As his father tells the story, Walter Schmetzer beckoned Alan Hinton to watch his vaunted Lake City Hawks to watch a player of promise. But it wasn’t his son.
Still, as is often the case when coaches scout young (in this case U18) players, the original target can be eclipsed by another aspirant sharing the field, and that’s how on spring day in 1980 Brian Schmetzer’s long association with Puget Sound professional soccer began.
Over 36 years since, Schmetzer has been associated as a player or coach with virtually every entity where one could draw a paycheck. Of the 500-some players who’ve worn a Seattle or Tacoma shirt over the years, Brian’s probably watched, played beside or coached an overwhelming majority of them.
Whereas the next announcer will follow in some formidable footprints, for the original voice of the Sounders there simply was no trail. Bob Robertson blazed it himself.
“Up until (1974), as far as we knew, no one had broadcast soccer in America on a full-time basis,” remembers Robertson. “It hadn’t been done, other than a championship game in a small market. So we were pioneering.”
Robertson more than just broke ground. Already an established, respected pro, he helped grow the game’s audience and crowds with his rapid-fire, no-nonsense delivery, and he did so in a much more challenging environment that exists today. Robertson not only was the first, his tenure surpasses all followers, and he helped create a Sounders staple that thrives to this very day.
Certainly small-sided teams have played an extensive role in Puget Sound soccer’s storied past. Now, 40 years since it began as mid-winter oddity and space holder, indoor soccer may have found its role for the future.
Forget the fog machines and lasers, the pregame pomp and circumstance. The stripped-down game of 6-a-side can still play a vital role in American player development.
Indoor soccer may have slipped beneath the waves at the professional level when the Tacoma Stars and Seattle SeaDogs succumbed in the Nineties. Yet at the participant level it’s plying the waters quite well.
Up and down the I-5 corridor are more than a dozen indoor centers, filled on winter noon hours, evenings and weekends with players young and not-so-young. Also packed to capacity earlier this month was the Tacoma Soccer Center gallery, with a standing-room only crowd of 740 watching the born-again Stars win a regional championship.
If you wanted more–more music, more lights, more goals and, yes, a little more skin–then the Tacoma Stars truly were tempting during the 80s and early 90s.
You say you like the Sounders flame throwers? They wouldn’t hold a candle to the fog, driving disco beat and laser light show when the Stars ran out. Can’t get enough Oba goal backflips? Then meet the original Flipper, Gregg Blasingame. And if a no-shirt pose on The Bachelor is your guilty pleasure, then game nights at the T-Dome provided all the reality required.
The Sounders had been all about soccer. In Tacoma it was Welcome to The Show.
It was not as if Seattleites needed another option on their sporting menu.
Already the calendar was crammed full, year-round with Seahawks, Mariners, Sonics, Sounders, minor league hockey and all things-Huskies. Four different sports were being played in that concrete edifice on King Street known as the Kingdome. And now they would squeezing in a fifth.
Speed soccer was its name–at least locally–and back in the day when the NASL sat quiet for nearly seven months, it was a welcome winter respite, for player and fan alike.
While indoor, 6-a-side soccer has since become a staple with regard to participants, in the winter of 1980-81 it was a novelty, an oddity, where Seattle was concerned.
It’s a bastardization, for sure. Yet for a time, while it may be a debased version of the Beautiful Game, it was the de facto standard bearer for American soccer.
Indoor soccer, arena soccer or speed soccer, call it what you will, was raising the roof of many an arena while the professional outdoor game was languishing on virtual life support. More than simply a placeholder, the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL) once featured teams in 14 cities and, in some instances, outdrew its NBA co-tenant.
Whatever the 6-a-side version lacked in sophistication it compensated with up-close, end-to-end action and showmanship. Not to mention, there was no shortage of goals. Sixty-minute games generated about three times as many goals as the 90-minute, full-field variety.
Once upon time, these bleak days and long, dark nights of mid-winter were when the American game glowed brightest.
Not only around Puget Sound, but across the continent, the highest form of professional soccer was being played amidst a driving disco beat and within dasher boards and plexiglass.
Now known more commonly as arena soccer, at its height it was identified as indoor, aka six-a-side or speed soccer, at least in Seattle.
Over the coming weeks I will reach back to those nights of yore to share some history and reflections from coaches and management of the Sounders, Stars and Sea Dogs, along with those who literally played wall passes and served their share of minutes in the sin bin.