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Sigi Schmid, UCLA's soccer coach for the past 19...

April 22, 1999|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sigi Schmid, UCLA's soccer coach for the past 19 years, today will be named coach of the Galaxy, replacing Octavio Zambrano, who was fired Wednesday by the Major League Soccer team.

The move comes in the wake of the Galaxy's poor start to the season. The team, which went 24-8 under Zambrano last season, setting league offensive and defensive records in the process, failed to win any of its first five games in regulation and scored only three goals while going 2-3.

Zambrano, 41, had been given a vote of confidence as recently as Saturday evening by Sergio del Prado, the Galaxy general manager.

"There's no urgency right now from our end [to make a coaching change]," Del Prado said. "We're satisfied, as long as the team progresses and improves every week. We're happy with the job he's done. You can't question some of the talent he's brought here and the job he's done."

Four days later, the Ecuador-born coach was out.

Wednesday night, an obviously shaken Zambrano declined to discuss his dismissal.

"I will refrain from making any comments until my agent works out details of my contract with management," he said. "I wish Sigi and the players the very best. I consider this a formidable team in the making."

It was not immediately clear whether Zambrano's assistant coach, Ralph Perez, and goalkeeper coach, Zak Abdel, would be retained. The Galaxy has called a news conference for today.

In one scenario, Perez could become coach of the Kansas City Wizards, who last week fired Ron Newman.

In another scenario, Perez could remain as assistant coach--taking charge of the Galaxy's game against the San Jose Clash at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night--at least until mid-July.

At that point, Leonardo Cuellar, the men's and women's coach at Cal State Los Angeles and currently coach of Mexico's women's national team, would be free of his Women's World Cup commitments and could join the Galaxy as Schmid's assistant.

Schmid and Cuellar are good friends. A 1978 World Cup player for Mexico, Cuellar has the respect of Los Angeles' Hispanic community and would be a good match with Schmid, whose Spanish is adequate but not fluent.

The Galaxy will be Schmid's first professional coaching job. He was an assistant under Bora Milutinovic on the 1994 U.S. World Cup team and coach of the U.S. Under-20 national team that reached the second round of the FIFA World Youth Championship now underway in Nigeria. Schmid, 46, has been focusing on the national team for the past several months and only returned to Los Angeles from Lagos on Saturday. A frequent visitor to the Rose Bowl for Galaxy games over the past three seasons, he has seen only the season opener this year.

MLS has long wooed the UCLA coach, who won three NCAA titles with the Bruins, in 1985, 1990 and 1997. Six of the current Galaxy players--Cobi Jones, Paul Caligiuri, Greg Vanney, Kevin Hartman, Matt Reis and Zak Ibsen--played for Schmid at UCLA.

A seventh former Bruin player, Seth George, was drafted by the team this winter but chose to go to Germany to pursue a career there. He might now return.

Schmid has had offers to coach other MLS teams, including the Clash and the Wizards, but has always maintained that the Galaxy was the only MLS team that interested him. In part, that is because of family reasons. His three sons, Erik, 19, Kurt, 16, and Kyle, 12, are in school or college in Los Angeles.

There are unlikely to be any sudden changes once Schmid does take charge next week. He is known for being open-minded and for cautiously assessing situations before taking action. There will be changes, probably in the starting lineup as early as Saturday, but more significant tactical changes will take time to implement.

His main immediate concern will be to reignite the Galaxy's sputtering offense. The return of striker Carlos Hermosillo from Mexico next month could help there. It is also possible that Guatemalan midfielder Martin Machon, on loan to a Mexican league team, could be recalled.

Schmid is believed to have been given a one-year contract with several option years.

Zambrano, who took over from midway through the 1997 season and compiled a 39-18 regular-season record but went 2-4 in the playoffs, was given little leeway to fail.

Schmid is aware that the same short rope awaits him.

"Being in L.A. and with the [$26 million] investment our owners made in this team, we have to put out a very, very competitive team," Del Prado said. "It's not OK to be just mediocre or decent. We have to be one of the elite teams in the league just for that investment to make sense at all."

Del Prado said owner Philip F. Anschutz, who also owns the MLS champion Chicago Fire and the Colorado Rapids, pays close attention to what the Galaxy is doing.

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