COLUMBUS, OHIO – After three seasons coaching the Crew, Sigi Schmid knows Columbus.
He knows that Easton Town Center is the place to shop, that Handke’s in the Brewery District is the place for world-class crme brulee, and that any warmth Crew supporters feel for him will vanish with today’s kickoff against Schmid’s new team, Seattle Sounders FC.
“I imagine during the game that all the fans will support Columbus,” Schmid said. “They want Columbus to win, and Seattle is the enemy. I would hope that before the game that they won’t destroy me and that there’s at least some good feelings that still exist.”
Schmid has it about right, according to Blake Compton, a representative of the Hudson Street Hooligans, one of the major Crew supporters groups.
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“I know that we will respect him until kickoff time,” Compton said. “We have some banners in the works to show our support for the club. It’s nothing in bad taste, but it’s definitely a little bit directed toward Sigi.”
Schmid arrived in Columbus in 2006, inheriting a team that had finished last in the Eastern Conference (11-16-5) the season before. Two seasons later, the Crew was MLS champion.
However, Schmid’s contract was up, and he wasn’t impressed with the organization’s early efforts to keep him. So he started looking around and wound up signing with Seattle.
“I doubt (that the fans) blame Sigi,” said Ezra Hendrickson, who played under Schmid in Columbus before following him to Seattle as his No. 2 assistant. “I think the fans knew the situation where Sigi was in the last year of his contract, and the Crew organization didn’t really step up to the plate.”
After Schmid left, the organization promoted former Crew player and Schmid assistant Robert Warzycha to the top job.
Warzycha knew he had a tough act to follow. And it didn’t help that the defending champions provided their new coach with a wobbly start: 0-2-5 after seven games.
“It’s always difficult to start to coach a team that won a championship and then the head coach left,” Warzycha said Thursday. “I knew that was going to happen. Of course I was under a lot of pressure. It could go either way. Then at the beginning we did not have a good start compared to the start of the year before. So it was a time for pressure.”
The turnaround began with a 3-2 win over Kansas City, which ignited a six-game unbeaten streak. The Crew kept building on that and comes into today’s game with the best record in the league and already assured of a playoff berth and chance to defend its Supporters Shield and MLS Cup titles.
Schmid says he’s happy for the continued success of the Crew and his former assistant coach.
But just as the good will of the Hudson Street Hooligans will take a 90-minute respite at the kickoff, so will Schmid’s.
“I have a lot of fond memories of Columbus,” he said. “But I know that when the whistle blows they are going to be pro-Columbus, and I am going to be pro-Seattle. So we are going to be on opposite sides of the coin there.”
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808
Sigi Schmid discusses the sights and restaurants of Columbus, Ohio:
SOUNDERS FC (9-7-11; 38 pts.) AT COLUMBUS CREW (12-4-10; 46)
4:30 p.m., Crew Stadium, Columbus, Ohio.
TV: KONG 6/16.
Radio: 97.3-FM, 1210-AM (Spanish).
Head-to-head: The clubs played to a 1-1 draw May 30 at Qwest Field.
Team leaders: For Seattle – G, 12, Fredy Montero; A, 7, Nate Jaqua; S, 75, Montero; SOG, 27, Montero. For Columbus – G, 12, Guillermo Barros Schelotto; A, 6, Emmanuel Ekpo; S, 44, Schelotto; SOG, 22, Schelotto.
Coach Sigi Schmid scouting report: “They are a team that likes to get forward. They are a team that likes to get their midfielders involved in the game.”
Notes: Columbus is the defending MLS and Supporters Shield champions. The Crew is this season’s MLS points leader and already has clinched a playoff berth. Columbus has a 22-game home unbeaten streak (16-0-6), including five straight wins. Seattle is 3-5-5 on the road. This is a homecoming for Schmid, who coached the Crew from 2006-2008; Sounders assistant Ezra Hendrickson, who played his final three seasons in Columbus; midfielder Brad Evans, who played for the Crew from 2007-08; and rookie Steve Zakuani, who played his college ball 125 miles away at the University of Akron. Seattle F/M Nate Jaqua and Columbus defender Frankie Hejduk are ineligible due to yellow-card accumulation. Osvaldo Alonso and Tyrone Marshall would be suspended for Seattle’s next game if they receive cards today. Crew midfielder Eddie Gaven scored the game-winning goal in all of the Crew’s victories in September (two in MLS, one in CONCACAF Champions League). Schelotto has three multi-goal matches this season. The Sounders are unbeaten (1-0-1) in their blue jerseys, which they will wear today.
Next: 5:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at Kansas City; KONG 6/16.
Don Ruiz, The News Tribune