A series of Seattle Sounders FC apologies stemming from their U.S. Open Cup match on June 16 continued Wednesday, when coach Sigi Schmid spoke with the local media.
“The last two weeks have certainly been a tough period for the team,” Schmid said. “And a lot of people are pointing back to the Open Cup game, and people look at that game and say, ‘Three red cards: It must have been a really chippy, contentious game.’ I didn’t think it was a chippy, contentious game, per se. But certainly the thing I want to make sure of is the statement that I made after the game, you know in 40 years of coaching I’ve never touched a referee, nor would I ever do that.”
Defending champion Seattle was eliminated from the Open Cup by Portland that night, 3-1, in extra time. Along the way, three Sounders received red cards: Brad Evans after being shown his second yellow, Micheal Azira for a hard tackle, and Clint Dempsey after grabbing, tearing and tossing the referee’s notebook.
Schmid left the bench area before the final whistle, and after the game he was asked why. His answer: “I just walked away from the bench because I was maybe going to choke a referee; so I figured I’d walk away before I did something stupid.”
In one way, the answer was responsible: Sensing a possible loss of control, he took himself out of a heated situation. However, the phrase “choke a referee” is still one Schmid and the organization wish hadn’t been uttered.
“I did want to remove myself,” Schmid said. “Not that I would have done what I said — because that was never something that was on my mind — but just to get myself out of the situation and stop from saying anything stupid — which I ended up saying afterwards. … At the end of the day, for sure it was the wrong thing to say; and I probably should have stayed on the bench area, as frustrating as it was.”
Fallout came quickly. Schmid apologized after the Sounders’ next training session. Then owner Adrian Hanauer addressed the media, saying the game “was not the proudest moment for the Sounders.” He added that internal discipline, perhaps including suspensions, was being considered.
Major League Soccer suspended Dempsey for three games, and the U.S. Open Cup banned him for two tournaments or six games, whichever is greater. Dempsey later tweeted an apology.
Schmid said Wednesday that he hasn’t been contacted by the league, but that discipline remains possible.
Forward Obafemi Martins was injured in the game, and with him and Dempsey both out, the Sounders have lost all three MLS games since.
Martins began running this week, but Schmid had no timetable Wednesday for his return to games.
Meanwhile, Dempsey served the last of his MLS suspension Sunday, when the Sounders lost 4-1 at Portland. But he and Evans have since left to join the United States team that will compete in CONCACAF Gold Cup, and therefore they will be missing again Friday when the Sounders return to MLS play against DC United at CenturyLink Field.
Schmid said he hopes that referees don’t see — or treat — his team differently because of the Open Cup match.
“My father was a referee in Southern California for years and years,” he said. “They came over and played chess with him, and I’ve known referees since I was a teenager because of his refereeing and all that. There’s never been any animosity or anything like that. I just want to make sure that young coaches who hear that statement understand that that’s the wrong thing to say. I feel bad about having said that. It doesn’t change necessarily how I feel about the refereeing performance, but that is never an appropriate wording or reaction.”