Classic Test for Bruin Soccer Team : Coach Schmid Will Have the Answer to How Good His Team Is

Times Staff Writer

Like any good CPA, Sigi Schmid knows his numbers. So the UCLA soccer coach, who gave up an accounting career for the sporting life, knew this season would present some tough math.

"We graduated five seniors, and we also have two kids from the team playing on the national youth team. That's like seven starters down (from last season)," Schmid said last week. "Then (Chris) Roosen broke a bone in his foot. So we're basically eight starters down from last year."

Those numbers make this something of a rebuilding year for the Bruins, who have struggled a bit more than usual and have had some scoring problems.

But there are other numbers that make this an interesting year for Schmid and could hold some intriguing possibilities for the Bruins and the college soccer rankings.

With an eye on the upcoming NCAA playoffs, the 19th-ranked Bruins will hold their third annual Met Life Pacific Classic this weekend, featuring No. 1 Indiana, No. 15 San Diego State and No. 17 Notre Dame.

Saturday's pairings are Indiana (15-2) vs. San Diego State (14-3) at noon followed by UCLA (10-4-1) vs. Notre Dame (14-1-1). On Sunday, the noon game will match San Diego and Notre Dame, then the Bruins will face Indiana at 2.

UCLA prepped for the classic by defeating the University of San Francisco last week, 2-1, on the road. USF was the West Coast's top-rated team, so a good showing against Notre Dame and Indiana will enhance the Bruins' playoff hopes.

That's the big numbers game for Schmid this season. The Torrance native has won more than 80% of his games since becoming coach in 1980 and has appeared in the NCAA playoffs five times including the last four in a row. His team won the national title in 1985.

But this season, Schmid's young team has struggled to maintain a ranking in the top three on the West Coast. Only two playoff spots from the region are automatic. UCLA has been in a dogfight with USF, San Diego State and Fresno State all season for ratings in the Top 20, which have been dominated by East Coast and Southeastern teams.

Before the USF victory, Schmid said the parity of the top teams on the West Coast "is good for us (this season). If we can beat USF and San Diego and not do anything dumb in between, we should be in the playoffs."

Therefore, Schmid said, the Met Life Classic "is extremely crucial, No. 1, because ourselves and San Diego State are playoff contenders. And No. 2, it's real important for the region. Indiana and Notre Dame are in the Great Lakes Region. If we do well comparing our region, it could help our region get wild cards in the playoffs."

Along with the top-ranked teams, Schmid said fans will be able to see differing styles of soccer. The Eastern teams, he explained, traditionally play a more physical style than the West.

"They're a little bit more structured, disciplined," he said. "In the Midwest, you see a very good work habit. They're more physical then the West but not as physical as the East. Teams from California are a little more creative, more geared toward offense, less physical. You don't want to slide-tackle on a (sun-baked) rock-hard field."

Schmid, 34, has been playing that California style nearly all his life. The German-born coach moved with his family to Torrance when he was 9. He was a four-year starting midfielder at UCLA and entered this season still ranked 11th in career assists at UCLA.

While still working on his degree in economics at UCLA, Schmid coached Bishop Montgomery and took the team to a spot in the playoffs in his first season, 1975. In 1977 and 1979 he assisted at UCLA while earning his master's degree in business administration and had taken a job with an accounting firm when UCLA Coach Steve Gay decided to take a leave of absence in 1980.

Schmid, who had also founded and coached the South Bay Vikings, was offered the job for the season. His team went 18-2-2 and reached the playoffs. When Gay didn't return, Schmid stayed on.

"I was lucky. I was in the right place," he said. "I had coached a lot of the kids in my youth league. In 1981, I found there was more I needed to learn." The Bruins slipped to 12-5-3 that year and didn't reach the playoffs. But Schmid made the decision to give up accounting and stay with full-time coaching.

"It was similar to (football Coach) Terry Donahue's situation. I was able to learn on the job," Schmid said. "UCLA is very good about sticking with their coaches."

With this season's 10-4-1 record--most recently a 1-0 shutout of Santa Clara on Sunday--Schmid has rolled up a 127-22-20 record, the third best winning percentage in UCLA annals and against tougher competition; he has coached several All-Americans and has had 15 national team or junior national team members.

And Schmid has won with teams made up largely of Californians. He has consciously avoided recruiting foreign players when many schools opted for rapid success with imported recruits.

He has done especially well with players from the Los Angeles area: Ole Mikkelson from Hawthorne, Dale Ervine from Torrance and Paul Caliguiri from Diamond Bar all have gone on to pro careers. This year's team has featured Italian-born Fabrizio Luppi, but he was already living in Los Angeles and played high school soccer at Venice.

"My philosophy is we won't recruit a foreign player," Schmid said. "There are still some teams around the country of almost entirely foreign players. But Indiana has one foreign player, (No. 2) Virginia is all Americans, (No. 6) Duke is all Americans."

For that matter, Schmid rarely goes out of state. Only two players on the roster are from outside California. Schmid said he is currently recruiting a player from New Mexico and another from Chicago.

"To get a kid out of state a lot of things have to be right. They have to be willing to spend some money to come here," he said.

Schmid starts two freshmen on defense--Dana Kier from Torrance High and Luppi--to go with senior Peter Pelle and sophomore sweeper Will Steadman. Olympic team member Jeff Hooker is one of several Bruins to score five goals, but he has often been the marked man by opposing defenses and has been used as a decoy, creating openings for Nick Skvarna, who is nursing a broken foot, and Billy Thompson.

"Jeff, a lot of times, has had to make space for the others," Schmid said. "Its not a glory role but it's very important for us. Billy is about 5-5, 130 pounds and he's one of the most exciting players in the country. He's quick, he makes things happen. He's the kind of player defenses hate to see."

One of the things that makes the Met Life Classic different is that it is held near the end of the season, unlike most of the tournaments held in September. It has drawn well as a result. Schmid said the two-day attendance was nearly 3,000 last year.

"I think we're showing a steady increase. The community is becoming aware that UCLA soccer is acceptable."

And coaching has become an acceptable occupation, if a bit less comfortable than accounting would have been.

"I thought my coaching career was over when I became a CPA," he said with a smile. "Soccer's a love, so from that standpoint if you can make money at what you like doing. . . . I've had to make sacrifices. I don't make the money I would have, but enjoyment counts.

"That's what I tell my wife when the bills come in."

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