A Royal Visit

Even by standards 50 years ago it was a modest match day program. Yet it matched the surroundings and, some might say, the fare that was on display that afternoon.

Still, it was a start. Turning the page, maybe spectators took pause from watching the stocky, commanding figure standing astride of the benches, to let the significance of the day soak in.

In a simple font, probably prepared on someone’s personal typewriter, flow the words: “We are sure that this game will be a milestone in the history of soccer in our state.” It goes on: “It is with pleasure and a feeling of satisfaction we are able to act as hosts to the first all-professional soccer game held in our state.”

West Seattle Stadium’s main stand is virtually the same as 50 years ago, when Vancouver met Bonsucesso.

It’s actually easy to picture the setting today. West Seattle Stadium sits virtually untouched, not only in the 50 years since but the 80 since being erected. The main stand, wooden and covered, could serve as a stunt double for a mid-20th Century British ground. The weather on that February 11, 1968 was practically spring-like: Bright sunshine and mild temperatures after a cold, soggy start to the new year. The grass is a bit long and ungroomed while the ground itself is soft from repeated rains.

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One for the Ages

Arriving jetlagged and greeted by some unlikely L.A. rainfall, Kasey Keller was actually very much in favor of postponing what would become the signature performance of his storied life between the sticks. As it turned out, he would have to keep his date with destiny.

On the morning of Feb. 10, 1998, came the all-clear call; the United States would indeed face Brazil in a Gold Cup semifinal that evening in the Coliseum, what some would later term the Miracle on Grass.

This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of that occasion, when everything aligned to create some magic that has yet to be replicated. Coincidentally, the two of the principals in pulling off that caper–Keller and Preki–have been reunited in the Puget Sound soccer community.

2015 National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee Kasey Keller’s signature performance came against Brazil. (Courtesy Sounders FC)

“I remember laughing to myself later, after the game,” recalls Keller, “that this could quite possibly be the game of my career, and I hadn’t wanted it to go forward. I wanted it delayed.”

Keller, then just 27 and the first-choice keeper for Leicester City, has flown all night after posting back-to-back Premiership shutouts of Man United and Leeds. It was a compromise between U.S. Soccer and Martin O’Neill, the Leicester manager; Keller would miss the two group games but arrive in time for the knockout round, the day before as it turned out.

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Little Feeling for the Draft

What do a Playboy Playmate, basketball All-American and Cristian Roldan have in common? They’ve all been selected in American soccer’s most anachronistic and superfluous offseason exercise.

Just completed was SuperDraft week across MLS. And that woosh you feel is the collective sigh of purists who only wish to be awakened from their offseason slumber for news of a DP signing.

The merits of a draft must be examined on two levels: competitive and fan interest. Does it help: a) identify and, b) distribute top talent to create parity? And does it satiate diehard fans’ appetite and/or attract new fans to the game?

The Draft as Hype

Of course, the SuperDraft piggybacks on the United Soccer Coaches (formerly NSCAA) Annual Convention and the vibe that comes from 11,000 soccer types gathering together under one roof. Before it joined the coaches’ festivities, the draft was conducted via conference call, and some might say that was just as well. That’s no slam; neither baseball nor hockey drafts are must-see events, either.

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Wee Willie: The First Name We Heard

So many pieces fell precisely into place, it’s not surprising that the Sounders’ very first season came to be known as Camelot. A huge opening night turnout, the immediate and steadfast bonding between enthusiastic new fans and deeply appreciative and earnest players.

It was beyond what anyone had hoped for, in terms of both wins and bottom line, but also in laying a firm foundation for everything that has been built in the 44 years since. Today, comes the story of a somewhat forgotten figure who, in retrospect, casts a much larger shadow than his diminutive frame or equally slight statistics might suggest.

As is too often the case, we duly recognize people too late, after they have passed. Unfortunately, that is the context of sharing these memories of an original Sounder who died thousands of miles away from Seattle on the Friday before Christmas.

His historic first Sounders home goal came just two minutes into the inaugural Memorial win over Denver. (Frank MacDonald Collection)

Willie Penman is a name with which you should become familiar. When you next thrice bellow the name of a goal scorer, know that Wee Willie was the first to send a Sounders crowd to its feet, the first to feel the rush of sound and energy follow the ball into the back of the net. It’s as simple as this: Penman scored barely two minutes into the first Sounders home match. And the rest is history.

A True Original

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Soccer in Puget Sound: It’s Rarely a Holiday

If your idea of a perfect winter holiday is to while away the hours watching live top-class soccer, you best not live near Seattle.

Among native Puget Sounders, perhaps only octogenarians can speak of such an experience in their lifetime. As we take a view to scores of frigid, rain-swept Premier League matches pressed into a cramped calendar, we can only surmise that long ago someone came to their senses and simply said, No more.

Most state league games through 1920 were played on playfields with little grass and no seating for spectators, who ringed the pitch.

Who knows, someday MLS may conform to the FIFA time table. But a look back at the last century or so illustrates why playing through the winter is problematic in Cascadia and downright impossible in the majority of MLS markets. New Year’s Day 2018 forecasts 12 of those cities mired in sub-freezing temperatures. Montreal’s high is predicted to reach minus-6 degrees F.

But enough about MLS. This is more a story of the hardened souls (masochists, some might say) in Seattle’s long-ago past who truly played for the love of the game and the sense of community it fosters, and did so in some of the most trying of circumstances. This is a tale of how and why our forefathers once tread the less-than-firma terra during the short, bleak and, yes, festive days of winter.

Holiday Bonus: Another Play Date

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Everything Must Go

It was a seminal moment in the shared experience of Seattle area soccer history. To the casual observer it would’ve appeared to be American boys run amok. To Walter Schmetzer, however, it was the inspiration that would launch a business of 43 years and probably thousands of stories.

Forty-some years before Brian Schmetzer delivered an MLS Cup to Puget Sound, his family’s name became synonymous with quality soccer goods dispensed on Lake City Way and, more recently, Aurora Avenue. Schmetzer’s Sporthaus helped outfit generations of players in a region gone mad over the game, until closing the doors for good earlier this month.

This Lake City Way location is most closely associated with Sporthaus Schmetzer. It served as the flagship store from 1976-2012. (Courtesy Schmetzer Family)

One of the first such stores in the Northwest, Schmetzer’s was the region’s longest-running soccer shop. It preceded premier academies and every women’s collegiate program in the state, and thrived while multiple professional clubs fell by the wayside.

At its essence, Sporthaus was a family business dedicated to delivering exceptional equipment and service to a demanding demographic. It was not always easy, and shrewd stewardship from two generations of Schmetzers proved to be the essential ingredient. While its closing after nearly 43 years may make some wistful, it leaves behind a mass of memories, beginning with Walter Schmetzer’s recollection of a summer day in 1974.

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Brand Him A Sounder

He commenced his career in Toronto, played for Canada’s Olympic and national teams, and has made the Great White North’s largest city his home. And yet on Saturday, despite never setting foot in CenturyLink Field, Jack Brand will bleed Rave Green.

“Some of my friends will curse me for that,” says Brand, “(but) my heart is with Seattle.”

It’s not so much the quantity of time Brand spent in Seattle in his earlier years. Rather, it is the quality of that tenure. He was part of something truly special, both in Sounders lore and the rebirth of the game with a semipro club comprised of local lads.

Jack Brand (Courtesy Brand Family)

Brand, now 64, presides over his family’s business, based in nearby Mississauga. The Brand Felt Ltd. manufactures industrial felt for a multitude of industries, exporting worldwide. The German-born Brand, at 17, was sent abroad by his father, company founder Klaus Brand, to study in New York state. Although he had played for then-West Germany’s youth national team, his father forbade him from turning pro at the time.

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And Sometimes You Draw

Midway through Bull Durham, pitching protégé Nuke LaLoosh scrambles up the bus aisle, bellowing his newfound appreciation for learning. He’s in the midst of a winning streak and finds it addictive.

“I love winning,” he exclaims in the ear of mentor Crash Davis. “You know what I’m saying? It’s like better than losing.”

Moments later Crash begins a crash course lesson on baseball clichés, among them, “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. And sometimes it rains.”

Not all draws are equal, evidenced by the added time comeback in Portland early in the unbeaten run. (Courtesy Sounders FC/Charis Wilson)

If ever they flip the premise to futbol (the reverse of Jimmy Fallon’s Fever Pitch), that particular cliché will require reworking. When it comes to the Simplest Game it’s a little more complicated. More like: “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. And sometimes you draw.”

The latter fact is all too topical at the moment in Sounderland. By match day in Utah versus RSL it will have been more than a month since the Sounders lost. Or won.

Fit to be Tied

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When Falcons Took Flight

It’s been well over 30 years yet Peter Hattrup remembers rolling into a September 1983 practice.

Hattrup was a sophomore at Seattle Pacific University, and the Falcons were in Atlanta, wrapping up another extended early-season road trip. Having come directly from the airport to Georgia State’s training field, the players and coaches emptied out of their fleet of five shiny, black Lincoln Town Cars.

Trudging off the field following their own practice session, the Georgia State players were slack-jawed, to say the least.

From 1979 to 2000, Seattle Pacific regularly crisscrossed the country in search of games to satisfy NCAA standards.

“One guy said, ‘Damn, you guys travel in style. I thought it was the mafia pulling up,’” recalls Hattrup. “He asked how long we drove; I said we flew. Then he asked where we were staying; I said Peachtree Plaza. He said, ‘S***. You guys fly here and stay at the Plaza!?”

Indeed, for more than two decades SPU was easily the most traveled college soccer program on the planet. In an era when even the biggest D-1 powers were largely confined to the gas tank capacity of a school-issued van, the Falcons regularly crisscrossed the continent at 30,000 feet and drove the interstates in style.

This was no anomaly, no gimmick. Upon his hiring, coach Cliff McCrath was asked to create a national-class program in an area isolated geographically from soccer bastions. Furthermore, McCrath’s program was without a true home field for the first 29 seasons. To become the best requires rigorous tests. So, Seattle Pacific hit the road.

Up, Up and Away

An early season ritual, at first the road trip consisted of a handful of West Coast games. Soon enough, the Falcons took flight and eight dates became the norm, with destinations far, far away. Although 2,700 miles away, Miami was a frequent terminus.

Lincoln’s Town Car was synonymous with Seattle Pacific’s life on the road.

Even in this contemporary age where air travel has become an afterthought, only two in-state programs are slated to step foot inside the Eastern time zone this autumn. Combined, the Washington and Eastern Washington women will play four times. By comparison, during between 1981-94, five times SPU played four or more ET games on a single trip, not to mention other locales.

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One Game’s Profound Legacy

Forty years on, it remains a remarkable match. Not only did it captivate American soccer’s growing audience of the day and provide a fairytale finish for a global legend, Soccer Bowl ’77 also cast the pathway, for better or worse, for a club and a country seeking to development a professional presence.

For those who witnessed the NASL final between the glamorous New York Cosmos and unfashionable (outside Cascadia) yet fearless Seattle Sounders, it left an indelible mark on the memory. Just a glimpse of the video or photos awakens the senses.

Among the Cosmos’ superstars, Franz Beckenbauer was the reigning Ballon d’Or winner in Soccer Bowl ’77.

Of course, there was the epic backdrop: a gray, late summer Sunday afternoon, Portland’s Civic Stadium crammed full of 35,548 spectators, some sitting cross-legged on the artificial turf, just a few feet from the field’s boundaries.

There is the ‘Oh, no!’ moment of a partially deaf Sounders keeper being fleeced of the ball for the game’s opening goal. There is the rapid reply of Seattle to equalize, the relentless pressure and the sheer openness–rarely found in a final–that leads to dozens of chances (22 shots on target, two others by Seattle off the frame itself). And there is the chaotic scene at the final whistle, the crowd streaming onto the pitch and the shirtless Pelé running and hugging his teammates.

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Seattle's Soccer Nation: Past, Present & Future