This is Brian Schmetzer:
Upon first glance it does not seem like he should be good at anything to do with soccer. It seems like he should be bad. Like he was either a lacrosse player who graduated college and decided to manage soccer teams or was just doing this to pass time between tax seasons to supplement his income as a CPA.
This is wrong. Brian Schmetzer is the least American of all American soccer coaches. As opposed to coaches who wasted their talent by going to college so they could have a job as a financial advisor if soccer didn’t work out, Schmetzer wisely spent his youth trying to get the job he wanted: soccer player. The greatest trick that he has pulled is the outward appearance of the typical American soccer coach while secretly being molded in the German soccer culture of his father.
Seattle has achieved a lot as a team with him managing them. The Sounders have only missed one MLS Cup since 2016 and won two of them. There have certainly been ups and downs. In 2018 the team was struggling and resorted to playing a Colorado Rapids style anti-soccer that culminated in the side’s ill-fated trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium when they embarrassed the league by putting 10 men behind the ball for 90 minutes in a nationally televised game following the World Cup final. That strategy kept Seattle in the playoff picture though and the team reached the Western Conference Final after playing a truly exciting brand of soccer down the stretch. Clearly, Schmetzer has layers.
What’s more though is that he truly represents what Atlanta United aspires to: a club with a history and culture of winning. Schmetzer played for the Sounders in the NASL after graduating high school and managed to stay with the club on and off for 41 years. This is all the more impressive given the iterations of the Sounders as a club in different leagues and formats over that time. It is something that their fans will also never let anyone anywhere ever forget ever especially as other teams in MLS undergo rebrands or otherwise take actions that show they are not living up to the ideas of “community” that they market to supporters.
This contrasts with Seattle the city. It has contributed two things to American culture. Expensive fast food featuring burnt coffee made by people who hate their customers that is marketed as some kind of cafe experience and a transcendent band that epitomized the irony and ultimately pointless rebellion-as-feigned indifference of the post-Baby Boomer generation along with the doomed hard drug use that anyone who was self-aware enough to see that the rebellion was deeply gilded would require to cope with the situation. The team is also wearing a Jimi Hendrix kit, but as a cultural reference something that was relevant to people that were old enough to experience it being born in the 1940s is pretty dated, but you know, far out man. Oh wait, sorry I forgot - Macklemore.
In short, Seattle as a city is everything that Atlanta is not and does not want any part of. As a soccer team, that’s different. The team is the authentic aspect of Seattle’s culture that has stood the test of time and didn’t cash in its values to sell out and become something that it’s not. The team has won seven trophies since joining MLS and has never missed the playoffs, the Sounders are the most successful team in the league. They’ve done it by legitimately putting fans first, honoring the history of the club, and creating homegrown heroes like Schmetzer, Jordan Morris, and Cristian Roldan.
This contrasts with Atlanta United, a team that... well, to be honest I don’t know how to describe right now... how about a team in flux? At best, the Five Stripes could be a team that had a lot of success early and then took a few fixable missteps because of its ambition of being a “big club.” At worst, the early success of the team might just be the exception to the rule with the first three years built on the foundation of exciting players laid by Tata Martino. A foundation that was abruptly and somewhat inexplicably dismantled before the 2020 season. Along with the players who departed went a sense of connection that fans had to them while the culture of the locker room and club was also sacrificed to the altar of taking the club in a new direction.
Atlanta United travels to Seattle as a team that is still adjusting to a new manager with some roster deficiencies that seem to be fairly reflected in the most recent MLS Salary release as far as who is getting paid, who is producing, and who is not. The team is also rebuilding its roster under new manager Gabriel Heinze. The players the team brought in before the 2021 season address some of its main weaknesses, but others are being exposed and will need to be addressed fast for the team to have a successful season.
Atlanta is also trying to rebuild the culture that it so expertly crafted under Martino. This will clearly be a more difficult task as getting players, fans, and the front office to take the actions that show they share the same values and goals may be a long process.
While Atlanta United goes to Seattle trying to get the first win in team history against the club, it also travels West as a team that wants the same kind of consistent culture in Seattle that fans and players can rely on week after week, year after year. If the game ends in a win that comes in a last second header that gives a promising result despite a mediocre performance, or some other outcome, the result on the field will be important in the short term for the Five Stripes. However, in the long term, it will be the work in the front office and off the field that will serve the most in 2021.