One the morning of Nov. 27, 1985, planes departed from the Midwest, Southern California and the East Coast carrying teams to Tacoma, Wash., for the NAIA Women’s Soccer Championships. They were all flying into what would become the strangest and one of the most controversial national finals in collegiate annals.
It was Thanksgiving Eve and by nightfall over a foot of snow would cover the grass of Baker Stadium on the University of Puget Sound campus. Semifinal games were slated to be played on that field two days later, posing a problem for Mike Jennings.
It’s not as if Jennings needed more on his plate that Thanksgiving. He was the father of newborn twins earning around $3,000 as the Loggers’ coach. His role as tournament director was voluntary. He was also enrolled in the university’s physical therapy program.
Generally speaking, most longtime, web-footed residents of Puget Sound know the difference between autumn and winter: right, the rain is colder.
Other climate truths are that snow in the lowlands is uncommon. Still more exceptional are significant accumulations. And rarest phenomena of all are big, pre-Thanksgiving snowstorms followed by a week of sub-freezing temperatures.
Thirty years ago, Washington was bit by just such a perfect storm, plus one more for good measure. And for two local colleges due to host late-round postseason matches, it brought about once-in-a-lifetime experiences for all who took part.
In 1985, Mike Jennings was in his second year as head coach of the University of Puget Sound women’s soccer program. His peers also elected him president of their NAIA coaches association and his Tacoma school was the approved host of the fledgling women’s semifinals and final.
Losses teach more lessons than victories, but it was difficult to know where to begin digesting what happened that day in Balboa Park.
For Mike Jones, it had been the perfect storm of adverse conditions. USF was unquestionably the stronger team and a deserving winner. But Washington had played strong Canadian programs such as Victoria and Simon Fraser and proved competitive. Earlier that season, the University of British Columbia had beaten the Dons, 3-1, prompting Jones to believe that on a given day, the Huskies might have earned a result.
“Looking at the two teams, it was probably a 3- or 4-nothing difference with us playing our best,” argues Jones. “Back then, other than the ethnic teams playing Sunday, it was all so new up here in the Northwest. When you got into games with college programs that had a lot of international players, it was hard to get much of the ball. I couldn’t see us scoring against (USF), but I think we could’ve held our own.”
Awaiting Washington in the City by the Bay was a team with a history of pummeling the opposition. San Francisco had earned bids in six of the first nine years of the NCAA tournament, and became the first West Coast program to win the championship two years earlier, in 1966.
Under Stephen Negoesco, the Dons were routing foes with regularity. Their savvy international contingent twice scored 10 goals and was averaging 5.5 through the first 10 games. They had leveled 63 shots at Cal.
San Francisco was cultured, experienced, rested and playing at home. Coming off a loss to their arch-rival, San Jose State, a few days earlier, they were also in the mood to deliver a beating.
Twice that 1968 season the Huskies had beaten SU by two goals. John Goldingay had scored in each. Beating the Chieftains a third time would not be easy, especially given the stakes.
Seattle U was playing on four days rest after an easy win over Seattle Pacific. Washington would be taking the field for the fourth time in eight days, all away.
It was a damp Monday night at Lower Woodland, the city’s historical home for soccer. Over-use and weather contributed to a well-worn pitch with little, if any, grass remaining.
While the Huskies featured their fair share of international players, pretty much everyone on both teams was familiar with one another from Sunday games in the state league or past encounters as youth. The coaches were friends as well. Since arriving in the mid-Fifties, Dublin-born Mike Ryan (UW) and Liverpool native Hugh McArdle (SU) were fixtures in the state leagues for years. The soccer community was small and there were few secrets.
Soccer’s history is glutted with millions of matches where one, two or three goals are scored. So when perusing a local club’s all-time results, it reads much like binary code, with a few crooked numbers thrown in. But just when the eyelids are feeling very heavy, out of nowhere a whopper of a score line appears.
This is the story behind one such score line which, given contemporary conditions, seems inexplicable. Ah, but context is everything.
For the region, it’s about two intra-city rivals vying for a chance to make history. For Washington state’s most established men’s collegiate program, it’s a story of how a proud program can reach it’s then-zenith and nadir, all in the span of some 20 hours.
It’s the tale of a shotgun playoff, bending the rules between friends, a critical yet costly play and the extenuating circumstances surrounding not only the University of Washington’s first excursion outside the Northwest, but also their initial invitation to the NCAA tournament.
If it seems of late that Sounders FC are getting off on the front foot, it’s no illusion.
Not only is Seattle in a unique position (for them) of owning a lead going into the second leg of an MLS postseason series, the Rave have scored more goals in the first 10 minutes than any season in Sounders history, dating to 1974.
Normally, the initial stages of a match are fraught with caution. Square passes, back-passes and generally a sorting out of what tactics the opponent is bringing. Only, Seattle has increasingly used this time to go for the jugular.
To date, Seattle can claim nine goals during the first through 10th minutes. That more than doubles the total of the past two seasons and it’s also twice the norm for local pro clubs going back four decades.