It was a seminal moment in the shared experience of Seattle area soccer history. To the casual observer it would’ve appeared to be American boys run amok. To Walter Schmetzer, however, it was the inspiration that would launch a business of 43 years and probably thousands of stories.
Forty-some years before Brian Schmetzer delivered an MLS Cup to Puget Sound, his family’s name became synonymous with quality soccer goods dispensed on Lake City Way and, more recently, Aurora Avenue. Schmetzer’s Sporthaus helped outfit generations of players in a region gone mad over the game, until closing the doors for good earlier this month.
One of the first such stores in the Northwest, Schmetzer’s was the region’s longest-running soccer shop. It preceded premier academies and every women’s collegiate program in the state, and thrived while multiple professional clubs fell by the wayside.
At its essence, Sporthaus was a family business dedicated to delivering exceptional equipment and service to a demanding demographic. It was not always easy, and shrewd stewardship from two generations of Schmetzers proved to be the essential ingredient. While its closing after nearly 43 years may make some wistful, it leaves behind a mass of memories, beginning with Walter Schmetzer’s recollection of a summer day in 1974.
He commenced his career in Toronto, played for Canada’s Olympic and national teams, and has made the Great White North’s largest city his home. And yet on Saturday, despite never setting foot in CenturyLink Field, Jack Brand will bleed Rave Green.
“Some of my friends will curse me for that,” says Brand, “(but) my heart is with Seattle.”
It’s not so much the quantity of time Brand spent in Seattle in his earlier years. Rather, it is the quality of that tenure. He was part of something truly special, both in Sounders lore and the rebirth of the game with a semipro club comprised of local lads.
Brand, now 64, presides over his family’s business, based in nearby Mississauga. The Brand Felt Ltd. manufactures industrial felt for a multitude of industries, exporting worldwide. The German-born Brand, at 17, was sent abroad by his father, company founder Klaus Brand, to study in New York state. Although he had played for then-West Germany’s youth national team, his father forbade him from turning pro at the time.
Forty years on, it remains a remarkable match. Not only did it captivate American soccer’s growing audience of the day and provide a fairytale finish for a global legend, Soccer Bowl ’77 also cast the pathway, for better or worse, for a club and a country seeking to development a professional presence.
For those who witnessed the NASL final between the glamorous New York Cosmos and unfashionable (outside Cascadia) yet fearless Seattle Sounders, it left an indelible mark on the memory. Just a glimpse of the video or photos awakens the senses.
Of course, there was the epic backdrop: a gray, late summer Sunday afternoon, Portland’s Civic Stadium crammed full of 35,548 spectators, some sitting cross-legged on the artificial turf, just a few feet from the field’s boundaries.
There is the ‘Oh, no!’ moment of a partially deaf Sounders keeper being fleeced of the ball for the game’s opening goal. There is the rapid reply of Seattle to equalize, the relentless pressure and the sheer openness–rarely found in a final–that leads to dozens of chances (22 shots on target, two others by Seattle off the frame itself). And there is the chaotic scene at the final whistle, the crowd streaming onto the pitch and the shirtless Pelé running and hugging his teammates.
Most have heard the stories of Brian Schmetzer’s days as contractor, of his knack for identifying a problem and intuitively identifying a fix. His latest remodeling project has been on Occidental Avenue, specifically flipping CenturyLink Field from an address with a Welcome mat to a destination out-of-towners would just as soon avoid.
Since his hiring last summer, the CLink is The House Schmetzer Re-built. Going into Atlanta United’s visit, Seattle is on the verge of claiming one of the top home unbeaten runs of all-time.
Dating back to those formative days in Memorial Stadium, the Sounders have fashioned a formidable (.716) win percentage) at home. Across all competitions, Seattle (including iterations of Sounders, plus the Storm) own 17 home unbeaten streaks of 10 or more matches. That’s impressive. So is the fact that the Rave can crack the top nine on Friday.
A staple of many a preseason camp is goal-setting. It taps into the competitive nature of athletes and coaches, to aspire and work toward targets, both for the individuals and the collective, the team.
They must be specific and measurable; within reason, but also just out of reach. To reach these goals will require more than before. Goal-setting asks us to give it everything we’ve got, and then some.
Entering a ninth season in MLS, Sounders FC is well into its adolescence. Whereas the formative years were filled with modest accomplishments – winning season series, making the playoffs – those benchmarks are now merely base camps for assault on the summit.
Although we know a lot about Brian Schmetzer, come Feb. 28 it’s certain we will know a lot more.
That evening Washington State Legends of Soccer is presenting Brian Schmetzer: This Is Your Life at The Market Arms in Ballard, and the lineup of guests promises to reveal a few more ingredients to the Schmetz special sauce.
Of course, we are fully aware of his opening act as Sounders FC head coach. You know, when in mid-summer Schmetzer somehow righted a listing ship and steadily steered it through stormy waters, finally bringing home the bounty of an MLS Cup. We are also cognizant that Brian was born and raised in Lake City. It’s what happened along the way in connecting those two events that Tuesday night’s audience will absorb.
It’s pretty obvious why producers created the original This Is Your Life program. Someone attending a wake or memorial wondered why all the good tales are told a tad too late for the honoree.
Hmm, posed the producer. ‘Why not share stories when he’s a man in full, closer to halftime than full-time?’
That’s why the Washington State legends of Soccer believe Feb. 28 is precisely the right time to present, Brian Schmetzer: This Is Your Life.
There, on the eve of his first full season in charge of Sounders FC – and as MLS Cup holder – Schmetzer’s past will be brought forward to the present by a bunch of friends, family, teammates, coaches and peers. All of this will prompt some undoubtedly juicy accounts. And you’re invited to listen in.
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.
There’s the underlying beat of disco and the images are grainy, but you get the picture. And that’s the bottom line. You’re watching America’s soccer heritage unfold in living color.
While it’s definitely not HiDef, videotapes from NASL broadcasts during the Seventies and early Eighties are in many ways more telling than any prose. If pictures are worth a thousand words, actual match footage is the closest anyone will get to a time machine.
Dave Brett Wasser has spent 20-plus years unearthing these forgotten volumes and now has amassed and converted to DVD more than 450 matches from the days when Sounders, Whitecaps and Timbers first roamed the turf.
It’s the most comprehensive collection of vintage soccer Americana anywhere. For a nominal fee ($12 per game; $10 each for five or more) Wasser has distributed worldwide copies of games featuring countless combinations, from the original, star-laden Cosmos to the short-lived, enigmatic Las Vegas Quicksilvers.