Anybody could tell it was almost over when Sigi Schmid started talking about Martians.
His Seattle Sounders, one of the most impotent scoring teams in MLS, had been blanked again in a match earlier this month. This one was against the LA Galaxy in front of a typically fanatical home crowd that deserved better entertainment.
Schmid tried to salvage some solace in the fact that his men had dominated possession time and shots on goal despite losing, 1-0.
Had an alien come from Mars and watched the game without knowing the score, Schmid reasoned, it would have thought Seattle was the better team.
I’ve heard this sort of flailing rhetoric many times from coaches — even some of the best ever — when they resorted to absurd hypotheticals in attempts to explain compounding defeats.
Coaches such as Chuck Knox, Lou Piniella, George Karl and Mike Holmgren all found themselves getting irrational at times when their tenures in Seattle neared their final days.
But I never before heard any of them reach for interplanetary perspectives.
So it was with Schmid, the only coach Sounders FC ever had. He raised this team through a quick infancy and got the franchise competitive in short order, leading it to seven consecutive playoff appearances.
But with the Sounders languishing near the bottom of the MLS standings this season and Schmid helpless to get it turned around, he was fired Tuesday in what was termed a mutual parting of the ways.
Schmid, like those iconic coaches before him, learned a truism rarely defied in professional sports — after a long career with a franchise, the relationship can get stale.
The players have heard all of the best motivational talks, and the messages start to feel redundant. It becomes time for everybody to get a fresh start.
Looking at the success with Seattle, it’s hard not to think that Schmid deserved a long, long leash.
The Sounders had never missed the postseason, and often his best players were absent performing with their national teams or lost to poaching international clubs.
On the other hand, Schmid enjoyed what has to be the best setup in MLS, with a fan base that established a league standard from the first days.
Great coaches have teams go through lousy seasons and have recovered. But they have to come up with answers to their problems to do so and give the impression that the issues are temporary.
Apparently, that wasn’t convincingly the case this season with Schmid and the Sounders.
It’s fair to offer a eulogy for Schmid’s career here. He’s the all-time winningest coach in MLS, and he’s truly a fascinating man.
He graciously gave me a long interview when he was first hired, and he told the incredible story of his father, a young teen who was conscripted into the German army near the end of World War II. He quickly was taken prisoner and sent to a work camp on a farm in England, where he developed a life-long friendship with the British farmer there.
The family immigrated to America when little Siegfried was very young, and he went from being a shy youth with a slight speech impairment to a top player and then championship coach at UCLA and with two franchises in the MLS.
He said in that interview that he believed a coach has to be adaptable to the talent on hand, and they can’t get so militant about a style that it takes away the creativity of the individual players. “That might take away the joy of the game,” he said.
Schmid was noted as a hard worker, and he has dutifully credited this team with playing hard and showing a lot of character in the face of all the losing.
But it has looked like nobody was feeling that kind of joy in the game that Schmid once touted as being at the root of team success.
It became so obvious, a Martian could have seen it.