at the same time and the new players came in, and I think that was a pretty good unit that was there. Now with the situation [with the Galaxy], we've got the opportunity to build this a little bit, and to build upon the pieces we already have, to add to those pieces in an appropriate manner, deciding what takes advantage of the strengths of the players that we do have, and that part's exciting.

For me, becoming a better coach, it’s always [about] working. One of my biggest joys as a coach has always been working with young players and identifying young players and helping those players develop. At different places. When I was with the Galaxy the first time, there were a number of young players who came through, same thing at Columbus, same thing at Seattle, and now we're starting to see somebody like a Bradford Jamieson come through. That, for me, when a team's not doing well -- as we haven't done well -- there's got to be a greater emphasis and you've got to work harder at coaching them up, and sometimes that's working maybe a little more with young players than you might if your team is successful. So you're definitely focused on that part.

FFT: How difficult was the year you spent not coaching, between the end of your tenure in Seattle and getting hired by LA?

SS: I hate not coaching. Coaching is what I like to do. That interaction -- nothing makes me happier than to see a player improve or have an idea that you have get implemented and have that idea be successful or have your team turn the coaching that you're giving them and the ideas into reality on the field. So for me, being away from it was definitely difficult, because I hate being away from the game.

Just watching as an uninvolved observer is OK, and I was able to do some work with the league, which I enjoyed very much, and being involved there and maybe looking at some future plans, although the duration of my time with the league was too short to really have a bigger impact. But for me, I love soccer. Anything I can do to help the sport grow, I will always do, and I still think I can coach, so right now I think that's the best place for me.

FFT: Did you have conflicted feelings when the Sounders won MLS Cup in 2016?

SS: It was difficult. I can't say it was easy. It was difficult because I thought it was a team that I built, and I felt that we could have done the same thing. I always had confidence as a coach.

But I also was extremely happy because the fans in Seattle over my tenure there were super and were very, very supportive. The staff that I had had and left behind, I was happy for all of them, because we worked hard for a lot of years in Seattle to get to that point, and we were close a number of times, had some setbacks at key moments, which obviously stopped us from achieving the MLS Cup. But we also had some very good moments in other things.

I was really happy for the fans and for the team staff, but I was disappointed that I wasn't there with them, because I felt the same result could have happened.

NEXT: The importance of returning to his L.A. roots