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Soccer in Seattle – End of an Era or Just a Chapter?
By Steve MacClare
September 30, 2008


The ups and downs of Seattle Soccer

      Last Sunday, Seattle Sounders played a 2nd leg match in Montreal and a 3-1 defeat meant they were eliminated from the 2008 USL play-offs. This didn’t only end their season but it ended their life in the United Soccer Leagues – a kind of second tier unaffiliated with Major League Soccer. Next year, a newly formed Seattle Sounders under a different ownership structure will play their first season in MLS. The club will be correctly called Seattle Sounders FC and its shareholders are Hollywood producer Joe Roth, current Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer, Vulcan Sports and Entertainment (who also own the Seattle Seahawks) and comedian Drew Carey.

     The club has already sold more than 18,000 season tickets and has generated considerable excitement in the city. There will be time and copious column inches to write about them. But today I’m going to write about the USL Sounders, the team that scored its last goal yesterday in the Saputo Stadium in Montreal. 

     Soccer in Seattle has had its ups and its downs. In its heyday, soccer in Seattle attracted big crowds. 58,000 watched the Sounders take on the LA Aztecs in a 1977 NASL semi-final. That incarnation began in 1974 and played in the North American Soccer League until the team folded in 1983, finishing second in the Championship in 1977. They played at Memorial Stadium for its first two seasons before moving to the Kingdome. Some very famous names are associated with that club, notably England World Cup Winners Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst, Derby County legend Alan Hinton who still lives in the area and Scotsman Jimmy Gabriel, still known as Mr Sounders by many older fans. Other  names you may know are Welsh Captain Mike England, two Chelsea legends Alan Hudson and Tommy Hutchison, current Portsmouth Manager Harry Redknapp, former Scotland captain Bruce Rioch  and ex Dundee manager Jocky Scott. 

     At that point, the Sounders name disappeared for a while and the local team was called the Seattle Storm (also known as FC Seattle). It spent much of its life trying to organize friendlies against various foreign sides and playing in small tournaments against other local clubs. Current Sounders manager Brian Schmetzer played for the Storm. In 1990, F.C. Seattle folded but has continued its existence in the area as a local club for youngsters to play. Chris Henderson was one of their players and he is one of soccer men involved in leading the new MLS franchise as its technical director. Identifying potential playing talent for the new club is one of his most important current tasks. 

     Four years passed before the current Seattle Sounders were formed, joining the A-League which later became the USL. The franchise was very successful, on the field winning four Championships, but they had trouble attracting crowds like the old days. However, in 2002 a crowd of 25,515 gathered to watch the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps open Seahawks Stadium, a record for the A-League as it was then called. The Sounders won 4-1 with goals from Andrew Gregor, Viet Nguyen and Leighton O'Brien who also played in the Sounders final match in Montréal. But this was rare. Even when they had the use of the NFL’s Qwest Field, the Sounders struggled to draw 4000 people. In their final season, most home matches were moved to the Tukwila Starfire Complex, a pleasant but out-of-town venue, where even a 4500 capacity was rarely threatened. (To make a comparison, a less successful franchise in Portland was often drawing five figure crowds, ably assisted by the lack of other sporting franchises and the lure of cheap beer.) 

     Yesterday’s elimination draws a line under the USL chapter, but unlike the other times, there are significant links that makes this change almost more of a promotion than a reincarnation. Adrian Hanauer, the man who owns the current club and will form part of the ownership group of the new one, said “The USL is the name of a league. We’re going to have professional football in this city and a bunch of the guys are going to be here. A lot of the same people are going to be involved in the organization. Perhaps I’m not maybe as sentimental as I should be or maybe will be some day in hindsight. Certainly I understand that we’re closing a big chapter in USL but opening a big exciting new one.” 

     Many of the fans are similarly practical, David Falk, webmaster of, and Seattle soccer historian, said "I am choosing to look forward only because that is what my heart is telling me to do. There is so much to anticipate, so much to ponder, so much left undone that will very soon take shape and be done. It is indeed a brand new day." 

     So, many of those who can legitimately claim to have been guardians of soccer in Seattle during the pre MLS days are keen to honor the past but keener to look to the future. But no-one will forget the USL Sounders or the highs and lows of trying to bring the beautiful game to the Emerald City, because there are quite a few who saw it all. But no bitterness from them is apparent about the end of this franchise; far from it. Most of them can hardly wait to get started in 2009. And neither can I.

For a previous article on soccer in Seattle click Seattle United FC?  

For a full list of Steve's soccer articles here

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