Thirty years after the 1980 Sounders had a great North American Soccer League season, Sounders FC continues Seattle tradition.
The next time Qwest Field is rocking with a sold-out crowd for a Sounders FC match, give an assist to the old guys with the short shorts and long hair who laid the foundation.
In the summer of 1980, Seattle’s popular soccer team was cheered on wildly by record crowds. Top talent from all over the world meshed seamlessly to create high-scoring entertainment. A charismatic coach of high standing barked instructions from the sideline.
Thirty years later, it’s happening again. But it’s important to remember where it started.
A generation ago, Seattle experienced an extraordinary soccer season. The 1980 Sounders won more games than any team in the history of the North American Soccer League, finishing 25-7 in the regular season.
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If not for an unexpected exit in the playoffs, the squad might be considered one of the best in the history of American soccer.
A handful of players from that team and their larger-than-life coach, Alan Hinton, recently took time to reflect on that memorable year. They vividly recall the big games and shared moments in the locker room. But most of all, they wonder where the years have gone.
The legacy of that great team, they say, is hard to pin down.
“I’m not sure I know what it is,” says Sounders FC assistant coach Brian Schmetzer, who watched the season from the bench as a wide-eyed 17-year-old defender. “The legacy could be that that group was the one that started the support of soccer in Seattle that we see here today.”
A dream season
The first victory of the 1980 season came well before the games started.
Hinton, a first-year coach in Seattle recently dismissed by the Tulsa Roughnecks, built a roster based on his own experiences as a standout left-sided midfielder in the English Premier League. Using tactics he learned from legendary Derby County manager Brian Clough, Hinton brought in an influx of extraordinary talent with the support of owner Vince Coluccio.
A particular coup was purchasing the vaunted trio of forward Roger Davies, defender David Nish and goalkeeper Jack Brand from his former club, Tulsa.
“At the end of the day, X’s and O’s are very important, but the most important thing for every coach is knowing talent,” Hinton says. “And I knew talent.”
The list goes on. The midfield was led by exceptional playmakers Tommy Hutchison and Alan Hudson — the latter a favorite of a kid named Adrian Hanauer, who grew up to be Sounders FC general manager. A rigid defense was led by Ian Bridge and Bruce Rioch, not to mention Brand, who recorded 15 shutouts that season.
It didn’t stop there. There was Jon Ryan, a second-team All-NASL defender, versatile Frank Barton in midfield and crafty Steve Buttle.
No wonder home crowds at the Kingdome averaged more than 24,000.
Davies, in particular, had a magical season, scoring a league-high 25 goals (“and with a smile that lit up the Kingdome,” Hinton says) to earn the NASL most valuable player award.
“Most importantly, it was one of things where everything and everyone just clicked,” says Mark Peterson, the team’s second-leading scorer as a 19-year-old forward from Tacoma.
Seattle quickly caught fire. Through 23 games the Sounders had a sparkling 21-2 record — the best start for any team in this city until the Storm of the WNBA started 22-2 this summer.
“Everything fell into place,” remembers forward Bruce Miller, who was injured (broken ribs, punctured lung, torn diaphragm) in the season’s second game in a collision with the San Jose Earthquakes goalkeeper.
But euphoria came to a quick halt in the playoffs. Seattle’s season came to a startling end in the National Conference semifinals with an agonizing loss to Los Angeles in a mini-game.
Jeff Stock, a 19-year-old defender from Tacoma, says it was particularly shocking “because when we walked out on the field, we thought we were going to win every game. It wasn’t a question.”
Work hard, play hard
Almost half of the 1980 roster, it seemed, was English. Credit that to Hinton’s recruiting across the pond.
Many of those players, who brought with them a playing pedigree from the top leagues in Europe, also provided a sense of professionalism.
“Those guys came in and worked hard all the time, they never slacked off,” says Miller, a Canadian. “The typical English player at that time had the attitude of ‘work hard, play hard.’ They worked hard as they could, played hard in the games, then afterward they went out and had a good time. They liked their beer, that’s for sure, but they never slacked off.”
An affinity for pints and pinpoint passing might best describe the complex Hudson. A carry-over from the Jimmy Gabriel-coached team in 1979, Hudson needed convincing to stay in Seattle and play under Hinton. Hudson later battled alcoholism, declared bankruptcy and was in a coma for two months after being hit by a car. He eventually made a full recovery and has written three books.
Potential issues and distractions from an eclectic mix of personalities, however, were eliminated by leadership, says Stock, who now owns Omni Properties in Federal Way and Caffe D’arte.
“If you look at the guys that we had, they were all captains on the teams they came over from,” Stock says. “They were all great leaders.”
The locker room was close but had its share of playful ribbings. Americans, especially the young ones, would get sarcastically taunted by the English about playing “football” the proper way. Rioch would get teased for being an Englishman on the Scottish national team.
All in good fun.
Says Hinton: “I used to tell all my teams, ‘Let’s get along because if we don’t, coming to practice will be tough. If we win some games and get along, the season will be over in five minutes.’ “
Planting a seed
It was always about more than just soccer for the 1980 Sounders.
A self-proclaimed group of working-class guys felt they were part of the community. They nurtured an unusually open relationship with fans.
Training clinics and youth camps were as common as picturesque Hutchison assists from the wing. Call it cliché, but it wasn’t all about the money.
One generation later, the fruits of that labor are seen in the Qwest Field stands.
“When I first started playing, parents didn’t understand the game,” Peterson says. “Finally, it’s catching that wave. People that played and understand the game are making it a major sport. It’s been a part of them all their life.”
Hinton marvels when he sees the crowds for Sounders FC games — the best in Major League Soccer — and can’t help but think of the old days.
“We have been waiting for this to happen again,” Hinton says. “I wake up and say, ‘Wow, 36,000 people.’ That’s down to the love of soccer here and it’s all going to get bigger. It was real privilege to be here and be amongst the great people. Now that I’m 30 years older, I just love the way the game has taken off.
“Here’s to the next 30 years.”
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org