This is a big day for Seattle Sounders FC, which will face MLS-leading Houston at Qwest Field.
But it’s also a big day for coach Sigi Schmid, who will be in northern California attending the wedding of his son, Kurt.
In Schmid’s absence, top assistant Brian Schmetzer will make his MLS coaching debut after leading the USL-1 Sounders for seven seasons.
“I told Brian (that you’ve) got to trust your instincts,” Schmid said Thursday before flying out. “You can’t sit there and say, ‘Oh what would Sigi have done now?’ So what you’re really doing in those 90 minutes is figuring out what you’ll say to your team at halftime, where are the little adjustments you’ve got to make, what are the substitutions you’ve got to make, when do you make them. ... He’s been a head coach before. He’s made those decisions before, and (he will) make decisions that he thinks are right on the day.”
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Schmetzer said his instincts are usually compatible with Schmid’s, and that he seldom finds himself second-guessing his boss during games.
“Him and I are pretty similar, starting with our German heritage, starting with how we like to play,” Schmetzer said. “There haven’t been many of those moments.”
While Schmid didn’t make the news of his departure public until Thursday, Schmetzer said he has known since winter, when the MLS schedule was released.
“It’s been in the back of my mind for a long time,” Schmetzer said. “... We’ve already picked the starting lineup, provided there’s no injuries. And then it’s up to the guys to play. And then Sigi just gave me the confidence to coach what I see, and that’s what I plan to do.”
Schmetzer, 46, has been a head coach or an assistant for 10 years, and he played professionally for 15 seasons. He is a Seattle native, attended Nathan Hale High School and has been associated with the original Sounders of the North American Soccer League, the USL Sounders, the indoor Tacoma Stars and Seattle SeaDogs, and now the MLS Sounders.
His first game as a head coach came under circumstances similar to what he faces today. He filled in for SeaDogs coach Fernando Clavojo – and won.
Schmetzer also won his first game as a full-time head coach with the USL-1 Seattle Sounders. He went on to lead that team to first-division championships in 2005 and 2007, to the U.S. Open Cup semifinal in 2007 and 2008, and he was selected USL-1 coach of the year in 2002.
He was a candidate for the top job when the MLS Sounders were created. After that job went to Schmid, Schmetzer was hired as his top assistant on Dec. 22.
Now about to manage an MLS team for the first time, Schmetzer said he feels much like he does any other week.
“A little more pressure,” he acknowledged. “But certainly (the USL Sounders) had 10,000 people in the stands. We’ve played against MLS teams here in this stadium before, where we’ve had success. So ... nobody needs to keep me up on crutches or anything. It’s not like I’m that nervous.”
Schmetzer maintained that outlook even though he will make his MLS debut against the closest thing the league has to an ongoing dynasty. The Dynamo won the MLS championship in 2006 and 2007. The current team ran to the top of the current standings with an 11-game unbeaten streak, which ended June 28.
Currently six points ahead of Seattle in the Western Division standings, today’s result could increase that lead by 50 percent, or cut it in half.
And that means Schmetzer could be presiding over the Sounders’ biggest game yet this season.
“It’s good,” he said. “It’s exciting. It keeps us young.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808
HOUSTON DYNAMO (9-3-4; 31 pts.) AT SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (6-3-7; 25 pts.), 1 p.m., Qwest Field
TV: KONG 6/16. Radio: 97.3 FM, 1210-AM (Spanish).
Head-to-head: This is the first meeting. The teams meet again July 21 in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals in Tukwila. Seattle visits Houston in a regular-season match Aug. 23.
Team leaders: For Houston – G, 5 Brian Ching; A, 7 Brad Davis; Sh, 30 Kei Kamara; SOG, 17 Kamara. For Seattle – G, 8 Fredy Montero; A, 6 Montero; Sh, 49 Montero; SOG, 18 Montero.
Coach Sigi Schmid scouting report: “I know they’re missing some guys, but there’s a nucleus and there’s a team belief there, and that makes them a very good team. ... When you win championships together, when you’ve been through as many things as they’ve been through, whether it was SuperLiga together or CONCACAF Champions League, there’s a resolve that builds within your team that probably no other team that we’ve played this year has.”
Notes: Assistant coach Brian Schmetzer will manage the Sounders today while Schmid attends the wedding of his son, Kurt. ... Houston has the best record in MLS. Seattle is tied for third, six points behind. ... The Dynamo is expected to be without eight regulars: Wade Barrett, Eddie Robinson and Cam Weaver due to injury; Bobby Boswell and Geoff Cameron due to yellow-card accumulation; and Brian Ching, Andrew Hainault and Stuart Holden due to duty with their national teams. ... Seattle will be without Brad Evans and Tyrone Marshall due to national team duties. Osvaldo Alonso (groin) is questionable. ... Houston goalkeeper Pat Onstad, a native of Vancouver, B.C., leads MLS with a 0.67 goals-against average. ... Houston coach Donimic Kinnear, who will coach the MLS all-stars later this month, played with the USL Sounders. Defender Mike Chabala played at UW, and backup keeper Tally Hall is from Gig Harbor. ... Seattle forward Nate Jaqua played with Houston over the two previous seasons before being made available in the expansion draft. ... The game is sold out.
Next: The Sounders will host a friendly against Chelsea of the English Premier League at noon July 18. They resume league play July 25 vs. Chicago at Qwest Field.
Don Ruiz, The News Tribune