Steve Carrillo

COMMENTARY: Schmid’s impact on the game cannot be underestimated

CARSON, Calif. – Sigi Schmid, bigger than life figuratively and literally, is gone.

The former Galaxy coach and the winningest coach in MLS history, passed away on Christmas from unknown causes. He was 65.

“Our family is deeply saddened by his passing and is taking this time to grieve the loss of a tremendous husband, father, leader, and mentor,” a statement from his family said. “We also recognize how much Sigi meant to so many people across the U.S. Soccer landscape and around the world at different levels of the game.

“That community meant a great deal to him as well, and for that reason it was important to us that we share the news of his passing. While we mourn his loss, we appreciate privacy during this challenging time and will not be issuing further statements.”

Schmid was born in Germany in 1953 and came to the United States, where he attended Bishop Montgomery High School in Torrance before playing soccer at UCLA from 1972-1975. He went on to coach the Bruins from 1980-1999 and became a staple of soccer in and around Southern California.

He joined the Galaxy in 1999 and coached the team to its first MLS Cup in 2002. He moved on to coach the Columbus Crew and led them to their one and only title in 2008. He’s also the holder of multiple Supporters Shields, symbolic of the best record in Major League Soccer, and five U.S. Open Cups. 

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Schmid rejoined the Galaxy in the summer of 2017, when he took over for fired coach Curt Onalfo. He eventually was dismissed in September after wrestling control of player-personnel from then vice president of soccer operations Pete Vagenas, but he failed to get the Galaxy to the MLS Cup playoffs.

He was a coach who loved the game, loved to talk about it and loved to teach it, even if his foul-mouthed training sessions might have left an observer believing the opposite.

Among his many accomplishments were inductions in the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame as a coach and member of the first AYSO team in 1964.

In fact, if you speak to anyone with a long history of soccer in Southern California, you’ll be regaled with stories of Schmid, who plied his trade on many fields across the region.

My own introduction to Schmid was at the main stadium field shortly after being hired to replace Onalfo, and it was typical of our many interactions.

Schmid, who had just finished up training, was walking off the field and was directed to a tunnel where I was waiting to have a quick word with him before the next day’s game. He approached smiling, reached his hand out to grasp mine and shook it with a commanding amount of authority. He asked who I wrote for and what the story was behind Corner of the Galaxy, and then gave a little smile or nod when we talked.

As he always did on that day and any other day he was candid, truthful, forthcoming and more than willing to go down specific rabbit holes myself and other reporters would sometimes find ourselves in.

He never hesitated to be blunt with his criticism, but that usually came from a place of motivation. Some players never got along with Schmid – he might have favored a different lineup, for example, or had another view on how the game should be played — but they all respected him.

After all, he was a man who knew how to win and left us as the winningest coach in MLS history.

Schmid, who was admitted to the intensive care unit at UCLA Ronald Regan Medical Center on Dec. 10, constantly battled weight issues and had health problems throughout his career.

And in 2018, his condition apparently worsened to the point where it centered around his heart. According to sources, he was not healthy during his second stint in charge of the Galaxy and an MLS travel schedule is brutal for even the world’s fittest athletes.

Schmid wasn’t just a soccer coach. He was part of the fabric of American soccer.

He took the Galaxy to new heights, put the Columbus Crew on his back and turned the Seattle Sounders into the formidable Western Conference foe everyone now recognizes.

Some will argue the game had passed him by in recent years and he was too defensive in his strategies when it mattered, but he still was an immensely talented man who will be remembered for his dedication to a game that was in its infancy when he started playing it in the United States.

His endless pursuit of that sport and what that dedication did for soccer as a whole cannot be measured. But he’s had an undeniable effect on it, even if we might not be able to define what that effect was.

The game in the U.S. is different because Schmid made sure it was. He was someone who lived and breathed the sport. He was competitive and driven, but he also understood how lucky we were to play even an insignificant role in the game.

The bottom line is he wouldn’t have been the same without soccer, and now that he’s passed away, soccer won’t be the same without him.

“The LA Galaxy are deeply saddened by the passing of Sigi Schmid,” the team said in a released statement. “Sigi was a pillar of the Southern California and United States soccer community. He was a pioneer and his influence on the sport of soccer in the United States will long be felt. Sigi was a man of character, a good father, husband, friend and a passionate coach who respected everyone. He will always be a part of our family. We mourn his loss and offer our deepest sympathies to his family during this difficult time.”

Schmid is survived by his wife Valerie and his four children: Erik, Lacey, Kurt and Kyle. In lieu of flowers or other gifts, the family asked to consider a memorial gift to support the men’s soccer program at UCLA, Schmid’s alma mater. Donations in his memory may be directed to the attention of Emily Lerner of UCLA athletics at 310-206-3302 or [email protected]

This story was updated on 12.27.18 to include the MLS Soccer Graphic and the statement from the LA Galaxy.

Larry Morgan contributed to this story