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Soccer

Galaxy play to 0-0 tie with Sounders in Sigi Schmid’s return as coach

The first professional soccer game Sigi Schmid coached was for the Galaxy. And the last one he coached before Saturday was for the Seattle Sounders.

So it seemed fitting both teams were on the field at the StubHub Center when Schmid returned to the sidelines for the first time in more than a year. Also fitting, perhaps, was the fact neither team lost, with the Galaxy and Sounders playing to a 0-0 tie before an announced crowd of 25,667.

For the Galaxy, however, a scoreless draw marks progress since it snaps the team’s five-game losing streak — longest in a decade — as well as a three-game slide at home.

“Right now we’re still in the process of learning each other. I’m getting to know them and they’re getting to know me,” Schmid said. “And it’s going to take time.

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“I look at this as a success. Yes, it’s one point and one point isn’t going to get us to where we need to go. But it’s something we can build upon.”

The point, the first for the Galaxy in five weeks, moved them within seven of Vancouver in the battle for the Western Conference’s final playoff berth. And Schmid, the winningest coach in MLS history, could also take comfort in how the team played to earn it.

Hours after taking over for Curt Onalfo, fired after just 20 games as Galaxy coach, Schmid said his first task would be improving a defense that has conceded 37 goals, fourth-most in the league. The team made progress on that Saturday, confusing the Sounders most of the night and helping goalkeeper Brian Rowe to his second shutout of the season and first in three months.

The last time the Sounders came to the StubHub Center they scored three goals. Saturday they had just two shots on target, the best being a spectacular bicycle kick from Clint Dempsey off a set piece late in the first half.

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The game was arguably the team’s best of the season. The Galaxy were organized, played with purpose and conviction, and led in time of possession. (They weren’t exactly disciplined, however, with captain Jelle Van Damme picking up two yellow cards and defender Bradley Diallo drawing one. Van Damme, who was expelled, missed the final four minutes Saturday and both players will be suspended next week.)

“Whenever you change a manager, the next game you always play well,” said left back Ashley Cole. “That’s what happened today. But we’ve still got a long way to go. We’re still fighting for the playoffs. But so far so good.

“We have to keep doing this now. We need points.”

Also helping the Galaxy was the fact the team was healthy. Under Onalfo, the Galaxy commonly played without a half-dozen starters who were lost to injury, suspension or international duty. On Saturday against Seattle, a team that lost just once since May, Schmid had a full bench.

“There’s been a bunch of injuries,” forward Gyasi Zardes conceded. “But now a lot of guys are getting healthy so we’re looking forward to gaining more chemistry, playing with other, understanding each others’ roles. And I think moving forward we’re going to be good.”

Yet despite all that the Galaxy were rewarded with few dangerous scoring chances against the Sounders, getting just four shots with their best effort coming on a Zardes header in the 65th minute. Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei, the defending champion’s lone selection to this week’s All-Star Game, stopped that with a diving save.

So while it was a good start for the new coach, the long-term aim is to copy what Seattle did last year after Schmid was fired. And that will take more than one good game.

“Me personally, and I hope the other players did it, you have to spend a long time looking in the mirror because a guy’s just lost his job,” Cole said. “At the end of the day we’re the ones on the pitch. We let [Onalfo] down. I just hope we don’t let this manager down.”

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The Sounders were ninth in the conference — where the Galaxy are now — with six wins after 20 games when Schmid was replaced by longtime assistant Brian Schmetzer in the last week of July. Schmetzer and the Sounders played the Galaxy to a draw in his first game, then went on a late-season run that ended with the first MLS Cup in franchise history.

Schmid, who led the Galaxy to its first league title in 2002, was rehired a year and a day after his sacking in Seattle.

“It was great to be back on the sideline,” said Schmid, who exchanged a handshake but not a hug with Schmetzer afterward. “I don’t know what it is but I love this game. No one can take that away from me.

“Playing against Seattle certainly was special and unique. It’s a team that I put together. I still have a lot of good relationships with those guys.”

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11


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