If the Seattle Sounders built personalized monoliths honoring their most loyal, respected and successful contributing soccer figures, Brian Schmetzer would surely have a giant presence.
Schmetzer grew up in Seattle. He attended the franchise’s first North American Soccer League match in 1974 at Memorial Stadium. He signed his first professional contract with the Sounders six years later.
He is one of three coaches within the organization to ever win a league championship (United Soccer League-1 in 2005 and 2007). And he and Alan Hinton are the only coaches in Sounders history to lead the club to a championship game in two different leagues.
Schmetzer, 54, now has the Sounders on the cusp of the city’s greatest soccer achievement as Seattle meets Toronto FC in the 21st MLS Cup on Saturday night.
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“He has worked hard and paid his dues,” Hinton said. “He is now in the prime of his life. He’s a happy man.”
‘NOT TOO MANY CHOICES’ BUT SOCCER
Schmetzer isn’t certain how his love affair with Seattle soccer formed.
His father, Walter, played professionally in Germany before immigrating to the United States, eventually opening a sporting goods store in northeast Seattle.
Walter Schmetzer was also the first A-licensed coach in Washington, and founded the highly successful Lake City Hawks youth team, leading them to multiple state championships.
“With dad coming from Germany where that is the national sport, I am not sure if we had too many choices or options,” said Brian Schmetzer, the oldest of three brothers.
It was at John Rogers Elementary School where many of the boys from that Lake City squad met daily.
“The guys I hung around with, we were all close in the neighborhood,” Schmetzer said. “After school, eight of us would go down to the school and kick the soccer ball around.
“The draw to soccer was those friendships and schoolmates.”
There is a photo Schmetzer collected from his upbringing that he still has today from an old “KiCK!” magazine. It is of former English soccer star Geoff Hurst, who in 1966 became the only man to record a hat trick in a World Cup finaland would later became a Sounder.
“They were talking about Seattle Sounders soccer camps,” Schmetzer said. “And here is this photo of Hurst — no shirt, shorts and just his socks rolled down, and he is out coaching a bunch of little Seattle kids.
“I am like going to myself, ‘That is like Messi teaching kids at a day camp ... or (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic.’ ”
In 1976, Schmetzer, then 13, was one of more than 58,000 people to attend the first event ever held in the Kingdome. It was a NASL exhibition match between the Sounders and New York Cosmos, who had Brazilian legend Pele.
By then, it was in his blood.
FROM AVID FOLLOWER TO SOUNDERS PLAYER
Hinton and longtime Sounders assistant coach Bobby Howe first scouted Schmetzer at a Lake City practice.
“It was a Sunday morning, and he smacked the ball into the upper ‘V’ from 25 yards out,” Hinton said. “It took me about 15 minutes to make up my mind that he could play.”
The Sounders ended up signing three players from the team in 1980, including Fred Hamel and Schmetzer, who was 17 and fresh out of Nathan Hale High School.
“I sat next to Stevie Buttle, who was a really good guy,” Schmetzer said. “He was influential on me, and he was my first idol. I know that was my first ‘Wow’ moment after I signed.”
As a rookie, Schmetzer played with the Sounders’ reserves, then was a regular for the team in the midfield during the 1980-81 NASL indoor season.
Until 1983, he was an oft-injured, seldom-used reserve during the NASL outdoor season, even though he had carved out a reputation for being a calculated, tough-nosed tackler.
“He had a great left foot and worked his socks off,” said Neil Megson, a Sounders teammate of Schmetzer in 1983 who eventually coached the club to an A-League title 13 years later.
“I also remember he had a really, really bad shoulder, and it was always popping out (of socket). He learned how to put it back in himself by laying over a bar and smashing down on it.”
Schmetzer finally became a regular during the 1983 season. His only goal as a Sounder came in a 2-0 victory at the San Diego Sockers.
After the season, the franchise folded. Schmetzer moved to Tulsa the next season, after which the NASL went out of business as well.
LEARNING A NEW SKILL: COACHING
For the better part of the next decade, Schmetzer bounced around different leagues. He became a stalwart with the Sockers, winning three Major Indoor Soccer League titles before joining the Tacoma Stars as a player-coach in 1988.
During his 16-year career, he played in 415 matches, recording 67 goals and 75 assists.
Once retired, Schmetzer got into the construction business. He also served as the technical director for Emerald City FC while playing on an adult team in the Greater Seattle Soccer League.
One of his adult-league teammates was an aspiring entrepreneur named Adrian Hanauer, a managing partner of the USL Sounders.
Hanauer was a longtime fan of the franchise from the NASL days, and remembered Schmetzer as a player. He was also looking for a new coach for the minor-league Sounders team in 2002. It was a perfect match.
“He is great with people,” Hanauer said. “He is honest. He’s clear in his communication. Fans love, and more importantly, respect him.”
Defender Brad Evans was with the U.S. under-20 national team in 2005 that came up to play the Sounders at the University of Washington, and recalled what he saw from the opposing coach.
“I remember a guy on the sideline, screaming and yelling ... and fiery,” Evans said. “Nothing has changed now, really. He is still in your ear and in the back of your mind saying, ‘Faster, quicker.’ That’s good. It keeps guys on their toes.”
Schmetzer spent seven seasons guiding the Sounders’ USL franchise, leading them to the playoffs six times. They had the best record in the league twice and won titles in 2005 and 2007.
When Major League Soccer approved Seattle as one of its expansion franchises for the 2009 season, Schmetzer joined Sigi Schmid as his top assistant.
LEADING MAGICAL COMEBACK IN 2016
Together, Schmid and Schmetzer had many highlights with the Sounders in MLS: Four U.S. Open Cup titles (2009-11, 2014), a Supporters’ Shield (best record in MLS, 2012) and seven consecutive trips to the playoffs.
The one thing the Schmid-led Sounders couldn’t do was reach an MLS Cup.
After Seattle started this season at 6-12-2 and was well out of playoff contention, the club fired Schmid on July 26, and appointed Schmetzer as the interim coach.
“I said, ‘Look, we’ve averaged one point a game through 20 games,’ ” Sounders second-year general manger Garth Lagerway recalled. “You’ve got three months. All you’ve got to do is double the output, and the job is yours.”
Lagerway, who came over from highly successful Real Salt Lake in January 2015, wasn’t tied to any coach from earlier Sounders regimes. He easily could have begun a coaching search while Schmetzer finished out what many thought would be a lost season.
On the other hand, there was something reassuring about Schmetzer’s 36-year history with the club. And over the first 19 months on the job, Lagerway had consulted Schmetzer on important topics, both on and off the field.
“He’s been helpful to me along the way,” Lagerway said.
Even as the Sounders were making their midsummer comeback, Lagerway could tell the interim tag was weighing heavily on Schmetzer and the staff.
“In the sense he would come in to check in and ask, ‘How am I doing?’ every once in a while,” Lagerway said. “Sure, I have no doubt he was stressed. I was, too.”
How did things change for the team under Schmetzer?
Not much, players admit.
“Brian didn’t come in and bring a whole new staff in. He didn’t come in and change our training regimen, the timing of training, the training staff. He didn’t change the system,” Evans said “It was a continuation of what everyone thought, from top to bottom, was a good team. But we just needed a change.
“He brought something — a little bit of belief in the guys that everything was about the players. Whether or not Sigi felt that way also, maybe he didn’t portray it in a way Brian did. There wasn’t too much that changed. It was just a different guy at the helm that just took the reins.”
Added longtime defender Zach Scott: “He really drove the players to make the change.”
Seattle went 8-2-4 to close out the regular season to nab a Western Conference postseason berth, and it swept aside Sporting Kansas City (knockout round), FC Dallas (conference semifinals) and the Colorado Rapids (conference finals) for the right to face Toronto FC in the MLS Cup.
On Nov. 2, the club announced Schmetzer as its new permanent coach.
“I started off as a player here when I was 17 years old,” Schmetzer said. “And if I could script a life for myself, I don’t know if along the way I would have gone through the chapters how they played out. But certainly coaching the team you first started with ... that is a big deal.”