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.

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

Know Your Schmetzer

Although we know a lot about Brian Schmetzer, come Feb. 28 it’s certain we will know a lot more.

That evening Washington State Legends of Soccer is presenting Brian Schmetzer: This Is Your Life at The Market Arms in Ballard, and the lineup of guests promises to reveal a few more ingredients to the  Schmetz special sauce.

Of course, we are fully aware of his opening act as Sounders FC head coach. You know, when in mid-summer Schmetzer somehow righted a listing ship and steadily steered it through stormy waters, finally bringing home the bounty of an MLS Cup. We are also cognizant that Brian was born and raised in Lake City. It’s what happened along the way in connecting those two events that Tuesday night’s audience will absorb.

Continue reading Know Your Schmetzer

A Testament to Mr. Sounder

Of all the salutary-type matches chronicled in Seattle’s colorful soccer annals, the Mar. 1 Zach Scott Testimonial will check all the boxes.

Here you have a sweat-drenched, workmanlike player who wrung every ounce out of his career, who is devoted to his adopted community and who serves as an inspiration to every kid who wonders whether there’s a place in the pro game for a bulldog bent on out-working all comers to earn that roster spot, again and again and again.

Courtesy Sounders FC

Zacharias Scott may have a garden-variety bobblehead, but his name will long be synonymous around these parts with an inimitable work ethic and unceasing sacrifice to realize a dream. And once he realized it, he clamped down on it with jaws of steel.

Unsurpassed Commitment

Continue reading A Testament to Mr. Sounder

An Invitation to The Life of Brian

It’s pretty obvious why producers created the original This Is Your Life program. Someone attending a wake or memorial wondered why all the good tales are told a tad too late for the honoree.

Hmm, posed the producer. ‘Why not share stories when he’s a man in full, closer to halftime than full-time?’

That’s why the Washington State legends of Soccer believe Feb. 28 is precisely the right time to present, Brian Schmetzer: This Is Your Life.

Courtesy Schmetzer family

There, on the eve of his first full season in charge of Sounders FC – and as MLS Cup holder – Schmetzer’s past will be brought forward to the present by a bunch of friends, family, teammates, coaches and peers. All of this will prompt some undoubtedly juicy accounts. And you’re invited to listen in.

Courtesy Schmetzer family

Continue reading An Invitation to The Life of Brian

The Gifts of Cliff McCrath

Wanted: Someone to supervise 300 kids 24/7 during summer, take 22 rowdy college boys cross-country to win a soccer championship in the fall, marry a couple on Saturday, christen a newborn on Sunday, keynote a corporate speech to hundreds first thing Monday and pull votes for a stadium initiative on Tuesday. Ten fingers not necessary. Sense of humor a must.

Unless your name happens to be Charles Clifford McCrath, there’s no need to apply.

Cliff McCrath often shares company with soccer’s royalty, in this instance Pelé.

On Saturday, Feb. 11, a true treasure of Seattle and soccer, Cliff McCrath, will be inducted into Seattle Pacific University’s Falcon Legends Hall of Fame. McCrath knows the drill. After all, it’s his 10th such enshrinement around the country.

Unlike the others, however, this will be celebrated on his turf, where since arriving 47 years ago he grew to be an outsized figure capable of accomplishing amazing feats for a sport that, at times, struggled to take hold.

Continue reading The Gifts of Cliff McCrath

First, and Creating a Belief That Would Last

When Seattle Pacific soccer alumni of a certain age inevitably gather, there’s no shortage of stories.

From tales of seemingly endless cross-country road trips to innumerable narratives regarding their leader, Uncle Nubby, there is plenty of fodder. And while hundreds of alums experienced final fours and dozens contributed to the Falcons’ five championships, there’s a certain reverence for those who did it first.

Two overtimes? Actually it was three.

By winning the 1978 NCAA Division II championship, SPU set in motion a Puget Sound tidal surge that would extend for more than 15 years and, some would argue, unceasingly to this date.

Upon returning home from Miami in early December of ‘78, Falcons coach Cliff McCrath, a.k.a. Nubby, took fast action on two counts. The first remains the most sensational and storied publicity stunt in our soccer community’s long and distinguished history. The second was to affirm the source of bounty McCrath molded into champions.

It was plain to see that Seattle Pacific was the beneficiary of leadership and coaching throughout Washington youth soccer, so he immediately drafted a letter to the statewide association.

“Eight of the starters came from the area,” McCrath notes. “Effectively, this national championship belonged to them; it was dedicated to them because these were their players.”

Uncle Nubby Did What?

Continue reading First, and Creating a Belief That Would Last

SPU ’78: First & Foremost

Many will dream, some will endeavor, but only one can be the first.

While the Sounders may now place a star above their crest, the side that first planted a flag at the summit in the name of Seattle is now about to be celebrated all over again.

On Feb. 11 Seattle Pacific University will induct the team that not only ushered in an era when the Falcons became the Northwest’s most decorated collegiate program but, more importantly, established a beacon, a belief, that teams from Puget Sound could be the best in the nation.

Wearing mesh jerseys McCrath purchased the night prior, SPU poses with its first treasure.

For nearly the first hundred years of soccer’s existence in Washington, it was a wilderness. Try as they might, to the rest of the land teams from these parts were unfashionable wannabes: Competitive within the region, yet not championship material. In 1978, SPU changed all that.

Simply put, in one muggy, arduous afternoon under a scorching Miami sun, a bunch of shaggy-haired boys under the direction of a seven-fingered coach blazed a trail into the future of Seattle area soccer that generations have followed ever since.

A Formidable Foe

Now as then, the opposition is oft-referenced as the Nigerian junior national team. In truth, Alabama A&M’s roster was only about half-Nigerian. But most of them started and the balance were largely Jamaican. The Bulldogs were defending NCAA Division II champion and ranked No. 7 among all divisions nationally. They would retake the mantle in 1979 and two years later, in 1981, AA&M would be Div. I runners-up.

Continue reading SPU ’78: First & Foremost