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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
It’s now been two years since I began my blog and returned to writing about soccer, mostly in a Washington-centric, historical context.
Sure, there could be a compendium of such abstract topics published in a book someday. But why not share some of it soon, not later. Here, then, are XV pieces that appeared either on my blog or other digital outlets during 2016. I enjoyed researching and writing them, and hopefully you enjoy them as well.
Once you’ve lived through an epic turnaround, your faith becomes stronger. And for reasons illustrated in this Seattle Times feature, I always held out hope the Sounders would overcome all the adversity and play for a championship. As it turned out, they did their predecessors one better by winning the final.
While broader views of this past year are as mixed as imaginable, there’s no mistaking 2016 as vintage in terms of Washington teams’ feats on the pitch. National championships at the professional and collegiate levels, along with some watershed seasons for certain programs, made this a year to remember for many.
Here are a few teams who will treasure the memories of 2016 because it was a very, very good year.
Western Washington women – If the perfect season is to finish a campaign unbeaten, untied and No. 1 in the nation, then the Vikings were almost perfect. They reeled off 24 consecutive victories after an opening draw to win their first NCAA Division II crown. Western (24-0-1) had been knocking on the door for three seasons before ending Grand Valley State’s three-year reign with three sensational strikes from distance in the title match.
Sounders FC – Left for dead in late July, Seattle made a coaching change and the addition of one very special Uruguayan maestro brought about a reversal of fortune for the ages. Never mind losing their most goal-dangerous player, the Sounders went 12-3-5 down the stretch to reward the land’s largest fan base with the first top-flight championship.
Seattle United B98 Copa – One of the special youth sides in state history, United nearly came all the way back from a national runner-up finish. As it was these U17s easily repeated as state and regional champion before being stopped the semifinals of the US Youth Soccer Association Championships on penalties. It will be interesting to watch how some of these players figure in our state’s soccer future.
When he takes his place on the terra firma of BMO Field on Saturday night, the mission of Jordan Morris is to do whatever it takes for the Sounders to bring home the Anschutz Trophy.
Win the ball. Hold the ball. Connect. Cover and mark bigs on Reds set plays. Set-up or score a goal, all the better. But just win.
It would be Seattle’s first such championship in the top flight of North American soccer, and it would obviously hold extra special meaning to a Mercer Islander who grew up watching the boys in Rave. And given Puget Sound’s proclivity for producing top-class players, it would be a fantasy come true for fans, to see a homegrown lad lift MLS Cup.
Note: This article was first published in 2008, shortly after the closing of Sports Specialties. Denzil Miskell passed away in October 2016.
All too quietly, a tiny jewel of Seattle’s sporting history has slipped into the past.
Officially it was Sports Specialties, yet for 33 years the cramped, quaint soccer shop in Belltown was simply synonymous with the name of its distinctive owner, Denzil.
Know this: Denzil Miskell is alive and doing well, but behind the nondescript storefront on Second Avenue sits an empty vessel. All that remains of this everyman’s gem is the generic player painted on the plate glass front, and a brief note on the door from Denzil explaining the absence.
U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis will deliver the keynote speech at the Washington Youth Soccer 50th Anniversary Gala. You may not know much about Ellis, but she has learned a lot about soccer in this state, beginning back in 1984. Her club, Virginia’s Braddock Road Blue Bells, met Washington’s Union Bay Flyers, starring Michelle Akers, in the U19 national championship game.
What do you remember about that particular game?
It was during my senior year in high school, and that ‘s when I saw Michelle for the first time. They announced the lineups and they said she was a McDonalds All-American, and I thought that was impressive. We happened to win that day, and it was quite a feather because in college William & Mary (Ellis’s school) played (Akers’s Central Florida) quite frequently and we got our tails kicked.
If we asked one of your college teammates, what would be their scout on Jill Ellis the player?
Gosh, I think my college teammates would say I was competitive, pretty technical, and I actually could get a head of steam up so I was pretty quick; I played up front. I loved to compete. I was pretty shy off the field and especially my freshman year I didn’t’ speak whole lot. They would probably say I was good teammate and had their backs.
What if we asked one of one of the first players you coached, how would they describe you?
In the early years they would have described me as demanding but caring, competitive, a stickler for details and a disciplinarian. Ultimately they knew I cared about them as people first. It was about soccer but they certainly knew that I expected highly of them off the field as well. I respected them as people, not just athletes.
You’ve lived in several areas around the country, and have come to Seattle and the state many times as coach for UCLA, and the national team. What’s the vibe around the game that you sense here, and how does it compare to other places?
I love the state of Washington and I have spent quite a bit of time in Seattle. Obviously when you watch games on television you see that the people love their sports and they’re so passionate about their teams. I’ve known (UW coach) Lesle Gallimore for years and she’s a big Mariners fan. It’s kind of cool because it’s a state that loves its sports. For soccer, you see that vibe and energy from the Sounders crowds. It’s crazy to see that fan base. When you grow up in England and settle on the (U.S.) East Coast at first you don’t realize there’s this whole other side to this country. Once I was in California and on the West Coast I had a greater appreciation for just how impactful Washington, the state, has been in our soccer development and growth in the game.
Washington is obviously proud of its soccer community. What or whom comes to mind when you think of soccer in this state?
The players coming out of here are coming from a highly developed soccer state. They certainly have a pretty good acumen for the game; they’ve been exposed to good coaching at the youth levels. There’s a high degree of technical proficiency. It’s such a great place to live, and people want to live there and there’s a commitment to developing. A lot of people I’ve known in the game are from Washington. Sandy Hunt was a pioneer. Bobby Howe took me through my A license. I’ve been exposed to a lot of people coming out of this state. It’s a hotbed, it’s one of the most developed areas. California and Washington are the top developers on the West Coast and have been highly competitive since I was playing up to now. It’s a state that ‘s proven its development works.
What are some of the subjects you hope to touch upon when you come to town Friday night?
It certainly paying a tribute to the 50 years, there’s tribute section woven into it. Although it’s honoring 50 years it’s also very much about looking forward to the next steps and what will keep us at the forefront. If we’re going to get better it involves a plan, it involves a struggle, it involves hard work and it involves collaboration. It’s an opportunity to stand in front of people who can influence our youth. While I want to honor their accomplishments to date, I also want to partner with them in terms of how to continue to grow this game and develop players that can one day play for our national team.