North American Soccer League 1974-83
Think back to the 1970's (if you're old enough to remember) "Chest hair, medallions, polyester, butterfly collars, bell bottoms, skin-tight t-shirts, sandals, leisure suits, flower patterned dress shirts, sideburns and, yes, tennis headbands."
Looking back on it now it was the decade of fashion. It was also the decade Soccer came alive in America. The North American Soccer League formed in 1968 with 17 teams. It was called professional, but players still had full time jobs. Names like the Whips, Stokers, Stars, and Beacons were paraded to the American public. Soccer at the top level was born. In that first year Atlanta was the eventual winner and the MVP was Janusz Kowalik. The league back then was decorated with colorfully named players like World Cup Winner Vava', Dragan "Don" Popovic, and 5 time all star John Best who later became Seattle's first coach. It was a league of mostly foreign players, playing the game they loved in a foreign land.
After a few years the NASL began to roll into the national spotlight. "Things culminated on Sept 3, 1973 with Sports Illustrated putting a soccer player on its cover for the first time. Philadelphia Atoms goalkeeper Bob Rigby. SI profiled the Philadelphia Atoms victory in the NASL championship. This was the first time an American expansion sports team won a title in its first season". Other teams have now duplicated this feat. Chicago Fire's 1998 run and Seattle's 2009 Open Cup victory to name a few.
"By the time Seattle entered the NASL in 1974 there were 4 teams averaging 10,000 fans a game". This was an encouraging sign for the Seattle expansion team. "The 1974 final between LA and Miami was televised live on CBS in front of 15,000 fans". 1974/75 season also brought Portland and Vancouver to the league. 40 years later they remain Seattle's main rivals.
For Seattle success was rapid and culminated in the 1977 Soccer Bowl vs. the New York Cosmos. 1977 was not to be for Seattle. A living legend instead had his day in the sun and said good bye with a victory. From 1977 to 1982 the league had a tumultuous ride of players, financing, and places to play. The Sounders bucked this trend and found a home at Seattle's memorial stadium. Once the Kingdome was built Seattle called it home for the remainder of their existence. The Sounders also cemented their roots deep into the community. They invited fans to party after home games, handed out trophies at local youth tournaments, and coached local youth teams.
Seattle teamed up with Coca-Cola to present the "Coca Skills Contest". This contest had 4 elements; juggling, kicking for distance, dribbling through cones for time, and a throw in for distance. The local youth community loved it. Winning the contest meant you received your trophy at halftime of a Sounders game. Play improved and Seattle made it to the 1982 Soccer Bowl on the back of league MVP Peter Ward. The New York Cosmos again took home the trophy. By 1983 the NASL had run its course just as the American soccer player started to come into his own. Jimmy McAlister, Tim Bartro, Jeff Stock, and Jeff Durgan were a few of the local Seattle talent that had played at the top level in the NASL.
1974-83 NASL top XI players: Gordon Banks, Eusebio, Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best, Carlos Alberto, Johan Cruyff, Karl-Heinz Granitza, Gerd Muller, Johan Neeskens. MVP: Giorgio Chinaglia
NASL Seattle notable players: Jimmy McAlister, Mike England, Roger Davies, Peter Ward, Alan Hudson, Tony Chursky, Ian Bridge
Western Soccer Alliance/Western Soccer League 1984-89
The Pacific Northwest by 1984 was a hotbed of talent. Not having a league for this strong local talent became a major problem. In 1984 a local philanthropist and businessman named Bud Greer created the F.C. Seattle Storm. For two years 1984/85 the Seattle Storm played a series of friendly's called the "FC Seattle Challenge". In 1986 the Western Soccer Alliance was formed and Seattle entered the league. In 1987 F.C. Seattle Storm finished runner up to the San Diego Nomads. The following year the tables turned and Seattle won the 1988 WSA Championship over San Diego. By 1989 the league had changed names to Western Soccer League. Unfortunately by season's end the league had folded and Seattle was in search for a new soccer home, the search didn't take long.
It is important to mention during this time frame local college and youth talent started to explode. Leading this soccer evolution was Seattle Pacific University Men's soccer team. SPU had always been a presence in the college Soccer scene under Coach Cliff McGrath. SPU had a 10 year stretch from 1983-93 that witnessed them win 4 titles; play in 6 finals and 8 final fours. Another Seattle school that took a little longer to reap rewards from the Sounders influence was Seattle University. SU won the 1997 NAIA National Championship, and the 2004 Div II Championship under Coach Peter Fewing.
On the amateur side local clubs like FTI, Seattle Hibernian and Caledonian Saints, Croatia SC, Lake City Hawks, and The Eagles dominated the local leagues and national tournaments. The 1982 National Amateur Cup was won by Seattle Croatia. The 1987 US Open Cup final had the Seattle Mitre Eagles losing to the Washington DC club Espana in Penalty Kicks. By making it to the 1987 Final the Eagles were a US Representative in the CONCACAF Tournament. (known today as CONCACAF Champions League) The Eagles home/away series started tough with a 9-0 loss to Cruz Azul in Mexico City. In the home game Seattle redeemed themselves with a 0-0 draw. The 1993 National Amateur Cup was won by Seattle Murphy's Pub they defeated St. Louis Scott-Gallagher 2-1. The 2005 National Amateur Cup was won by Seattle Hibernian Saints. 1990-94 FTI won 4 straight JFK international trophies in the PCSL. Men's Over 30 National Championships were won by Seattle Eagles (1985), Micro Standard of Bellevue (1999), Lake City Hawks (2001), and Hibernian Saints (2002 & 2004). Many players from these Amateur teams went on to have professional careers. Another benefit that couldn't have been foreseen is what these local players gave back. This came in the form of coaches, directors, and mentors that litter the Seattle soccer community to this day.
1984-89 WSA top XI: Marcelo Balboa, Jeff Stock, Peter Hattrup, John Doyle, Dominic Kinnear, Scott Benedetti, Eddie Henderson, Grant Gibbs, Chance Fry, Mike Lapper, Cle Kooiman MVP: Kasey Keller
American Professional Soccer League 1990-95
In 1990 the APSL was born, "between 1990 and 1995 it was the de facto top professional soccer league in the United States". This league was littered with players from the Pacific Northwest. The 1990 leading scorer was Bellevue native Chance Fry 17g 5a in a 20 game season. Seattle Storm decided to sit out the 1991 season and by 1992 Bud Greer had stopped operations. 1994 was the re-birth of the Sounders and they entered the APSL in 1994 taking the league by storm. Seattle finished first in the regular season but lost in the semifinals to Colorado. Many players from this time frame remain in the Seattle soccer community. Bernie James, Billy Crook, Eddie Henderson,Wade Webber, David "Hoggy" Hoggan, and the beloved Jimmy Gabriel are just a few of the names that continue to pass the torch to the next generation as DOC's and Coaches for local youth clubs.
1990-95 APSL top XI: Paul Mariner, Philip Gyau, Shawn Medved, Marcelo Balboa, Jean Harbor, Robin Fraser, Ricky Hill, Danny Pena, Ted Eck, Dale Mitchell, Taifour Diane MVP: Paulinho
APSL Seattle notable players: Marcus Hahnemann, Billy Crook, Shawn Medved, David Hoggan, James Dunn, Rookie of year: Jason Dunn, Coach of the Year: Alan Hinton
APSL/A-League/United Soccer League 1995-2008
In 1995 stability came to American soccer in the form of the A-League. "The Teams that formed this league in 95 can trace their roots back to a combination of semi-pro outdoor and indoor leagues all across the United States". These leagues popped up after the demise of the NASL in 1983, and limped along until the 1994 World Cup. The agreement US Soccer reached with FIFA to host the World Cup stipulated that the US create a Tier 1 professional league. By 1996 the MLS was formed.
This change in American soccer automatically made the A-League the 2nd division. In 1995 the Seattle Sounders defeated Vancouver in the first round of the playoffs, and then defeated Atlanta in the final to take the championship. Having won the inaugural season Seattle returned a very strong team in 1996. Seattle finished 1996 season in 3rdplace, but got hot at the right time during the playoffs. Defeating Rochester 2-0 in the final Seattle claimed their second championship. Two years, two championships, one league MVP: Peter Hattrup.
1997 was another year of change. MLS was growing in teams and popularity. "Less than a month after the conclusion of the 1996 season, the A-League reached a merger agreement with the USISL, bringing all outdoor lower divisions into one corporate entity. What actually happened is the original A-League folded, and five of the six remaining teams joined the USISL Select League which adopted the A-League name". Starting in 1998 US Soccer and MLS created "US Project 40" sponsored by Nike this team Played in the A-League. All players would be signed with MLS clubs (usually a 3 year guaranteed contract with 2 one year options) and be subject for promotion to the MLS for varying lengths of service. The team lasted 2 years; MLS & A-League realized it wasn't sustainable without a home. They practiced and played the whole season on the road. MLS assumed the project in 2000, found a new sponsor in 2005, and Generation Adidas was born. The general idea has morphed in many different ways since 1997. Generation Adidas, MLS Academies, MLS teams running 2nd division teams, US Soccer Academy, and Home Grown Players. MLS is now on the path to develop a system more like their European counterparts in shape and structure.
Seattle remained in the USL 1st division with varying degrees of success from 95-2008. In 2000, 2002, and 2003 Seattle finished first in the division twice and league once. 2005-07 was a hugely successful time in Seattle soccer. You could also say these two years were the driving force for the current version of the Seattle Sounders. On September 29th, 2007 in front of a packed Starfire crowd Seattle defeated the Atlanta Silverbacks 4-0 for their fourth USL championship. Two weeks later "during a press conference on November 13, 2007; it was announced by the MLS that Seattle had been awarded an expansion club". 2008 turned into a season long tryout for Sounders players and coaches. It showed as they closed the doors on the lower tiers of American soccer with a record of 10-10-10.
From 1995-2008 another by product of the original NASL Sounders showed its self. Players that were coached by Sounders, sons of former Sounders, and fans of the NASL team had now donned the same jersey. Tommy Jenkins, Kieran Barton, Dick McCormick, Darren Sawatzky, Leighton O'Brien, Erik Storkson, Viet Nguyen, Sean Henderson, Chris Henderson are just a few names that continued to lay the foundation of soccer in Seattle.
A-League top XI: Wolde Harris, Doug Miller, Mark Baena, John Swallen, Digital Takawira, Paul Conway, Leighton O'Brien, Thiago Martins, Dante Washington, Mauro Biello, Andrew Gregor MVP: Greg Sutton
A-League/USL Seattle notable players: Jason Farrell, Greg Howes, Leighton O'Brien, Brian Ching, Cam Weaver, Welton Melo, Sebastien Le Toux
Continental Indoor Soccer League 1995-97
1995 also brought a new type of soccer to Seattle with the "Seattle SeaDogs" indoor team. Seattle played in the CISL for the 2 years they were in operation. Playing in Key Arena, Seattle ended their time in the league with a 1997 CISL Championship. Indoor in the Pacific Northwest throughout this time had been dominated by the Tacoma Stars.
CISL notable players: Ralph Black, Rick Blubagh, Brian Schmetzer
Major League Soccer 2008- present
A lot has been written about the current version of the Seattle Sounders. They have had a little bit of everything during their short time in the league. An old Sounders player/coach made new as an MLS coach. A new coach with a winning pedigree, a Columbian hopeful, A 3 time US Soccer Player of the Year, A Calvin Klein underwear model, a Hawaiian kid with desire and drive that won't quit, and finally a stadium full of fans.
From day one Seattle fans have been the one ingredient that has elevated the Sounders to the upper echelon of Soccer in America. The Supporter groups, Season ticket holders, and marching band have been the standard within the league. Day one when 30,000 fans showed up to watch Seattle finally beat New York (albeit 27 years later) a love affair began. The winning hasn't stopped for the MLS Sounders 4 US Open Cups and a Supporter Shield in 6 years. I don't believe we would be at this level in Seattle without the leagues that helped carry the team we hold so dear.
Happy 40th Seattle Sounders and Seattle Soccer Community