That question had to be making the rounds in Seattle in recent weeks as rumors grew surrounding the fate of Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, and whether he would be brought back in 2014.
The two-time MLS Cup champion, and the man who helped lead the Sounders to three straight U.S. Open Cups, committed the crime of going two straight years without a trophy and, most recently, suffering an embarrassing playoff loss to the archrival Portland Timbers.
That was enough to lead many fans in Seattle to want a change, and it sure does seem like leadership at the Sounders gave it some thought before stepping forward late last week and declaring that Schmid would be returning for another year.
Of all the coaches identified as being on shaky ground in 2013, Schmid always seemed a bit of a strange name to be on the list. One of the most accomplished coaches in MLS history, he helped the Sounders lift multiple trophies during his early tenure in Seattle. While you could certainly question the team’s relative lack of playoff success, you would have a much tougher time coming up with potential coaches who could be seen as clear-cut upgrades.
One name linked to the Sounders was that of Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis, who is set to become a highly sought-after free agent once RSL’s season ends. Previously linked with New York City FC, Kreis looks like a safe bet to attract the attention of every team with the financial muscle to make leaving RSL worthwhile. NYC FC fits that bill, and Seattle certainly does.
The Sounders didn’t wait for Kreis to become available, though, choosing instead to double down on the only coach they’ve known in MLS. That seems like the safe play, even the smart play. The fact is there just weren’t many viable options that could be seen as clear upgrades to Schmid. Bob Bradley is one coach you could make a case for, but there is no reason to believe he has any intention of coming back to MLS any time soon.
Failing a move for a Kreis or a Bradley, Seattle’s front office had to think long and hard about whether it was really worth firing Schmid and replacing him with someone with nowhere close to the same credentials. Going with a younger option, or a college coach, wasn’t really an option for a big-spending team with championship aspirations and a hefty payroll.
So why is there still concern among some segments of the Seattle fan base? The team’s late-season slide was an ugly free fall that turned the Sounders from Supporters' Shield favorites to barely making the playoffs. Losing games was bad enough, but Seattle looked utterly lost in many of them, leaving observers to wonder if the Sounders weren’t quitting on Schmid.
That’s sure how it looked as the Timbers put a beating on Schmid’s Sounders in the playoffs, jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the second leg of their playoff series. None of Schmid’s lineup and tactical moves worked and Caleb Porter’s Timbers tore through Seattle in a way that had to leave Seattle’s leadership thinking about a change.
The Sounders just might have saved their coach’s job with a pair of late goals in that second leg in Portland. It made the final score respectable, and gave a lasting impression heading into the offseason of still being a team willing to play for Schmid.
While he may have been given a reprieve, Schmid isn’t likely to be given much more than one more year to lead Seattle to a title. Accomplishing that will be easier said than done. The Sounders are expected to part ways with Mauro Rosales, and have to unload Shalrie Joseph’s hefty contract. Having Clint Dempsey for a full preseason and regular season should be a big help (for both the Sounders and Dempsey, who struggled in his first half-season in Seattle). But then you have Obafemi Martins, who scored goals but is an injury-prone designated player who isn’t looking like the best investment considering the money Seattle is spending on him.
The pressure will be on Schmid to improve results in 2014, but he won’t be the only one feeling the heat. Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer will have the task of trying to improve the Sounders this offseason. If he can help revamp the roster, Schmid could regain the support of Sounders fans and potentially make a run at that third MLS Cup title he’s spent the past five years chasing.
But if Hanauer can’t fix the Sounders' roster, Schmid will be gone by this time next year, and Hanauer will be the one to take his place on the hot seat in Seattle.