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Got Game, Will Travel

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For 10 years, America’s pro soccer scene grew greatly dim, if not dark. Those who wanted a life in the game had to love it – and hustle. (Third in a series)

Chance Fry moved south in 1991 to play for the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks, who won the A-League championship.
Courtesy Chance Fry

Sometimes following your dream means leaving town, again and again. For a couple of Seattle native sons, they started at home and finished here. But in between they moved around a lot.

Chance Fry and Peter Hattrup both came out of local high schools in 1982, when the sun was still high in the sky for American soccer. It would go dark all too quickly.

That summer there were 28 teams, both outdoor and indoor, that were paying livable wages across the continent. Within two years, that number was cut in half, and when Fry and Hattrup reached their prime, pro soccer in this corner of the earth, after years of bleeding red ink, all but went black.

Hattrup refers to his peer group as The Lost Generation. They may have made some bucks, even gotten a taste of MLS or made a World Cup squad. Yet there’s long been a lingering question of what might’ve been.

If there was a silver lining, says Hattrup, the game was overflowing with players and coaches with an unquenchable thirst to find a game. Any game. “The great thing was you only had guys that loved to play,” he claims. “No one did it just for themselves, just for the money. They loved being part of the game.”

An Auspicious Start

Still six months shy of his 18th birthday, Fry was selected by Seattle with the 14th overall pick in the draft. While he had opportunities to play college (an NLI with Washington), he signed shortly after graduating from Sammamish High School. By fall he was with the U.S. U18 National team.

His first pro contract was $18,000 ($47k today). “It was almost as much as what my dad made at the fire department,” notes Fry. “For a kid coming out of high school and then living at home my first year, I saved $10,000 of it. (Fellow Sounders draftees) Billy Crook, Timmy Bartro and I would literally go to Chuck E. Cheese, spend $20 playing video games and think we were rich.”

In his rookie season (1983), Fry immediately got into the 18, then truly introduced himself to the NASL by scoring two goals in two minutes against the Cosmos. That earned him a starting spot and, when the Sounders closed shop, a ticket to Tulsa with Brian Schmetzer and Neil Megson via the dispersal draft. There, Fry emerged as one of the Roughnecks’ top scorers and was called-in to the national team five times.

When the league went under, Fry’s only option was indoors, where he landed with the Cosmos. While it was a prestigious setting in theory, it was far from living the high life. The days of Pele and Beckenbauer, of corporate jets and open tabs at Studio 54 were all in the past. Fry was fitted for a natty navy blazer, which he kept in a cramped Hackensack studio for $500 a month – a far cry from his $250 spacious Tulsa digs which came with a pool. A sponsor provided players with free gas vouchers for fill-ups.

Great Indoors Are Calling

At about this time, Hattrup was putting the final touches on a glorious collegiate career at Seattle Pacific. In three years, he had averaged nearly 20 goals and 10 assists per season while the Falcons were winning two NCAA Division II championships. In 1985, Soccer America chose him as one of the top 11 collegiate players. Coming off a semifinal finish in MISL, Tacoma took Hattrup with the draft’s fourth overall pick.

“There were no tech companies back then, so I was making more money ($25,000 plus a $5,000 signing bonus; combined $70k today) than the other kids leaving school,” shares Hattrup. “Across the league, some guys were getting $100-200,000.” Playing time was in short supply, however, since the Stars’ arsenal featured several proven scorers, including all-stars Preki and Steve Zungul. The Weyerhaeuser-financed club had lured Zungul from San Diego with a reported $200,000 salary and $150,000 signing bonus (combined $820k today). Oh, and he just might have been housed in the Sheraton penthouse.

After the ‘88 season, the Weyerhaeusers group gave up, and Hattrup joined scores of others in the migratory practice of playing for two clubs per year. In 1988, he returned to Seattle and the Storm, with Fry, Jeff Stock and Peter Fewing, won the league championship. Then it was off to Atlanta for the National Professional Soccer League indoor season. The Attack moved to Kansas City, where he won a championship. When the Storm folded, he and Fry were forced to leave home, again.

Finding Pay by The Bay

A Seattle rival, the well-backed San Francisco Bay Blackhawks were the class of the West Coast and perhaps all of the A-League. Owner Dan Van Voorhis assembled more than 10 internationals, including Eric Wynalda and Marcelo Balboa, and Fry helped them win the ’91 title and reach the Concacaf Champions Cup.

“Guys were making $30-40,000 for a six-month season; that was pretty good,” says Fry, who also was provided a free apartment, an invaluable asset in the pricey Bay Area housing market. Meanwhile, farther south along the Bay, Hattrup was among the ringers for the semipro San Jose Oaks. Like the Blackhawks, they paid bonuses for goals and wins ($100 per), and his housing was also taken care of. He flopped on the sofa at Fry’s apartment.

At that point, in 1991, Fry and Hattrup were both 27, the sweet spot for most pros. Yet for much the next couple summers they could be found coaching kids and playing for prizes such as the Kennedy Cup. “To be honest, offers Hattrup, “that was some of the most fun I’ve ever had, and we were making our summer living doing camps and playing on the weekends.”

FTI Seattle was a talented team, and several of the players – Bernie James, Crook, Tom Bialek – joined Fry and Hattrup in 1994 with the born-again Sounders. With former Microsoft executive Scott Oki providing firm financial footing, Alan Hinton put together a remarkable team in that they were almost exclusively Washington-raised and 32 of 44 games the first two years out of the gate.

The top end of the Sounders roster was reasonably compensated, on a scale comparable to that of the Blackhawks, who had since disbanded. Hattrup made $36,000, plus performance bonuses. “You could make it work, but you had to do other things as well,” says Fry, who was also employed by a beverage distributor in addition to coaching.

Sounders’ Return Signal Better Times

Both Fry and Hattrup remembered their early pro years, when veterans mentored and looked after them. Seeing that the younger squad players were making very little salary and largely excluded from the bonuses, they approached Hinton with an alternative structure. “We wanted it spread throughout the squad.”

“We had a common goal: to win every game. So, after every win, everybody got the same,” says Fry. “Whether you were starting or not, you could be a huge contributor to the team. It worked out great.” Seattle finished first in the ’94 regular season and won the ’95 championship.

Following the 1995 season, as A-League MVP, Hattrup was signed by Major League Soccer and assigned to Tampa Bay for the first season. It was his biggest payday: $60,000, guaranteed. As Fry found in New York, the cost of living varied wildly, but there were no adjustments. Consequently, it might be the high life in Kansas City or three roommates in LA. There was no retirement plan and, according to Hattrup, some players, often those making the minimum, had no health insurance.

When Hattrup returned to Seattle in 1997 after two injury-plagued MLS seasons, Fry was wrapping-up his career after suffering a broken leg the year prior, and Sounders pay had dropped precipitously. Some were going unpaid unless they saw game action. He resumed playing indoor, winning a pair of NPSL titles in his final two seasons in Milwaukee before retiring from the Sounders the same year, in 2001.

The End Game

They were both 37 years of age when beginning the second phase of their professional lives. Hattrup assumed a coaching position at Crossfire Premier. In 2004, Fry was one of the creators of Instabench, now ubiquitous on youth match sidelines. He’s now operations director for Eastside FC.

They represent in many ways this Lost Generation, those promising players whose prime fell in the 12 years between the NASL demise and MLS rise. Fry, Hattrup and many of their peers could’ve been prominent Americans in any league, given the opportunity. Still, there’s no regret, no bitterness. No huge nest egg but lots of experiences, lots of stories.

“There was no one putting money away; we weren’t playing for money,” asserts Hattrup. “It weeded out anybody who just wanted a paycheck.”

For Fry, although the crowds were relatively small and spotlight ever elusive, he’s satisfied with his body of work.

“Sure, it would be great with the sounders now, but I feel a lot of pride in what we accomplished.

“I wasn’t playing (to keep the league going) or thinking about the future of soccer; that’s not why I did it,” explains Fry. “I was playing because I was having fun and it’s something I love. The byproduct is that myself and a bunch of guys are part of the makeup of history of soccer in this country. That makes me super proud.”

Frank MacDonald is a Seattle soccer journalist and historian. This story first appeared on his website and has been republished here with his permission.