All posts by Frank MacDonald

Pedigree suggests I had no future in soccer. Our town had no youth program, let alone a high school team. So we started our own club. Then I had a mercifully brief tryout at the University of Washington. Apart from an intramural championship and several seasons in the state league, that's it. Nevertheless, the game intrigues me to this day. Some days it's tactics and player combinations. But mostly it how the game connects the people on this planet and marks time. Nothing has ever come easily for soccer in America. Failures abound. But if the mark of a champion is getting knocked down only to climb back to your feet, then it there's a real possibility fùtbol will not only persevere but flourish. I've tried to do my part, be it as a paying fan, a journalist, a publicist or historian based in the nation's soccer capital, Seattle. So this blog serves as an outlet to share what I've collected from 30-some years in around the sport in these parts, as well as the shared experience of going forward together.

10-Men Can Tell A Tale

If they were writing a book entitled The Team Most Unlikely To, the Sounders would already be well into chapter four.

On the heels of the improbable second half and 2016 playoff run to an MLS Cup, in the first 18 matches this season Seattle has staged a three-goal comeback in the last 15 minutes versus New England and, earlier this week, come from a man down and a goal down at Portland to earn a dramatic draw at the expense of two points to their most despised rival.

An instant classic: Clint Dempsey celebrates his stoppage-time equalizer at Portland. (Courtest Sounders FC/Charis Wilson)

The first two acts are unprecedented. Seattle had never won a top flight championship, let alone after such a disastrous start. The Revs also proved to be a foil for Sounders history.

While Dempsey’s last-gasp equalizer at Providence Park was extraordinary, especially coming in a derby game away, seeing red has never been an automatic death sentence. After all, the same scenario played out at Memorial Stadium 24 hours earlier, with the Reign reeling in full-strength Kansas City.

Chances: Slim and Slimmer

There have been studies completed in the sport’s upper echelons on the likelihood of a side winning shorthanded. One, published by the University of Nottingham in 2015, found that home sides that have a player sent off, average 1.67 points and a 10-man visitor 1.06. Of course, among the key variables is the amount of time spent playing down a man.

Earlier research in the EPL suggests that teams are getting better at playing with a man down. Still, the percentage of teams able to win a match after losing a player from a leading or drawn position descend into the single digits. Faced with doing so on the road, the chances dwindle further. And yet.

Leighton O’Brien, right (beside Peter Hattrup), being honored as a past USL MVP in 2014. (Courtesy Sounders FC)

Flipping through 40 seasons (43 years) of Seattle teams, some of the most improbable outcomes involving 10v11 occurred away. Two happened in Toronto, the first in 1974.

Sounders Great Escapes

In their inaugural season the Sounders overcame a red card for an 86th-minute winner from Davey Butler. In 2011, following Jhon Kennedy Hurtado’s early exit, Fredy Montero connected on a free kick at the death for a 1-0 smash-and-grab.

Brian Schmetzer could offer up another instance. In 2002, Schmetzer’s rookie season as Sounders coach, A-League Indiana was level with Seattle, 2-2, when Jason Farrell took his second yellow. No matter. Brian Ching came to the rescue, scoring twice in the final 13 minutes for a 4-2 victory.

However, the mother of all 10v11 wins was a year earlier, in 2001. Playing 20, 40 or 50 minutes short in a northern latitude is one thing. But when it’s practically an entire match under a broiling Texas sun, that’s a different matter entirely.

One Harsh Start

On Labor Day weekend, Seattle took flight to El Paso. A boisterous crowd of about 2,500 was on hand for the game and postgame fireworks. Temperatures reached 91 degrees just before kickoff. Shortly thereafter, the Sounders looked like road kill.

O’Brien, here at Portland in 2008, finished as the USL Sounders’ career leader in game-winning goals (15).

In the sixth minute, referee Jesse Johnson, from nearby New Mexico, reached into his pocket, flashing a red to Viet Nguyen for a hard tackle. Nguyen strode to the locker room with Bernie James, his coach, right behind. James was ejected for excessively arguing the call.

Sure enough, soon El Paso went in front, 1-0. At that point, offers O’Brien, a team can either succumb to the inevitable, or choose the alternative.

“When you go down to 10, you get a little bit more focused because you know your chances aren’t going to be as great,” he says. “You’re very focused on the tactical, like where do I need to be. And you have that Alamo effect, where you’re down and against the odds, and you’re working harder for each other.”

Buddy, Can You Spare a Call?

Of course, to come from behind when playing 10 versus 11, a team needs some luck, some favorable calls. In Seattle’s case, they got not one or two. They got three big calls.

A Federal Way native, O’Brien played eight seasons for the Sounders.

“Obviously, the tide changed, because the ref ended up giving us three penalties,” says O’Brien.

“You hardly ever see it; it’s bizarre, a team getting three penalties,” remarks O’Brien. “It was a funny game. You’re down a man on the road, it’s hot, it’s El Paso, and you’re normally not going to get those calls.

“We were defending most of the time and caught them on the break and must’ve got pulled down,” he adds. “But we were in the box for those three, so we must have been getting chances on goal.”

O’Brien took each of the penalties, all within a span of 21 minutes. To this day, when he shares the story, there are disbelievers. But it’s a fact.

“I remember going left (on the first penalty), then right, and saying, ‘Aw, f*** it, just smash it’ (on the third),” grins O’Brien.  “It was a head game (with the keeper) at that point.” The Sounders won, 3-2. (The match also featured a fourth penalty; the Patriots converted a consolation spot kick in the 89th minute.)

O’Brien is now technical director for Pac Northwest SC.

It remains the only hat trick of penalties in Sounders lore. It’s also the only time Seattle has scored three times with a man disadvantage. It’s a game that often comes to O’Brien’s mind, a tale of redemption, of resilience and rarity.

Rare are the occasions when a side can play shorthanded for 84 minutes and earn a result, never mind a win. “If you’ve got that team spirit, you have that mentality to do it,” maintains O’Brien. “It’s up to the spirit of the group. When your backs are to the wall, you give that little bit extra.”

Seattle vs Portland: By The Numbers (MLS Era, 2009- )

MLS Era – Sounders vs Timbers (2009- ) [as of June 26, 2017]

League

Home (form): 7-0-2 GD: 15-4 [DWDWWWWWW]

Away: 2-5-3 GD: 19-25 [WLDLDWLLLD]

Total: 9-5-5 GD: 34-29  [DWLDWDWLDWWWLWLWLWD]

Playoffs

Home: 0-1-0 GD: 1-2 [L]

Away: 0-1-0 GD: 2-3 [L]

Total: 0-2-0 GD: 3-5 [LL]

Open Cup

Home: 2-1-0 GD: 6-5 [WLW]

Away: 1-0-1 GD: 3-2 [WD]

Total: 3-1-1 GD: 9-7 [WDWLW]

Extremes

Record Win: 3-0, CenturyLink Field, 10/7/2012

Record Defeat: 4-1, Providence Park, 6/28/2015

Record Total Goals:  8, Portland 4:4 Seattle, 4/5/2014

Doubles (win home & away same season): 1/0

Top Attendance Continue reading Seattle vs Portland: By The Numbers (MLS Era, 2009- )

Seattle vs Portland: By The Numbers (WSL Era, 1985-90)

Western Soccer Alliance/League Era – FC Seattle Storm vs FC Portland/Timbers (1985-90)

League – 12 meetings

Home (form): 2-2-2 GD: 7-9 [DDWWLL]

Away: 3-3-0 GD:12-6 [WWLWLL]

Total: 5-5-2 GD: 19-15 [WDWDLWWWLLLL]

Playoffs

Home: None

Away: None

Total: None

Other – 1 Friendly

Home: 0-1-0 GD: 0-2 [L]

Away: None

Total: 0-1-0 GD: 0-2 [L]

Extremes

Record Win: 6-1, Civic Stadium, 7/3/1985

Record Defeat: 3-0, Memorial Stadium, 7/18/1990

Record Total Goals: 7, Portland 1:6 Seattle, 7/3/1985

Doubles (win home & away same season): 1/2 Continue reading Seattle vs Portland: By The Numbers (WSL Era, 1985-90)

Seattle vs Portland: By The Numbers (USL Era, 2001-08)

A-League/USL Era – Sounders vs Timbers (2001-08)

League – 32 Meetings

Home (form): 9-4-3 GD: 26-16 [WDWWWWLLLLWDWWWD]

Away: 7-7-2 GD: 15-16 [LWWLWWLLWLDLWDLW]

Total: 16-11-5 GD: 41-32 [LWDWWWLWWWWWLLLLLWLWLDDLWWWDWLDW]

Playoffs – 4 Meetings

Home: 2-0-0 GD: 4-0 [WW]

Away: 1-1-0 GD: 2-2 [LW]

Total: 3-1-0 GD: 6-2 [LWWW]

Open Cup – 2 Meetings

Home: 1-0-0 GD: 2-1 [W]

Away: 0-1-0 GD: 0-2 [L]

Total: 1-1-0 GD: 2-3 [LW] Continue reading Seattle vs Portland: By The Numbers (USL Era, 2001-08)

Seattle vs Portland: By the Numbers (NASL Era, 1975-82)

NASL Era – Sounders vs Timbers (1975-82)

League – 20 Meetings

Home (form): 7-2-1 GD: 21-11 [WWWWWW(TW)LLW]

Away: 4-4-2 GD: 12-10 [WLWL(TL)L(TW)LWW]

Total: 11-6-3 GD: 33-21 [WLWWWWL(TL)WLWW(TW)(TW)LLLWWW]

Playoffs – 1 Meeting

Home: None

Away: 0-1-0 GD: 1-2 [L]

Total: 0-1-0 GD: 1-2 [L]

Extremes

Record Win: 5-1, Kingdome, 6/30/1979

Record Defeat: 0-3, Civic Stadium, 6/11/1977

Record Total Goals: 6, Seattle 5:1 Portland, 6/30/1979

Doubles (win home & away same season): 3/1

Portland’s Chris Dangerfield, left, and Mike England battle for the ball in the Timbers’ first visit to Seattle, in 1975.

Individual Leaders Continue reading Seattle vs Portland: By the Numbers (NASL Era, 1975-82)

It’s Full Time for F.X.

When F.X. McRory’s Steak, Chop and Oyster House dropped anchor in Pioneer Square back in the autumn of 1977, a half-dozen oysters went for less than two bucks and the highest-paid Sounder’s salary was $30,000.

Obviously much has changed in the near 40 years since. Soon Mick McHugh will open a new F.X. McRory’s at a nearby but still undisclosed location. Yet, for many sports fans from both Seattle and traveling from afar to our fair city, McHugh’s June 11 last call will unquestionably mark the end of an era.

Sigi Schmid celebrated his first night as Sounders FC coach at F.X. McRory’s. Here he is joined by the family of Hans Stierle, a Vashon Island resident and also his first youth coach. (Courtesy Sounders FC)

With its closing come a rush of memories from four decades, of drinks ordered, sipped and spilled. Of lunchtime or happy hour gatherings and a crush of people before and after events at the neighboring stadia.

At one time, the McRory’s brass doors swung open to the Kingdome when that concrete mausoleum came to life about 170 nights per year as home to the Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders and Sonics. Beyond being a 350-seat, 12,000-square-foot cash register, it became a landmark. Countless other bars and restaurants came and closed during the F.X. run, and it’s fair to say more gameday pints were slurped there than any other joint in town.

For Sounders Nation, McRory’s and the entire McKesson and Robbins Building that houses it holds a special place in history. The NASL era Sounders were the first team to take residency in the Kingdome, and in 1979 their offices moved from the nearby Metropole Building into the fourth floor, above F.X. Before long, the Sonics took occupancy on the second floor.

When Sounders Hit the Bar

Alan Hudson, the legendary Sounders captain and midfield maestro, shared his own F.X. story.

Early on, F.X. McRory’s would take out a full-page ad in The Times for an annual report.

“It was the first bar downtown I frequented with Jimmy Gabriel, Harry Redknapp, Bobby Howe and John Anderson (the trainer),” writes Hudson. “We were in the old office above and on leaving, waiting for the elevator, Harry was complaining about (Anderson) never buying a drink.”

Sure enough, on this occasion Anderson arrived after the others had ordered. “So Harry turned to John and said… ‘John, why haven’t you ever bought a bloody drink?’ John coolly said, ’Harry, you never asked me.’

“Me, Jimmy, Bobby howled. Harry was gobsmacked. Great answer, because we all know that those in the USA are not as quick to the bar as us English.

Hudson admits he’s seen a fair share of bars around the world, but McRory’s stands out. “I went many a time after a match,” he shared. “It was obviously the first time I’d seen a ladder behind the bar.” It was also where Hudson discovered–amongst all the hundreds of bourbons and special Scotches–his taste for that Canadian blended whisky, Crown Royal.

On to the Next Round

Soon after, Don Greiert succeeded Anderson as the Sounders trainer. Greiert has his own F.X. stories for he once supervised the oyster bar.

When alumni of the NASL Sounders gathered in 2014, McRory’s was the logical location.

“The first St. Patrick’s Day I remember (owners) Mick (McHugh) and Tim (Firnstahl) having us start the day before by moving out all the tables from the bar for more room,” said Greiert. “After the last partygoer was cleared (on St. Paddy’s Day), Mick and Tim let us stay for a closed-door, private celebration until 5 in the morning.”

Dave Schumacher, once the club’s community relations director, recalls Bobby Howe conducting his Captain Bluff drinking game to wide-eyed new staff. Inevitably, the naïve newcomers would be left staggering.

“It was where everybody went, because we were right there, up on the fourth floor” said Schumacher. “You could come down the back elevator and in through the back door. Bobby and Alan (Hinton) were always there.”

McHugh asked Hinton to serve as a guest panelist (along with Bill the Beerman and Ivar Haglund) at an ale and beer tasting event.

Such regulars were Sounders staff that two are depicted in LeRoy Neiman’s painting of the iconic whisky bar. After Kingdome matches, usually the first stop for players was the small and rather Spartan stadium lounge. Subsequent rounds, however, came down the street at McRory’s.

F.X. McRory’s is such an institution that it often becomes a rallying point for out-of-towners. Among the first traveling fans to lay siege to the place were Vancouver Whitecaps supporters in the Eighties. They didn’t seem to mind the lesser buzz factor of American brews as they chanted Ooogie, Oogie, Oogie into the night.

Memories of Latter Days

After Sigi Schmid was named coach in December 2008, he joined fans, friends and family to celebrate that first night in Seattle at McRory’s. One not-so-pleasant memory comes from a pre-dawn December 2010 assembly of those associated with the 2022 World Cup bid, which promised matches in Seattle should the U.S. prevail with FIFA. Alas, the news was deflating. But who knows, maybe the ultimate ending will have a twist.

Sounders players and staff were such regulars at the bar, two are depicted in LeRoy Neiman’s 1980 painting.

In 2014, Sounders FC located its offices virtually across Occidental Avenue from F.X. Also that year, alumni from the original Sounders converged on McRory’s to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Seattle’s first pro soccer club. They found that the place had aged gracefully.

Three iterations of Sounders fans and players, coaches and staff have leaned on the 96-foot marble bar. And it’s reasonable to assume that wherever Mick moves that bar, they will follow.

Whitey: The One & Only

The first time the Craggs household received a call asking for Whitey, his mother replied, “There’s nobody here by that name,” and immediately hung up the phone.

George Craggs moved with his family to Seattle in 1947 and resided in Ballard until his death.

What Gladys Craggs didn’t know was that her fair-haired young son had acquired a nickname from his peers, one that would stick for the rest of his 70-some years on this earth, all the while becoming a moniker in Puget Sound soccer that was every bit as recognizable as any player.

From then on, noted George Craggs, “if they asked for Whitey, it was soccer. If they asked for George, it was something else.”

On March 29, George “Whitey” Craggs died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 87.

Whitey Craggs should also be considered a pioneer of soccer in Seattle. His tenure as one of the area’s premier refs is filled with stories of players whom he refereed but also gave guidance to as young men, including myself. Refereeing is not always easy, but he made it seem easy at times and wasn’t afraid to scold you if you misbehaved. A true legend of Washington state soccer.

Brian Schmetzer

Craggs was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1981, when the U.S. Soccer AGM was held in Seattle. “That was one time I can remember saying I know I’m only 5 foot (and 5 inches) tall, but today I’m 10 foot tall.”

He had officiated thousands and thousands of games, mentored hundreds of referees and interacted with countless players, coaches and fans during his lifelong devotion to the game. And yet, if Whitey had one regret, he had a hundred.
“I spent too much time going down to Woodland Park or wherever,” he shared in 2016. “I used to referee games seven days a week. Obviously, you’re away from home a lot, which I shouldn’t have been. I should’ve been home.”

Craggs clearly missed Pearl, his wife of 61 years. She passed away 16 months prior to that interview. He lost a daughter, Patti, in 2008. He is survived by daughter Georgia and sons Ed and Donny.

The Seattle area soccer community is vast in size but remains connected and close. Word soon spread of Whitey’s passing. Yes, he was one of the state’s few National Soccer Hall of Fame inductees, but he was more so known for his humor and humility in officiating all sorts of matches, from youth and adult leagues, to college and professional leagues over an estimated 40 years.

If asked to give a word description of Whitey it would be unique! He was definitely one of a kind. Unique in his humor, unique in how he saw the world, unique in how he refereed. He opened the referee door for so many of us.

Betty Schmeck

Craggs might have lived in the shadow of another hall of famer, but he blazed a trail all his own. Edmund Craggs, his father, was among the builders of the soccer landscape that developed in post-World War II Seattle. Eddie coached and organized youth and senior leagues. When his vaunted Buchan Bakers team was winning state titles, it was with minimal contributions from little (5-foot-5) Whitey. Seeking more playing time, the son separated from the father and joined rivals Germania.

He became a national referee in 1961 and began officiating NASL matches in 1974.

By that juncture, yet another hall of fame personality, Barney Kempton, had convinced Whitey to become a volunteer referee in the growing Catholic Youth Organization league. As Whitey recalls, “I said OK. I think you Catholics need a Protestant to keep you honest.”

That was the mid-Fifties. Craggs had landed in the Fremont neighborhood in spring of 1947, moving from Montreal. Initially the father and son sought out hockey opportunities, but settled on soccer, which was a going concern.

He once stopped a game at Green Lake so both teams could help put out a house fire; 30 guys in their kits throwing water on a house, with Whitey in the middle, directing traffic. The fire department finally showed up, and we all went back to our game. Funny guy!

Don Anderson

By 1961 Whitey became a certified national referee, and a few years later he was assigned an exhibition game between Brazil’s Bonsucesso and the Vancouver Royals and at West Seattle Stadium. The Royals were coached by Hungarian and Real Madrid legend Ferenc Puskas. Afterward, Craggs was curious how he had done. A friend asked Puskas in Hungarian, What did you think of the referee? “He didn’t say I was any good,” said Craggs, “but he said ‘We’ve had worse.’”

My fondest memories were him refereeing our high school games. It was like going to a comedy show. He made Seattle soccer a better place. Still scratch my head at some of his calls though.

Walt Schmetzer

Partly because he started officiating games played by peers and former teammates and partly by nature, Whitey developed a habit of conversing with players throughout a match. There was some smack spoken, but it was give and take. And while he was often accused of sight impairment by fans, his hearing was just fine.

Gary Shugarts, George Craggs and Neil West.

When he worked Sounders games in a sold-out Memorial Stadium in the mid-Seventies, he would exchange barbs with spectators. On more than a few occasions, fans would yell, “You’re missing a good game, ref!” Whitey’s standard reply was rapid and witty: “I know, but they sent me here instead.”

He was often chided for his positioning as a referee; he only occasionally strayed far from the center circle. When reminded that the players had run past him, he quipped: “They’ll be back in a minute.”

Within the past couple years, the long-retired Whitey answered the phone. A woman from a local Sunday league was desperate to get coverage for matches. “I said I don’t run any more. She said, ‘Just stand in the center circle, like you always did.’”

What a personality he was. So memorable and influential in so many lives, for generations.

Rachel Berg Belfield

Whitey Craggs at his ‘second home,’ Lower Woodland Park.

Rather than focus on the catcalls, Whitey marveled in how many friends he made in the game. He was wistful for the days when there was a greater togetherness between officials and players, when a firm word of caution was favored over the drama of issuing a yellow card.

As word of Whitey’s death circulated in the past few days, tributes and stories were shared online. Players who learned the lesson of not taking it all –the game, as well as life– so seriously. Stick to your calls, no matter what others think. Use humor to diffuse anger. The terms ‘legend’ and ‘unique’ are repeated.

Truly, George “Whitey” Craggs was one of a kind.

Now Online: The Life of Brian (Schmetzer)

While it was a standing-room, one-night-only affair, you now can absorb all the stories and banter from Brian Schmetzer: This Is Your Life, and do so from a comfortable chair.

In 15 seasons together, Zach Scott (left) and Brian Schmetzer created no shortage of stories. (WA Legends/Corky Trewin photo)

Washington State Legends of Soccer has produced their video of the event, held Feb. 28 at The Market Arms. It’s available, commercial free, in four segments, on the Legends YouTube channel.

Continue reading Now Online: The Life of Brian (Schmetzer)

The House Schmetzer Re-Built

Most have heard the stories of Brian Schmetzer’s days as contractor, of his knack for identifying a problem and intuitively identifying a fix. His latest remodeling project has been on Occidental Avenue, specifically flipping CenturyLink Field from an address with a Welcome mat to a destination out-of-towners would just as soon avoid.

Since his hiring last summer, the CLink is The House Schmetzer Re-built. Going into Atlanta United’s visit, Seattle is on the verge of claiming one of the top home unbeaten runs of all-time.

The home-opening win over New York was Seattle’s fifth straight in all competitions. (Courtesy Sounders FC/Jane Gershovich)

Dating back to those formative days in Memorial Stadium, the Sounders have fashioned a formidable (.716) win percentage) at home. Across all competitions, Seattle (including iterations of Sounders, plus the Storm) own 17 home unbeaten streaks of 10 or more matches. That’s impressive. So is the fact that the Rave can crack the top nine on Friday.

Continue reading The House Schmetzer Re-Built

Goal-Setting: Taking Aim on Records

A staple of many a preseason camp is goal-setting. It taps into the competitive nature of athletes and coaches, to aspire and work toward targets, both for the individuals and the collective, the team.

They must be specific and measurable; within reason, but also just out of reach. To reach these goals will require more than before. Goal-setting asks us to give it everything we’ve got, and then some.

The urge to extrapolate the Nicolas Lodeiro effect over a full season has Sounders fans dreamy. (Courtesy Sounders FC)

Entering a ninth season in MLS, Sounders FC is well into its adolescence. Whereas the formative years were filled with modest accomplishments – winning season series, making the playoffs – those benchmarks are now merely base camps for assault on the summit.

Continue reading Goal-Setting: Taking Aim on Records