Schmid proving winning never gets old
By Pat Martin, MLS Editor
Columbus, OH (Sports Network) -
Driving home after earning a 1-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo for his 100th Major League Soccer triumph on Saturday, Columbus Crew coach Sigi Schmid had a moment to reflect on what the achievement meant to him.
"It's a great feeling, it means I've been around for a little while. It means I'm old," the 55-year-old German born coach said. "It also means that I've had some good players and some good teams. It's definitely special to reach a milestone like that."
That's an understatement, considering only one other man has accomplished the feat - current U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley.
What also makes the occasion special is that happened in Columbus, where Schmid and the Crew have struggled recently. After going 17-26-19 without a playoff berth the past two seasons, Schmid and the team knew the heat was on heading into '08.
"We never talked about it as being pressure," Schmid said. "We talked as a team that it's time to put up or shut up."
Columbus put up, going 4-1-0 in its first five games to take the top spot in MLS after week five. The Crew have also won three consecutive league fixtures, all against teams that were at the top of MLS a year ago - defending Western Conference regular season champions Chivas USA, defending Supporters' Shield winners D.C. United, and back-to-back defending MLS Cup champions Houston Dynamo.
Sigi Schmid is one of only two coaches with at least 100 MLS wins.
"I think we've been able to tap into some really good effort and some really good desire in terms of our team play," Schmid said.
And that comes down to coaching, and the players' desire to play for one of the most decorated coaches in American soccer history. If the team had stumbled out of the blocks like it did a year ago, there is a good chance Schmid would have been sent packing.
Conceded Schmid, "I'm a realistic person. I know that (management) would have to make a coaching change if we didn't start off well."
LEADER OF MEN
While Schmid is in just his third season with the Crew, he has been coaching in MLS since '99, when he won coach of the year as the Los Angeles Galaxy boss. In his six years in L.A., Schmid led the Galaxy to the 2000 CONCACAF Champions' Cup title, an '01 U.S. Open Cup title, an '02 MLS Cup title, and an '02 Supporters' Shield. His 16 playoff victories - all earned in L.A. - are also tops all-time.
Before joining the coaching ranks of MLS, Schmid established a 19-year tenure as UCLA's coach, where he also enjoyed a four-year playing career and is a member of the school's Hall of Fame. He led that program to over 300 wins, 16 consecutive postseason appearances and three NCAA championships as a coach.
Schmid has also been involved with the U.S. national team in several different capacities, including head coach of the '98-'99 U-20 squad and assistant coach of the '94 World Cup team.
FINDING A WAY TO WIN
Last season the Crew had one win through their first 10 league fixtures, going 1-4-5.
This year, the team is finding a way to win tight games, with three of their four victories coming by one goal.
"We said it last year when I think we won one game in our first 10 or 11," Crew captain and right back Frankie Hejduk said after beating D.C. on April 17. "We wanted to get off to a quick start this year, it was one of our goals as a team. It's good that we've done that. Those points matter at the end of the season. In this league it's peaks and valleys and right now we are slowly rising up. I'm sure at some point in the season it's going to drop off a little , and if you can get these wins in the beginning it really helps out later in the season."
"There were a lot of times last year where we thought we played all right and we didn't come away with anything," Schmid said. "This year we are finding a way to get it done. It feels great to have this turn around because this is a team that we've been building."
LIKE A GLOVE
The signing of Guillermo Barros Schelotto in April of last season has obviously added a lot to Columbus, but almost as important was the trade that brought Alejandro Moreno over from the Dynamo for Joseph Ngwenya.
"He has fit perfectly with the role I envisioned him in," Schmid said.
Moreno, who played for Schmid in L.A. in '02 before being acquired last season, has four goals in five games this season.
"I may have been the only one, but I felt that Alejandro, given a full season and given a situation where he was a lead striker, I felt confident that he could get 10-15 goals," Schmid said. "I think a lot of people thought I was nuts in saying that, but right now he has four goals in five games and he could have had a couple more. From that standpoint he's doing what we need him to do."
The confidence Schmid has shown in Moreno is reflected right back by the player, especially after he scored the game-winning goal in the historic victory on Saturday.
"Well, it's important because - and I think Sigi will tell you - we have a pretty good relationship and we have a lot of mutual respect for what we do, and to be able to help in his 100th win is special for me," Moreno said.
PIECE BY PIECE
Other elements that have been added this season are paying dividends as well. The group is highlighted by starting midfielders Brian Carroll and Adam Moffat.
"Brian Carroll and Adam Moffat have now played five games together in the midfield," Schmid said. "They are starting to understand each other and know each other."
When added to last season's key acquisitions, the Crew are taking shape.
"Alejandro's understanding with (Schelotto) up top opens up the flanks for (Robbie) Rogers and (Eddie) Gaven, and that makes us a more dangerous team," Schmid said. "As that whole group starts to grow together, that will make our understanding that much better."
DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS
Don't forget about the team's revamped and improving defense. That starts with goalkeeper Will Hesmer, who has two clean sheets and a number of high quality saves among the 20 he's already made this season. Without his timely saves in clutch situations, the Crew probably wouldn't have three one-goal wins in five league contests.
The back line is also starting to find its form with veterans Hejduk and the newly acquired Gino Pedula flanking Chad Marshall and Danny O'Rourke.
"They are growing together, they are getting to know each other," Schmid said. "There are still things we want them to do better but I think Danny O'Rourke is getting better each game back there [after switching from midfielder to center back in the offseason]. His speed definitely helps us back there, that's one of the reasons he's there. And Chad Marshall does a good job stepping up and blocking a lot of shots, winning a lot of headers.
"Frankie is Frankie. He gives you everything he has every time he plays."
And with the hot start and the confidence gained by it, every time the Crew play, they believe they can win, which never gets old - even if Schmid thinks he is.