SEATTLE — Former Sounders coach Alan Hinton really wants his old team to win the MLS Cup, but he has one concern if it does.
Hinton already has put a title in front of current Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer’s name, but fears it might not do him justice.
When the Sounders shocked Toronto FC to win their first MLS championship three years ago, Hinton told his former player that, from then on, he was “Sir Brian Schmetzer.”
“But if they win this time I don’t know what I’ll call him,” Hinton said. “Maybe he’s graduating to king.”
Should Seattle beat Toronto again in two Sundays, Schmetzer will have earned his royal moniker. In three and a half seasons at the Sounders’ helm, he has made four playoff appearances, won one league championship, and is about to coach in his third MLS Cup.
Major League Soccer is supposed to be about parity, but Schmetzer has turned it into a party. And if we’re talking about the pantheon of great Seattle coaches — from Don James to Lenny Wilkens to Pete Carroll — isn’t it time to grant him admission?
The way Schmetzer has guided the Sounders to success over the years is straight out of a Stallone script. They take lump after lump for the first half of the season, then surge to glory while still black and blue.
When Schmetzer took over for Sigi Schmid in 2016, the Sounders had won just six of their 20 games. Over their next 14, they won eight, tied four and lost two before going on to win the MLS Cup sans Clint Dempsey. The next year, they won just two of their first 11 games before returning to the MLS Cup. Last year, they lost Jordan Morris and won just four of their first 18 games before catapulting back into the playoffs. And this year, they watched Chad Marshall retire, Roman Torres get suspended and Will Bruin and others get hurt — yet still made it to the semifinals before upsetting LAFC, the best regular-season team ever in MLS.
No doubt that midseason acquisitions such as Nicolas Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz have helped spawn turnarounds over the years. But it was Schmetzer who integrated them into his system seamlessly.
“He’s got a really good connection with the players,” said former Sounders and U.S. National Team goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, who added that Seattle should reward Schmetzer with a lucrative long-term contract. “You can have whatever plan you want and tell them to do the X’s and O’s, but the bottom line is if the players don’t agree with any of that, then it’s not going to work. The reason Brian is where he’s at is because he gets the most out of his players.”
That trust was on display Tuesday against LAFC, which had the best regular-season record in MLS history and had the Sounders as near 6-to-1 underdogs. LAFC also had 33 more regular-season goals than the Sounders did, and 22 more than any other team in MLS.
But instead of forgoing the attack and packing it in defensively, the Sounders essentially played their “normal” brand of soccer and executed to perfection. Their 3-1 win was probably the most impressive in the team’s 11-year MLS history.
Of course, Schmetzer’s history with this organization predates MLS. Hinton actually drafted him to the Sounders in 1980, and whether it’s been as a player or coach, Schmetzer has spent the better part of 40 years with the franchise in some capacity.
“When you talk about Brian, you have to talk about the pride he has for the club and the club mentality,” said former Sounders and U.S. National Team goalkeeper Kasey Keller. “When you look at how much he has invested in this club, the length of time, coaching in the lower divisions, being with them from the beginning of the MLS run — he has as much pride as anyone.”
Hinton took that one step further: “What he’s accomplished — it’s probably the greatest individual soccer story ever in Seattle.”
There is, of course, more to accomplish. A week from Sunday, the Sounders will host Toronto FC in both clubs’ attempt to win their second MLS Cup.
Schmetzer will have his team ready to give Seattle another championship. And if that happens, Hinton will be ready to give Schmetzer another title.