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Seattle soccer legend Jimmy Gabriel passes away

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The Scotsman was connected to just about every facet of the local soccer scene.

For all the people with hands in the success of the Seattle Sounders since they first began play in 1974, few could claim quite the level of involvement as Jimmy Gabriel. The Scottish defensive midfielder came to the Sounders as a player/assistant coach in their first NASL season with an impressive resume that included lengthy stops in Everton and Southampton. He would eventually have some direct connection to virtually every high-level soccer team that has played in the region and is considered a mentor by just every important figure involved the local soccer scene has ever produced.

Gabriel’s family announced on Saturday that the legendary player and coach passed away at the age of 80, but the mark he left on the region will last for generations to come.

Gabriel took over as manager of the Sounders in 1977, while still playing occasionally. Among his notable achievements were scoring the first goal in Kingdome history and leading the Sounders to their first appearance in the Soccer Bowl, during that first season in charge, no less. He later moved to the San Jose Earthquakes, where he continued to do the player/coach thing on both the indoor and outdoor teams for a few more seasons before finding his way back to Seattle.

After the demise of the NASL, he kept soccer going in the region by managing the Seattle Storm, a semi-professional team that bridged the gap between the NASL and the USL. Chris Henderson, Bernie James, Brian Schmetzer and Wade Webber were among the notable alumni on that team.

Gabriel would also coach at the University of Washington, serve as an assistant for both James and Schmetzer for the USL Sounders and continued to be a fixture around the club during the early years of MLS.

Here’s what some of the current Sounders brain trust had to say about him:

SOUNDERS FC OWNER ADRIAN HANAUER

“Today’s news is a heavy blow for anyone that loves soccer in our community. Jimmy Gabriel was beloved in this region, and our sport would not be where it is here today without his influence. Jimmy was integral to those early NASL Sounders teams, which inspired me in my youth and played a major role in my own journey with this club. Jimmy embodied all that is great about our game: he was passionate in everything he did surrounding the sport, but was always humble and a joy to be around. We will miss him dearly, but his legacy lives on here in this community.”

SOUNDERS FC HEAD COACH BRIAN SCHMETZER

“I am saddened to learn of Jimmy’s passing. Today we lost an incredible mentor and friend. Jimmy’s influence on my overall view of life through the game is vast, and there’s no doubt that without his counsel I would not be the same person and coach. I am better in life having known Jimmy, and he will be missed by so many people he touched. I am thinking of his family today and wish them peace in knowing that Jimmy’s impact will never be forgotten.”

SOUNDERS FC GENERAL MANAGER & PRESIDENT OF SOCCER GARTH LAGERWEY

“Jimmy Gabriel is immensely respected in our soccer community, and learning of his passing today is deeply saddening. I know Jimmy was a man of high character and integrity, and from everyone I’ve encountered in Seattle that worked with him over the years, it’s clear that his impact will be felt for generations. On behalf of our organization, I’d like to extend our deepest condolences to his family.”

SOUNDERS FC SVP OF SOCCER OPERATIONS & SPORTING DIRECTOR CRAIG WAIBEL

“I had the honor of playing for Jimmy Gabriel at the University of Washington, and he was much more than a coach. He was someone that made his players better people in everyday life, and I will never forget the lessons he taught. In addition to being a leader and mentor, Jimmy was simply a kind person. He made an impression that has stayed with me long after my playing days. He will be missed.”