It was a mix of emotions for Columbus Crew SC fans on hand during Saturday’s match with Orlando City SC. The induction of former Crew head coach Sigi Schmid into the team’s Circle of Honor is a prestigious distinction. Being one of only three men in the clubs 25-year history to be bestowed such an award, speaks to the type of impact Schmid made on the franchise. However, it is bittersweet that the tribute comes posthumously for the man who passed away last Christmas.
While his time as the head man for Columbus was relatively short, spanning a scant three seasons, the impact will be forever etched in Crew fandom. And it wasn’t only because he guided the Black & Gold to their first and only MLS Cup Championship, but also because he made an everlasting dent in the lives of everyone he encountered, from players, fellow coaches, fans, Sigi was well-loved and highly respected.
An Accomplished Career
You would be hard-pressed to find a more accomplished coach within the United States soccer-sphere than Sigi Schmid. Schmid began a successful 19-year run as head coach of the UCLA Bruins Men’s Soccer program in 1980. During that time, he led the Bruins to three national titles (1985, 1990, 1997). He was named national coach of the year following the 1997 championship. He accumulated a record of 322-63-33 in the college ranks.
Schmid went on to become Major League Soccer’s all-time winningest coach. In addition to Columbus, he successfully manned the sidelines for LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders. During his two decades as a coach in MLS, Schmid earned two MLS Cup championships, five U.S. Open Cup titles and was named MLS Coach of the Year twice. Far too often, a term like “legend” is haphazardly thrown around, but in Schmid’s case, it was well earned. His résumé was impeccable. Given his astonishing success, I had always hoped and rooted for Schmid to be granted the United States Men’s National Team head coaching gig. He was tactically brilliant, detail oriented and highly regarded. My wonderment as to why it never seemed he garnered serious consideration for the position may never cease.
My Minuscule Meeting
I did not have the privilege of personally knowing Schmid, having only met the gentleman for one brief moment. But for me, it was a moment I will never forget. The United Soccer Coaches convention in 2017 took place in Los Angeles. With a myriad of events throughout the five days, the schedule was daunting, but a chalk talk with Bruce Arena and Schmid was on the docket. My attendance for such an occurrence was non-negotiable. Everything else in my world was thrown to the wayside.
As an aspiring coach, I had studied Schmid for a decade and a half. I had rooted for him at every stop in his MLS career. Arena and Schmid have been two pillars within my “Coaching Holy Trinity” (the other being Caleb Porter) for years, so seeing this spectacle on the agenda, I became the proverbial kid in a candy store with his mom’s credit card. Life couldn’t have been better!
I’ll skip all of the minutiae of the talk, other than to mention that Arena and Schmid both gracefully and astutely answered dozens of questions, from both the moderator and audience members alike. Even my question about the U.S.’s chances of hosting the World Cup in the near future. Afterwards, I had the opportunity to shake Schmid’s hand and thanked him for his time. That was it! My encounter was minuscule and Schmid probably forgot about it before he even left the venue. But to me, it was a moment I will forever cherish.
Schmid Left a Long-lasting Impression
It was only four months prior to this passing that he was on the sidelines guiding the Galaxy for a second time. So it is unfathomable to think that his physical being had left us. However, a man as talented, respected and adored as Schmid, will live on in all of our spirits for a lifetime. The positive impact he made on so many people will carry itself forward to the next generation of players, coaches and fans. In his postgame press conference, current Crew head coach Caleb Porter expressed his thoughts on the induction. “The guy is a legend,” he said. “Obviously, everyone knows his championships, his wins, winning percentage. But I think the biggest thing was what he did for the growth of the game. The little stuff, mentoring coaches like myself. Just a class act and gentleman and obviously an inspiration to a lot of people.”
Despite the two’s coaching rivalry in the Pacific Northwest, when Porter led the Portland Timbers from 2013-2017, Porter’s words express what nearly every coaching colleague could utter about Schmid.
Sigi Schmid left a legacy at every stop during his long coaching journey. He elevated players, he inspired fellow coaches and he enhanced the sport of soccer. Simply put, he made the world around him a better place. In the grand scheme of things, I would say that is the lasting impact we could all hope for in life. An induction into the Crew Circle of Honor was well earned, no matter how short of a time we had to experience his greatness in Columbus.