All-Time A-League/USL Sounders Selection: A Closer Look

If only a suitable Seattle venue had existed in 1996. That void proved the major obstacle preventing the Sounders from becoming a charter member of Major League Soccer.

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Unanimous selection Marcus Hahnemann backstopped the Sounders’ two A-League championships before moving on to MLS and England (Frank MacDonald Collection)

Before MLS opened its doors, Seattle reigned as America’s best by virtue of winning the 1995 A-League title (and repeating the following year), and did so with virtually a homegrown side. Imagine if Hinton had taken them en masse to the next level.

Eight players from the ’95 squad are listed on either the first of second XI below, and were MLS caliber. In fact, of the first team, eight went on to play MLS while two others had already made the NASL grade. Of course, Hahnemann–the only unanimous choice–went on to play the majority of his career in England.

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Leighton O’Brien, league MVP in 2002, accumulated 36 goals and 28 assists.

The A-League in 1994 and ’95 was the U.S. de facto Division I, with a high concentration of domestic talent. The voting reflects that; six players from ’94-95 made the first team, effectively bumping latter day MVPs Baena and Le Toux to the second XI. Le Toux is one of nine on the first and second teams to have played on either the ’05 or ’07 USL-1 champions.

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All-Time FC Seattle Selection: A Closer Look

It was termed The Grand Experiment. Initially it involved putting out a team of almost exclusively young, local players against the best in the business. More than anything, however, FC Seattle simply kept hope alive.

By and large this generation of local players had dreams of playing for the NASL Sounders, only to have the club go out of business in 1983 and the league the following year. Plan B was to go indoors with Tacoma and MISL, then spend summers with FC Seattle. At first the schedule consisted of challenge matches, with league play evolving out of necessity midway through the second season.

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Chance Fry scored over 70 goals for FC Seattle and both NASL and USL Sounders (photo by Joanie Komura/Frank MacDonald Collection)

Goulet first joined the Storm as a guest player for the ’87 postseason tour of Britain, and used it to earn a contract with Bournemouth, then managed by former Sounder Harry Redknapp. Goulet was also named US Soccer Player of the Year. Both Goulet and Fry proved prolific scorers, each with a 57 percent strike rate.

Of the 22 players, 19 were raised in the Puget Sound area. Three–Crook, Fry and James–played for both the NASL and A-League Sounders as well. Willoughby, from Beaverton, Ore., attended UW and Soriano, raised in Miami, attended SPU. O’Brien, a former Ireland international, is the only selection not to have been a local youth or college product.

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Chris Henderson’s storied club and international career includes only one local stop: FC Seattle in 1989 (photo by Joanie Komura/Frank MacDonald Collection)

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All-Time NASL Sounders Selection: A Closer Look

It’s not surprising that England and Hudson were unanimous choices. England set the standard by which all center-halves have been measured to this day, tower of strength in the air and uncompromising on the ground.

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Mike England was a 4-time NASL Best XI who came to Seattle from Spurs, where he’s a hall of fame member. (Frank MacDonald Collection)

Seattle opted for the direct approach at Memorial Stadium, then began to play through midfield upon opening the Kingdome. Hudson’s arrival cemented that ball-control style.

Traditionally strong at the back, Seattle selections reflect that as coaches arranged lineups to get added defensive personnel (Rioch, Webster, Gabriel) in midfield. There’s also a proclivity for wingers. Robertson and Hutchison, both flying Scotsmen, are in the first XII, Redknapp in the 2nd and Crossley honorable mention. Those moves made it difficult for strikers to break in, consequently Ward (a league MVP) and Peterson (all-time scoring leader) pushed to second XIV.

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Alan Hudson averaged 10 assists in his four full seasons. Earlier he starred for Chelsea and Stoke, and for England vs Germany (Frank MacDonald Collection)

While many would say talent level climbed through ’82, four members of the ’74 originals made first and second teams. Hutchison is the only 1-year player in first XII; he made quite an impression.

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Best of All: No Need to Wait ‘Til 2074

The giants of Europe and South America have been around seemingly forever. Man United turned 136 years old this year, Real Madrid is 106 and Argentina’s River Plate is 113.

The tendency of these ancient institutions is to celebrate their centennials and major anniversaries with some all-time selections. Take England’s Derby County, for instance. A few years back the Rams marked 125 years by honoring Alan Hinton and 10 other greats.

That’s great for our AlaOrigSoundersNASLlogon, of course. He got a trip home to hear the applause. One of the other chaps, however, couldn’t make it; he’d passed on four years before Alan was born.

It seems a shame to wait and extol the virtues of people. Instead, how about paying tribute sooner rather than later?

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They’ve Come A Long Way

Collegiate soccer in Washington has come a long, long way in the last 50 years. Just ask a pair of the founding fathers.

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Ed Robinson of Seattle University rounds the Shoreline College defense in 1967 (Courtesy The Spectator)

When the state’s first varsity programs were established back in the Sixties, all of what we see today was a pipe dream. And if you thought a player’s love for the game could only be illustrated by what they do between the white lines, then you’ve never heard the story of Ron Jepson and Joe Zavaglia.

If ever there was a Dawgfather of Husky soccer, it’s Jepson. While still an engineering grad student, he was tapped to be the first UW coach in 1962.

“We were very limited in the schools we could play: UVic (Victoria) and UBC were stalwarts and had been playing soccer for quite a while,” recalls Jepson, who grew up near Manchester before coming to Seattle with his family as a teen. It might seem remarkable today, but  also played for the Huskies, along with a smorgasbord of other international students. The only American was the goalkeeper, a former army brat.

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Standing on Shoulders

In the moments before kickoff, as I peak over my outstretched scarf and survey the throbbing mass at the CLink, I sometimes close my eyes for a moment and give thanks. I’m thankful to be there with family or friends and forty-thousand like-minded disciples. And I’m thankful for all those who made this scene possible.

To be honest, there are probably hundreds of people deserving of a shout out. Make that thousands. Because what makes Sounders FC world class is the sheer size and fervor of their support. In time the play will climb to that elite level; your voice and your passion is already legend.

Black Diamond's vaunted miners, circa 1916–some 30 years after their elders first brought a ball to the region
Black Diamond’s vaunted miners, circa 1916–some 30 years after their elders first brought a ball to the region (Courtesy Pep Peery Collection)

Ah, but you are not the first throng to throw yourselves behind this great game.

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Seattle's Soccer Nation: Past, Present & Future