As his father tells the story, Walter Schmetzer beckoned Alan Hinton to watch his vaunted Lake City Hawks to watch a player of promise. But it wasn’t his son.
Still, as is often the case when coaches scout young (in this case U18) players, the original target can be eclipsed by another aspirant sharing the field, and that’s how on spring day in 1980 Brian Schmetzer’s long association with Puget Sound professional soccer began.
Over 36 years since, Schmetzer has been associated as a player or coach with virtually every entity where one could draw a paycheck. Of the 500-some players who’ve worn a Seattle or Tacoma shirt over the years, Brian’s probably watched, played beside or coached an overwhelming majority of them.
And now comes his biggest opportunity, that of righting the Sounders FC ship and, by doing so, proving that the interim tag should be removed in favor of making him the club’s residing head coach for the foreseeable future.
A Homegrown Sounder
It’s not surprising that then-Sounders boss Hinton and his assistant, Bobby Howe, accepted the invitation to see this particular youth side. The Hawks were a special team, claiming seven state titles and then on the verge of producing a handful of pros.
First among them were Brian and Fred Hamel, both signed by Hinton in June 1980. Schmetzer had just graduated from Nathan Hale High School and he put a pen to contract at the tender age of 17 years, 303 days. Less than two weeks later the recent Schmetzer scored a brace for the Sounders reserves.
He would essentially play with that squad and serve an apprenticeship under the likes of Englishmen Stevie Buttle and Alan Hudson, who were instrumental in Seattle’s record-breaking 25-7 campaign that summer. Schmetzer’s integration into the first team began in earnest with the following winter’s indoor season, and he did excel with his tight control in the game’s 6v6 version.
It was not easy breaking into the Sounders lineup. Between injuries and the entrenched, experienced veterans ahead of him, opportunities were limited until 1983. That season, in what turned out to be the NASL club’s last, Schmetzer earned the opening night start on the left and played every league match the rest of the way.
For much of the following seven years Schmetzer joined most other U.S.-based pros in taking their career indoors. The MISL provided steady work while the NASL folded and 11v11 pro games all but vanished. Brian and his younger twin brothers, Andy and Walter, Jr., actually comprised three-quarters of the starting midfield for FC Seattle in 1985.
From 1984-88 Schmetzer was part of a very strong San Diego Sockers side for four seasons, winning three titles before returning to the Northwest with the Tacoma Stars in 1988, where he was reunited with Hinton and his brothers. He also began forming a relationship with Stars icon Preki that extended to St. Louis when both moved there in 1990. That was Schmetzer’s last association with a team outside his hometown.
When Hinton brought back the Sounders brand with an A-League club in 1994, Schmetzer was among the many past Sounders involved. His livelihood was now a construction business and he was now only a part-time player. However, the transition from playing to coaching was about to begin.
Indoor soccer returned to the area with the SeaDogs in 1995, and the coach tapped for that team was one of Schmetzer’s former San Diego and St. Louis teammates (now Dallas sporting director) Fernando Clavijo. In the first season Schmetzer played sparingly due to a knee injury. His pro playing days were done. But for the next two seasons he served Clavijo’s assistant, with the SeaDogs winning the CISL title in 1997. A few weeks later, though, they found themselves without a league when several clubs jumped to a new circuit.
A Sounders Reunion
Schmetzer remained relevant after the SeaDogs’ demise. He served as technical director for Emerald City FC and played on an amateur team. One of his teammates: Adrian Hanauer. Shortly after Hanauer, a part owner, became Sounders GM, Schmetzer was named head coach before the 2002 season. One of his priorities was to develop young talent for the next level.
While the Sounders of 1980 will long be remembered for their winning as well as their panache, the ’02 team, Schmetzer’s first, actually surpassed it in terms of getting results. Seattle won 23 and drew four–scoring 71 goals–in 28 starts to run away with the Commissioner’s Shield. They did so with largely a homegrown team, including rookie and Gonzaga grad Zach Scott. Two others who developed and soon became MLS regulars were Brian Ching (on loan from the Galaxy) and Craig Waibel.
During those seven years with the A-League/USL Sounders, Schmetzer’s teams won lots of games, developed more MLS players and accumulated four trophies, including two for USL championships in 2005 and ‘07. They were runners-up once.
All the while Schmetzer was soaking up wisdom from his elders. One of his aides was Mr. Sounder himself, Jimmy Gabriel, a player, captain and coach to the original team. He also expanded his network into MLS, including the likes of Sigi Schmid. Schmetzer’s appointment as first assistant followed Schmid’s hiring date by just six days.
During the first years of Sounders FC it was Schmetzer who could be called upon not only for his coaching chops but also his firm grasp of our collective history.
When it came time to play the Timbers, Schmetzer and his USL alumni impressed upon the newcomers the significance and stakes of the encounter. His sharp wit and knowledge of the opposition was evident in his video clips packages, and although he interviewed for other jobs over the last seven years, it seemed fated that next opportunity for this native son would come forth in the city of his birth, Seattle.