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A tribute to Sigi Schmid

Photo: Seattle Sounders FC

Last week the soccer world lost Sigi Schmid, the German-American coach who did so much to enhance Major League Soccer and the sport in general across the United States. I’m not a great historian, so I won’t dwell on Schmid’s less measurable contributions. I want to pay tribute to his acumen in ways I can quantify.

Readers of this blog will already be familiar with the NYA method for rating coaching skill, i.e. whether a coach can make the whole of his squad perform better than the sum of its parts. By this metric, the quality of coaching in MLS has left something to be desired throughout the league’s recent history. Few coaches have consistently made a positive impact on their players in a way that came through in my numbers. Schmid was an exception.

Through five complete seasons for which we have data, with one flag available for improving attacking and one for defending, Schmid garnered six flags out of ten for a success rate of 60%. Only one coach who has worked in MLS has had at least five seasons with a success rate of 60% or higher: Peter Vermes. So by this metric, Schmid may be the second-most-skillful coach in recent MLS history.

He often excelled in the all-important metric of value for money, too. In 2008 his Columbus Crew won the double of the Supporters Shield (top of the table) and MLS Cup (playoff champion) with the league’s second-lowest payroll. Then he won three straight US Open Cups (like the FA Cup) with Seattle from 2009 to 2011, always with at least four clubs spending more. And 2009 was the club’s inaugural season, when Schmid brought in a young midfielder named Osvaldo Alonso at the league-minimum salary of $65,000.

Seattle won the Supporters Shield in 2014 with a payroll just under $10 million – more than most clubs, to be sure, but less than two thirds of what Toronto paid its players that season. By then, Alonso was making $400,000. In 2018, at age 32 and long after the frugal Schmid had departed, Alonso earned more than $1.1 million and was commonly acknowledged as one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS history.

In fact, Schmid’s trophy haul was remarkable for a coach who didn’t always appear to have the league’s best squad: three Supporters Shields, two MLS Cups, two US Open Cups, and a CONCACAF Champions Cup (like the Champions League or Copa Libertadores). How many coaches worldwide could claim a similar record of success for their work in a single league? Only the best – and Schmid was one of them.