NCAA limitations on season length and out-of-season practices prompted then-UCLA men's soccer coach Sigi Schmid to coach the men's under-20 national team to find complete satisfaction.
"If I was only a college coach, it would be very difficult for me because the season is shorter and you don't do that much in the offseason," Schmid said. Schmid would soon have the opportunity for fulfillment with just one job--coaching Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy.
On April 22, seven days after the under-20 team was eliminated in the second round of the FIFA world youth championship in Nigeria, Schmid was named to replace the fired Octavio Zambrano. He inherited a team that was 2-3 and had scored only three goals.
After making extensive changes in the way the team was run and in personnel, Schmid has guided the Galaxy to Sunday's MLS Cup '99 against D.C. United, and was named as MLS coach of the year Tuesday. "Tactically, he's made us a much better team," said goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, one of eight former Bruins on the Galaxy. "It's been a great change for us."
Schmid made practices shorter, but demanded increased intensity. He also sought to bring fun back. "There wasn't much laughter when I first came in," Schmid said. "In my first two weeks, one of the dilemmas I was going through was [wondering if] this is the way it is supposed to be in professional soccer. Maybe it is a job and everybody's going to approach it that way. I came to the conclusion that's wrong. It's got to be fun and we have to bring that back into it."
The Galaxy lost Schmid's first five games, but then began a four-game winning streak, including 2-1 victories over defending champion Chicago and D.C. United.
The victory over the Fire was an early indication of how Schmid changed the team, according to defender Greg Vanney, another former UCLA Bruin. Los Angeles had been swept of the 1998 playoffs by Chicago, 2-0, and also lost to it, 1-0, in Zambrano's final game.
"We came out with a game plan," Vanney said. "He put us all on the same page and gave each of us a role. We won and didn't win just by sneaking by, but by controlling the game, taking away their strengths and going at them offensively."
Schmid also altered the roster, releasing three players, signing two, and making two trades, including acquiring Costa Rican national team midfielder Roy Myers, who scored four goals and had six assists in 17 games.
Los Angeles won 11 of its final 16 regular season games and the Western Conference championship for the second consecutive season, and third time in its four-year history.
The Galaxy relied on a defense that allowed an MLS-record low 29 goals in 32 games. Hartman was named goalkeeper of the year after a record-low 0.91 goals against average. Robin Fraser was named defender of the year.
Los Angeles' offensive production fell from an MLS-record 85 goals in 1998 to 49, fifth in the 12-team league. Carlos Hermosillo and Cobi Jones shared the team lead with eight goals.
Playmaking midfielder Mauricio Cienfuego's 17 assists tied him for second in the league with United's Marco Etcheverry, one behind Steve Ralston of Tampa Bay.
Schmid, 46, spent nearly his entire adult life at UCLA before joining the Galaxy. He was a four-year starting midfielder for the Bruins from 1972 to '75, and their assistant coach in 1977 and 1979. Schmid became head coach in 1980, winning NCAA championships in 1985, 1990 and 1997. His .810 winning percentage is the fifth-best all-time among Division I men's coaches.
Said Schmid: "The best way to explain why I left [UCLA] is from what an old Irish friend told me, 'Sigi, if one doesn't accept the challenges of life, one will forever be bored.' "