Sigi Schmid: Greatest coach in US Open Cup history, dies at 65

Posted by | January 7, 2019
Sigi Schmid of the Seattle Sounders FC is showered with champagne during his post-game preference after winning the 2010 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup championship.

Sigi Schmid of the Seattle Sounders FC is showered with champagne during his post-game preference after winning the 2010 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup championship.

There are very few boxes that Sigi Schmid could not check off in his coaching career.

NCAA championship? Check.

Major League Soccer championship? Check.

Major League Soccer Supporters’ Shield? Check.

US Open Cup championship? Check.

CONCACAF championship? Check.

Schmid passed away on Christmas Day, leaving behind a legacy not only of success on the field, but as an elite level scout who had an exceptional eye for talent.

Since his passing, so much attention has been paid — and rightfully so — to his accomplishments as a coach. In his career at the professional level, he won 11 US Soccer Majors (2 MLS Cups, 3 MLS Supporters’ Shields, 5 US Open Cups and 1 CONCACAF Champions Cup), which is more than any coach during the Modern Era (1995-present).

One aspect of his lengthy resume that has been overlooked are the five US Open Cup titles that he won. He led the Los Angeles Galaxy to the club’s first US Open Cup title in 2001, which marked the first time a Southern California team had lifted the trophy in 20 years. Then, he helped Seattle Sounders FC make history by winning three straight championships from 2009-2011 before leading them to a fourth title in 2014.

When the Los Angeles Galaxy won the 2001 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, they were the first Southern California team to lift the trophy since 1981 (Maccabee AC). Photo: LA Galaxy

When the Los Angeles Galaxy won the 2001 Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, they were the first Southern California team to lift the trophy since 1981 (Maccabee AC). Photo: LA Galaxy

Not only does no coach in the Modern Era have more than three US Open Cup championships, but research has found that no coach in the 105-year history of the tournament with more titles than Sigi Schmid. In fact, Schmid is just one of two coaches in history to win US Open Cup titles with two different clubs and he is one of only three coaches to lead a team to three straight US Open Cups.

When Schmid led the Seattle Sounders to his fifth title in 2014 US Open Cup championship, he broke a tie with legendary coach Sam Mark for the all-time record. Mark led the Fall River Marksmen to four titles: one in 1927 and then three straight from 1930-1932 (in 1932, the team had moved to New Bedford, Mass. and changed their name to the Whalers).

In the Modern Era, Schmid holds the record for most US Open Cup games coached (53), and most wins (35). Even with that many games under his belt, Schmid ranks sixth in the Modern Era in advance percentage (.755) and eighth in win percentage (.660). He also is tied for the most draws (6), but in those six draws, his teams won five of the resulting penalty kick shootouts – another Modern Era record for a coach. His only loss in a PK shootout was a disappointing 2012 final decision Sporting Kansas City, which denied Seattle the first-ever “four peat” in tournament history.

After a successful playing career at UCLA, Schmid started his coaching career as an assistant at his alma mater in 1977. Although he took over as head coach in 1980, the position was not full-time at UCLA until the 1984 season. He would lead the Bruins to the College Cup in 1985, 1990, and 1997, before moving to the professional ranks in 1999.

US Open Cup championships (1914-present)
Sigi Schmid LA Galaxy (2001)
Seattle Sounders FC (2009-11, 2014)
Sam Mark Fall River Marksmen (1927, 1930-31), New Bedford Whalers (1932) 4
Azriel Arnaldes Maccabee AC (1975, 1978, 1981) 3
Tate Brady Scullin Steel (1922)
Stix, Baer & Fuller (1933-34)
Alkis Panagoulias (NY) Greek American SC (1967-69) 3
Mimis Papaioannou NY Pancyprian Freedoms (1980, 1982-83) 3
Peter Vermes Sporting KC (2012, 2015, 2017) 3

When Schmid took over the LA Galaxy that year, the team was 3-3 and stumbling after winning the Supporters’ Shield the year before. Schmid then guided them back to the top of the Western Conference and to the 1999 MLS Cup Final, earning the Galaxy a berth into the 2000 CONCACAF Champions Cup (now known as the CONCACAF Champions League). That competition would be the first of many professional cup victories for Schmid, as the Galaxy defeated Olimpia of Honduras, 3-2, to lift the trophy. No MLS team has won the competition since.

The 2001 season brought Schmid his first US Open Cup when the Galaxy beat the New England Revolution 2-1 in extra time. The next year he bagged a double, with the Galaxy clinching the Supporters’ Shield, then dispatching the Revs again (on the road) in the MLS Cup Final. Despite these accomplishments, and having never missed the playoffs with him in charge, the Galaxy let Schmid go in the middle of the 2004 season.

Schmid then took the reins of the United States Under-20 men’s team, a team he had previous coached to the knockout stage of the Under-20 World Cup. In 2006, he moved back to MLS to take over the Columbus Crew. The Crew were facing a massive rebuild, so while Sigi missed the playoffs his first two years at the helm, their patience with the coach paid off in a big way in 2008. That year, Columbus took the Supporters’ Shield, then completed the double with a 3-1 triumph over the New York Red Bulls in the MLS Cup Final. Coming off the club’s most successful season, Schmid decided to return to the West Coast to take on the challenge of managing an expansion team.

Schmid took over the reins of Seattle Sounders FC in impressive fashion, not only leading them to the playoffs, but guiding the Sounders to the US Open Cup by beating D.C. United 2-1. This put Seattle in rare company, being the first expansion team since the 1998 Chicago Fire to win the Cup. However, the coach was far from done with rewriting history. After Open Cup wins in 2010 (2-1 over his former club, the Columbus Crew) and 2011 (2-0 over the Chicago Fire), Seattle became the first Modern Era team to win back-to-back Cups, and became only the third team in competition history to three-peat.

After falling short of a “four-peat” in that 2012 penalty kick shootout, Schmid would lead the Sounders to another title in 2014, this time with a 3-1 extra time win over the Philadelphia Union. This put the Sounders into a tie for the most cups in the Modern Era with four, tying the Chicago Fire (Sporting Kansas City has since joined the four cup club). Although the Sounders made the playoffs every year and had continued success in the Cup, a rough start to the 2016 season led to both Seattle and their coach to part ways.

The Galaxy brought Schmid back in the middle of a dismal 2017 season, with an eye on overhauling the roster. After landing Zlatan Ibrahimovich, LA was in position to make the playoffs again before the coach resigned due to health reasons. The team missed the playoffs in the last game of the season, only the fourth time a team led by Sigi missed the playoffs in 19 seasons (including partial seasons).

Schmid was well known in US soccer circles for his ability to spot and develop talent. Ten of the players he coached at UCLA have played on the US Men’s National Team at a World Cup between 1990 and 2006, and three of them – Brad Friedel, Cobi Jones, and Joe-Max Moore – played in three World Cups.

Schmid was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2015, and rightfully so. His 240 regular season and 266 total victories are the most in MLS history. He also owns the most trophies by any MLS coach, with 11, as well as the aforementioned most Open Cup trophies. He also owned a college coaching record of 322 wins against 63 losses and 33 draws, and missed the NCAA playoffs only twice in 19 seasons at UCLA on top of his three College Cup wins. Sigi was a legendary force in American soccer, and a large measuring stick for future coaches to be held up to.

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