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.”

Seattle vs Portland: By The Numbers (MLS Era, 2009- )

MLS Era – Sounders vs Timbers (2009- ) [as of June 26, 2017]

League

Home (form): 7-0-2 GD: 15-4 [DWDWWWWWW]

Away: 2-5-3 GD: 19-25 [WLDLDWLLLD]

Total: 9-5-5 GD: 34-29  [DWLDWDWLDWWWLWLWLWD]

Playoffs

Home: 0-1-0 GD: 1-2 [L]

Away: 0-1-0 GD: 2-3 [L]

Total: 0-2-0 GD: 3-5 [LL]

Open Cup

Home: 2-1-0 GD: 6-5 [WLW]

Away: 1-0-1 GD: 3-2 [WD]

Total: 3-1-1 GD: 9-7 [WDWLW]

Extremes

Record Win: 3-0, CenturyLink Field, 10/7/2012

Record Defeat: 4-1, Providence Park, 6/28/2015

Record Total Goals:  8, Portland 4:4 Seattle, 4/5/2014

Doubles (win home & away same season): 1/0

Top Attendance Continue reading Seattle vs Portland: By The Numbers (MLS Era, 2009- )

Seattle vs Portland: By The Numbers (WSL Era, 1985-90)

Western Soccer Alliance/League Era – FC Seattle Storm vs FC Portland/Timbers (1985-90)

League – 12 meetings

Home (form): 2-2-2 GD: 7-9 [DDWWLL]

Away: 3-3-0 GD:12-6 [WWLWLL]

Total: 5-5-2 GD: 19-15 [WDWDLWWWLLLL]

Playoffs

Home: None

Away: None

Total: None

Other – 1 Friendly

Home: 0-1-0 GD: 0-2 [L]

Away: None

Total: 0-1-0 GD: 0-2 [L]

Extremes

Record Win: 6-1, Civic Stadium, 7/3/1985

Record Defeat: 3-0, Memorial Stadium, 7/18/1990

Record Total Goals: 7, Portland 1:6 Seattle, 7/3/1985

Doubles (win home & away same season): 1/2 Continue reading Seattle vs Portland: By The Numbers (WSL Era, 1985-90)

Seattle vs Portland: By The Numbers (USL Era, 2001-08)

A-League/USL Era – Sounders vs Timbers (2001-08)

League – 32 Meetings

Home (form): 9-4-3 GD: 26-16 [WDWWWWLLLLWDWWWD]

Away: 7-7-2 GD: 15-16 [LWWLWWLLWLDLWDLW]

Total: 16-11-5 GD: 41-32 [LWDWWWLWWWWWLLLLLWLWLDDLWWWDWLDW]

Playoffs – 4 Meetings

Home: 2-0-0 GD: 4-0 [WW]

Away: 1-1-0 GD: 2-2 [LW]

Total: 3-1-0 GD: 6-2 [LWWW]

Open Cup – 2 Meetings

Home: 1-0-0 GD: 2-1 [W]

Away: 0-1-0 GD: 0-2 [L]

Total: 1-1-0 GD: 2-3 [LW] Continue reading Seattle vs Portland: By The Numbers (USL Era, 2001-08)

Seattle vs Portland: By the Numbers (NASL Era, 1975-82)

NASL Era – Sounders vs Timbers (1975-82)

League – 20 Meetings

Home (form): 7-2-1 GD: 21-11 [WWWWWW(TW)LLW]

Away: 4-4-2 GD: 12-10 [WLWL(TL)L(TW)LWW]

Total: 11-6-3 GD: 33-21 [WLWWWWL(TL)WLWW(TW)(TW)LLLWWW]

Playoffs – 1 Meeting

Home: None

Away: 0-1-0 GD: 1-2 [L]

Total: 0-1-0 GD: 1-2 [L]

Extremes

Record Win: 5-1, Kingdome, 6/30/1979

Record Defeat: 0-3, Civic Stadium, 6/11/1977

Record Total Goals: 6, Seattle 5:1 Portland, 6/30/1979

Doubles (win home & away same season): 3/1

Portland’s Chris Dangerfield, left, and Mike England battle for the ball in the Timbers’ first visit to Seattle, in 1975.

Individual Leaders Continue reading Seattle vs Portland: By the Numbers (NASL Era, 1975-82)

It’s Full Time for F.X.

When F.X. McRory’s Steak, Chop and Oyster House dropped anchor in Pioneer Square back in the autumn of 1977, a half-dozen oysters went for less than two bucks and the highest-paid Sounder’s salary was $30,000.

Obviously much has changed in the near 40 years since. Soon Mick McHugh will open a new F.X. McRory’s at a nearby but still undisclosed location. Yet, for many sports fans from both Seattle and traveling from afar to our fair city, McHugh’s June 11 last call will unquestionably mark the end of an era.

Sigi Schmid celebrated his first night as Sounders FC coach at F.X. McRory’s. Here he is joined by the family of Hans Stierle, a Vashon Island resident and also his first youth coach. (Courtesy Sounders FC)

With its closing come a rush of memories from four decades, of drinks ordered, sipped and spilled. Of lunchtime or happy hour gatherings and a crush of people before and after events at the neighboring stadia.

At one time, the McRory’s brass doors swung open to the Kingdome when that concrete mausoleum came to life about 170 nights per year as home to the Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders and Sonics. Beyond being a 350-seat, 12,000-square-foot cash register, it became a landmark. Countless other bars and restaurants came and closed during the F.X. run, and it’s fair to say more gameday pints were slurped there than any other joint in town.

For Sounders Nation, McRory’s and the entire McKesson and Robbins Building that houses it holds a special place in history. The NASL era Sounders were the first team to take residency in the Kingdome, and in 1979 their offices moved from the nearby Metropole Building into the fourth floor, above F.X. Before long, the Sonics took occupancy on the second floor.

When Sounders Hit the Bar

Alan Hudson, the legendary Sounders captain and midfield maestro, shared his own F.X. story.

Early on, F.X. McRory’s would take out a full-page ad in The Times for an annual report.

“It was the first bar downtown I frequented with Jimmy Gabriel, Harry Redknapp, Bobby Howe and John Anderson (the trainer),” writes Hudson. “We were in the old office above and on leaving, waiting for the elevator, Harry was complaining about (Anderson) never buying a drink.”

Sure enough, on this occasion Anderson arrived after the others had ordered. “So Harry turned to John and said… ‘John, why haven’t you ever bought a bloody drink?’ John coolly said, ’Harry, you never asked me.’

“Me, Jimmy, Bobby howled. Harry was gobsmacked. Great answer, because we all know that those in the USA are not as quick to the bar as us English.

Hudson admits he’s seen a fair share of bars around the world, but McRory’s stands out. “I went many a time after a match,” he shared. “It was obviously the first time I’d seen a ladder behind the bar.” It was also where Hudson discovered–amongst all the hundreds of bourbons and special Scotches–his taste for that Canadian blended whisky, Crown Royal.

On to the Next Round

Soon after, Don Greiert succeeded Anderson as the Sounders trainer. Greiert has his own F.X. stories for he once supervised the oyster bar.

When alumni of the NASL Sounders gathered in 2014, McRory’s was the logical location.

“The first St. Patrick’s Day I remember (owners) Mick (McHugh) and Tim (Firnstahl) having us start the day before by moving out all the tables from the bar for more room,” said Greiert. “After the last partygoer was cleared (on St. Paddy’s Day), Mick and Tim let us stay for a closed-door, private celebration until 5 in the morning.”

Dave Schumacher, once the club’s community relations director, recalls Bobby Howe conducting his Captain Bluff drinking game to wide-eyed new staff. Inevitably, the naïve newcomers would be left staggering.

“It was where everybody went, because we were right there, up on the fourth floor” said Schumacher. “You could come down the back elevator and in through the back door. Bobby and Alan (Hinton) were always there.”

McHugh asked Hinton to serve as a guest panelist (along with Bill the Beerman and Ivar Haglund) at an ale and beer tasting event.

Such regulars were Sounders staff that two are depicted in LeRoy Neiman’s painting of the iconic whisky bar. After Kingdome matches, usually the first stop for players was the small and rather Spartan stadium lounge. Subsequent rounds, however, came down the street at McRory’s.

F.X. McRory’s is such an institution that it often becomes a rallying point for out-of-towners. Among the first traveling fans to lay siege to the place were Vancouver Whitecaps supporters in the Eighties. They didn’t seem to mind the lesser buzz factor of American brews as they chanted Ooogie, Oogie, Oogie into the night.

Memories of Latter Days

After Sigi Schmid was named coach in December 2008, he joined fans, friends and family to celebrate that first night in Seattle at McRory’s. One not-so-pleasant memory comes from a pre-dawn December 2010 assembly of those associated with the 2022 World Cup bid, which promised matches in Seattle should the U.S. prevail with FIFA. Alas, the news was deflating. But who knows, maybe the ultimate ending will have a twist.

Sounders players and staff were such regulars at the bar, two are depicted in LeRoy Neiman’s 1980 painting.

In 2014, Sounders FC located its offices virtually across Occidental Avenue from F.X. Also that year, alumni from the original Sounders converged on McRory’s to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Seattle’s first pro soccer club. They found that the place had aged gracefully.

Three iterations of Sounders fans and players, coaches and staff have leaned on the 96-foot marble bar. And it’s reasonable to assume that wherever Mick moves that bar, they will follow.