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Schmid Takes Over Galaxy, but Zambrano Issue Lingers

April 23, 1999|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Galaxy signed new Coach Sigi Schmid to a three-year contract amid lingering questions about the firing of his predecessor, Octavio Zambrano, five games into the season.

Schmid accepted the Galaxy's offer for an undisclosed amount after having spurned other Major League Soccer clubs in recent years.

As coach of the UCLA men's team for almost two decades, Schmid led the Bruins to three NCAA championships and sent 19 players to the U.S. professional ranks, more than any other college coach in the nation.

"We got the big fish," Galaxy defender Paul Caligiuri said. "If you're going to go out and get a coach, Sigi is the best choice out there."

But the excitement over Schmid's arrival was tempered by concerns about Zambrano's ouster. The third-year coach was fired after a 2-3 start in which the Galaxy--the highest-scoring club in league history last season--managed only three goals in five games.

Team President Tim Leiweke said the coaching change was not as abrupt as it might have appeared. He said Zambrano was put on notice almost as soon as owner Philip F. Anschutz, who also owns the MLS champion Chicago Fire and the Colorado Rapids, assumed control of the Galaxy in October.

"We knew during the off-season that there was some tension," Leiweke said. "The players wanted to be coached. They wanted a coach who would make changes and figure out during halftime of a game what strategies needed to be made."

Management told Zambrano to improve communication with players, Leiweke said. Though General Manager Sergio del Prado gave the coach a vote of confidence as recently as Saturday, Leiweke said, "It became pretty obvious to us in the last week that [communication] was still an issue."

Zambrano was not available for comment.

Among the few players who attended a press conference for Schmid Thursday afternoon, Caligiuri and goalkeeper Kevin Hartman said the team got along well with its former coach. But players also said they had become frustrated by Zambrano's insistence on a possession-style game.

"Sometimes we possessed the ball when we should have gotten forward and gotten into threatening positions as soon as possible," Hartman said. "You have to put people under pressure."

That is more likely to happen with Schmid who, while at UCLA, nurtured quick-strike players such as Cobi Jones and Frankie Hejduk. He favors the use of counterattacks and long passes.

"So that teams can't get organized as quickly against us," he said. "We've got to find the right mix between possession and picking up the speed of play."

Whatever changes Schmid implements, the 46-year-old is likely to find a receptive audience if only because six Galaxy players--Jones, Caligiuri and Hartman among them--are UCLA alumni.

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