Category Archives: Know Your History

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.”

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

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

A Few of My Favorite Things: 2016

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.

I. Unexpected Title Run by Sounders? It’s Happened Before

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.

II. There’s Something About Jordy

Puget Sound has produced some top-class strikers in the past, and I Continue reading A Few of My Favorite Things: 2016