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

Washington’s 2016 Top Team Performances

While broader views of this past year are as mixed as imaginable, there’s no mistaking 2016 as vintage in terms of Washington teams’ feats on the pitch. National championships at the professional and collegiate levels, along with some watershed seasons for certain programs, made this a year to remember for many.

Here are a few teams who will treasure the memories of 2016 because it was a very, very good year.

Western Washington women – If the perfect season is to finish a campaign unbeaten, untied and No. 1 in the nation, then the Vikings were almost perfect. They reeled off 24 consecutive victories after an opening draw to win their first NCAA Division II crown. Western (24-0-1) had been knocking on the door for three seasons before ending Grand Valley State’s three-year reign with three sensational strikes from distance in the title match.

Sounders FC – Left for dead in late July, Seattle made a coaching change and the addition of one very special Uruguayan maestro brought about a reversal of fortune for the ages. Never mind losing their most goal-dangerous player, the Sounders went 12-3-5 down the stretch to reward the land’s largest fan base with the first top-flight championship.

Seattle United B98 Copa – One of the special youth sides in state history, United nearly came all the way back from a national runner-up finish. As it was these U17s easily repeated as state and regional champion before being stopped the semifinals of the US Youth Soccer Association Championships on penalties. It will be interesting to watch how some of these players figure in our state’s soccer future.

More teams of merit: Continue reading Washington’s 2016 Top Team Performances

A Brief History of Homegrowns & Finals

When he takes his place on the terra firma of BMO Field on Saturday night, the mission of Jordan Morris is to do whatever it takes for the Sounders to bring home the Anschutz Trophy.

Win the ball. Hold the ball. Connect. Cover and mark bigs on Reds set plays. Set-up or score a goal, all the better. But just win.

The Philip F. Anschutz trophy

It would be Seattle’s first such championship in the top flight of North American soccer, and it would obviously hold extra special meaning to a Mercer Islander who grew up watching the boys in Rave. And given Puget Sound’s proclivity for producing top-class players, it would be a fantasy come true for fans, to see a homegrown lad lift MLS Cup.

Continue reading A Brief History of Homegrowns & Finals

Buddy, It’ll Be Cold Out There

If the weather forecast holds true for MLS Cup 2016, it will easily set a new Sounders FC standard for chill factor.

As of Monday evening this was Weather.com’s forecast for Saturday in Toronto.

Temperatures are likely to drop into the mid-20s for first kick at Toronto’s BMO Field after a daytime high of 29 degrees. With winds expected to reach 9 MPH, the windchill will make it feel closer to 10 degrees.

To date, the coldest kickoff for a Seattle match is 34, set for the second leg of the 2014 Western Conference Final at CenturyLink Field (those who attended the 2013 UW-New Mexico men’s quarterfinal on Montlake may recall it was 27 at kickoff). Continue reading Buddy, It’ll Be Cold Out There

There’s Something About Jordy

Since mid-summer there’s been little question whether Jordan Morris would be the top rookie in the land. All that’s remained to be seen is just how far our Jordy boy goes.

With a tight hamstring it remains to be seen how much Morris can contribute Morris in coming weeks. Yet his prospects are unlimited in the big picture, at least where Seattle homegrown attacking players are concerned, and he’s got no more fervent fans than the forwards in whose footsteps he follows.

Jordan Morris became the fifth Sounder selected as league rookie of the year, all homegrowns. (Courtesy Sounders FC)

In the pantheon of Seattle soccer over the past 50-odd years, there have been some truly remarkable, even iconic forwards. Each experienced a great deal of joy while scoring an abundance of goals, albeit while using often vastly different sets of tools. And while still in development, Morris may prove to be a distinctive cocktail all his own.

Chance Fry has keenly followed Morris’s development for any number of reasons. First, Fry’s a Sounders fan. He also coached an 8-year-old Morris at Eastside FC. Beyond that, Fry has walked in his boots, playing a total of nine seasons for past iterations of the Sounders and FC Seattle.

“Jordan is having an amazing first year,” says Fry, a Bellevue native who debuted for the NASL Sounders in 1983 at age 18. “I’d thought if he could get to double digits (in goals) that would be fantastic.”

In fact, the pride of Mercer Island set a new standard for American rookies in MLS, scoring 12 times. Pat Noonan had totaled 10 in 2003.

For those who have witnessed the professional era of soccer in this area, Morris is very much his own man, albeit an amalgam of many characters to represent Seattle in the past.

Chance Fry scored 61 goals for the Sounders and FC Seattle over nine seasons. He coached Morris early on. (Frank MacDonald Collection)

“Nobody’s completely original,” notes Fry. In terms of physical attributes–size, strength and build–“he might be like (Fredy) Montero. For flat-out speed, he’s got Montero beat but not quite Obafemi (Martins).” But then, Fry adds, “Oba’s a freak.”

A Brief History of Homegrowns

Pro-caliber scorers have been coming out of Puget Sound since before the first Sounders. Hungarian-born and Ballard-raised Les Mueller made a few bucks at the semi-pro level before a short stint with the Denver Broncos. But most recognize Mark Peterson as planting the flag for homegrown forwards.

At 19, Peterson burst on the scene with 14 goals in 1980, helping Seattle win an NASL record 25 games. Half of those goals came after rookie of the year balloting was completed; he finished third. His youth club teammate and fellow Tacoman Jeff Durgan won the honor.

Tacoma native Mark Peterson finished as the NASL Sounders’ career goals leader (61). (Frank MacDonald Collection)

Fry was the next striker in the local pipeline. Both he and Peterson earned U.S. caps. After the NASL folded, Fry led the A-League in scoring while Peterson plied his trade indoors before retiring after just six years. Fry stretched his career 14 years, including nine in Seattle.

The next batch of homegrowns, like Morris, went the college route initially. Peter Hattrup and Brent Goulet starred at small schools (Seattle Pacific and Warner Pacific, respectively) before going pro. Starring for the Olympic team, Goulet would earn 1988 U.S. Soccer Player of the Year. Hattrup was 1995 A-League MVP.

The mid-Nineties featured the likes of Jason Dunn, Darren Sawatzky, Jason Farrell, and Erik Storkson. Prior to Morris, the most recent goal-dangerous locals were A-League/USL rookies of the year, Greg Howes and Cam Weaver, and, in the MLS era, Lamar Neagle.

Peter Hattrup earned A-League MVP honors in 1995 as the Sounders won their first title. (Frank MacDonald Collection)

The most prolific of the aforementioned frontrunners were Peterson and Fry, each accumulating 61 goals in all competitions. Peterson was the consummate poacher, faithfully making runs and forever getting on the end of things. Fry, a prototypical center-forward, often operating with his back to goal, is termed by Hattrup, “as a good of finisher as I’ve ever seen.”

Already Distinctive

From this canvas emerges Morris, whose silhouette would be instantly recognizable for his broad, hulking shoulders and pigeon-toed gait. He cuts a distinctive figure.

A dozen goals is just a baseline. “He’s got the physical gifts, but he’s got to grow into the finishing department,” says Hattrup. “He’s got the strength and the speed. His touch is good, and for as many goals as he’s got, his finishing is only going to get better,” adding, “It’s already gotten better over the course of the season.”

As a rookie, Morris converted 17 percent of his shots into goals. It pales in comparison to Martins, but it’s comparable to Eddie Johnson’s days at the CLink.

Early on, Fry detected unease in Morris, especially in light of the adulation and the Space Needle poses, a la Messi. “Jordan, he’s a humble guy and doesn’t like attention,” he shares. “I think he got a little overwhelmed.”

Morris celebrates his late winner versus Columbus. (Courtesy Sounders FC)

Once Morris settled and Nico Lodeiro arrived, the growth spurt ensued. Lodeiro’s made everyone better, and none more than the rookie, whose sixth sense is probing those spaces behind the defense, an area Lodeiro is always looking to exploit with a penetrating pass.

By mid-September, Morris’s was not only flowing, his production kicked into overdrive. It began with his late header to break a scoreless stalemate versus Vancouver.

“It was an extremely important goal and for me, personally in regards to Jordan, it was a brave goal,” judges Fry. “Sticking his head in there the way he did and just going for it. That whole game he had been making good runs and he just kept going and going.”

Making the Sublime Look Simple

Eight days later at LA, Morris was smack in the middle of the match that turned the MLS Western Conference playoff race on its head. He struck twice in 10 minutes, putting the Sounders ahead, 3-1.

First he won a ball just inside the attacking half, then shrugged off Daniel Steres before igniting the afterburners for the breakaway. Later, out of a frantic goalmouth scramble, Morris calmly pulls the ball across Steres and slots home from short range.

A late Morris header versus Vancouver launched a four-match win streak. (Courtesy Sounders FC)

“The first goal was a great goal, but the second goal was downplayed by Alexi (Lalas, FOX analyst), where he said it was a simple finish. No, it wasn’t,” contends Fry. “It was completely great composure. He made it look simple, but it was far from simple.”

Making the sublime look simple is a gift. As Morris matures, as his belief in his own abilities grows, such exploits will be repeated on a regular basis.

“It’s part of confidence,” states Hattrup. Compared to college, the pro game requires much more precision. “The windows are smaller, (but) he’s strong enough and fast enough that he’ll create chances for himself.”

Fry agrees. He’s improving with his back to goal, and as his on-field understanding with Lodeiro (not to mention other teammates) deepens, there’s every reason to believe Morris will truly distinguish himself as a legend among Sounders homegrowns.

“He’s growing and doing better,” says Fry, “and we’re all super proud of how he’s doing.”

Do your part to get Seattle the MLS team it deserves

Note: This was first published by The Seattle Times on October 27, 2002.

Are you ready for some futbol ?

We’re talking shin guards and shorts. We’re talking the world’s game, played by the best athletes around and at the highest possible level. We’re talking about a steady diet of big-time soccer for the local community, not only next week but for years to come.

Last spring’s stopover by the U.S. World Cup team and the women’s Gold Cup next weekend represent a beginning. But Seattle and its surrounding soccer community deserve the best, and more of it. Now it’s time we demand it.

Top-class soccer is what’s been missing in this city for 20 years, and I dearly want it to return. I’m not alone, either.

Continue reading Do your part to get Seattle the MLS team it deserves

Shared Experience: The Tie That Binds

Coming a Long Way While Putting Family First

It was a simple point of fact and yet so telling. Fourteen members of Seattle University’s original varsity soccer team were reuniting 50 seasons after the program first formed.

Later that day, the ranks of alumni would swell to about a hundred former Chieftains and Redhawks as defending champion Seattle U hosted its WAC opener, a win over nationally-ranked Utah Valley. A capacity crowd was expected under the lights at Championship Field.

Alumni from 50 seasons of soccer at Seattle University converged on Championship Field for the September 30 reunion. (Courtesy Seattle University)

But at brunch that morning, as they shared stories and consumed plates of eggs, sausage and toast, Joe Zavaglia stood to interject a timely piece of information: This was the first time these teammates had shared a meal together.

“It’s 50 years of history of guys who have played through tougher times but never as successful as times as these, (and it’s) a cause to celebrate,” recalls Zavaglia, the first team captain. “It’s an incredible feeling.”

Continue reading Shared Experience: The Tie That Binds

A History of Outbursts

If set to a soundtrack, the game is more suited to symphony than garage band. Fortunes can change quickly in soccer, but usually following a long, drawn-out build-up. Yet there are the exceptions, when the drumbeat does double-time and the cymbals crash repeatedly.

So it was on Sunday. Just when it was seeming Dallas and Seattle were destined to finish the first leg of their series in a scoreless stalemate, the Sounders came unleashed, attacking in fury and soon finding themselves as top dog in a pairing with the top side in MLS this season.

Reversing roles, scorer (Nicolas Lodeiro) celebrates with creator (Jordan Morris) after the second of the three goals vs. Dallas. (Courtesy Sounders FC)

Interim (Really? Still?) coach Brian Schmetzer pondered in his postgame presser whether he’d ever witnessed anything quite like it, the succession of blows by Valdez, Lodeiro and, again, Lodeiro during an 8-minute span early in the second half.

Continue reading A History of Outbursts

City’s First Soccer Shop Slips Away

Note: This article was first published in 2008, shortly after the closing of Sports Specialties. Denzil Miskell passed away in October 2016.

All too quietly, a tiny jewel of Seattle’s sporting history has slipped into the past.

Officially it was Sports Specialties, yet for 33 years the cramped, quaint soccer shop in Belltown was simply synonymous with the name of its distinctive owner, Denzil.

Denzil Miskell was interviewed by Washington State Legends of Soccer on Sept. 21 at West Seattle Stadium. (Photo by Leann Johnson)

Know this: Denzil Miskell is alive and doing well, but behind the nondescript storefront on Second Avenue sits an empty vessel. All that remains of this everyman’s gem is the generic player painted on the plate glass front, and a brief note on the door from Denzil explaining the absence.

Continue reading City’s First Soccer Shop Slips Away

Center-Halves And Full of Goals

Down through the years, Seattle certainly can claim its share of goal-scoring central defenders. Beginning with David Gillett driving home a corner kick in ’74 and renewed through Chad Marshall’s flick to the far corner versus Chicago, the big backline boys have often proven the difference between victory and defeat, at both ends of the pitch.

Chad Marshall has scored six times for Seattle (all comps), beginning with a 2014 winner vs. Philadelphia. (Courtesy Sounders FC)

This year alone, three of Marshall’s four goals have translated to five additional points in an extremely tight playoff race. Time will tell the true importance of that header, although it wasn’t Marshall’s first big score. There was the late winner vs. Philly in ’14 and the added time strike at Dallas in the playoffs a year ago.

Whether in the opponent’s box or his own, Marshall’s works are textbook, efficient, clinical in application. As for center back goals, it’s doubtful he will ever deliver with the panache of Djimi Traore’s long-distance, aggregate equalizer against Tigres or Patrick Ianni’s sidewinder extraordinaire vs. Sporting KC.

Four Goals is Significant Continue reading Center-Halves And Full of Goals

Seattle's Soccer Nation: Past, Present & Future