Mike Ryan, a lifelong soccer coach, often referred to what he did in another way. "I love teaching rather than coaching," he said in a 2007...

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Mike Ryan, a lifelong soccer coach, often referred to what he did in another way.

“I love teaching rather than coaching,” he said in a 2007 interview. “With coaching you have a goal, like a championship. I just want people to love the game.”

Ryan’s unbridled passion for soccer, which began at a young age in his native Ireland and spanned more than seven decades, is what is most remembered about him. The local legend, who helped turn the Seattle region into arguably the soccer hub of America, died in his home Tuesday at age 77 after a long battle with a rare autoimmune disorder.

“He was one of the original founders, amongst many people, who really helped build up the popularity of soccer around here — no question about it,” said Alan Hinton, former Sounders coach in the North American Soccer League. “He always had a smile on his face and a kind word about everybody.”

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Longtime Seattle Pacific coach Cliff McCrath called Ryan perhaps the “principal pioneer for the soccer in the area.”

“If Washington state is the Autobahn of soccer, without Mike Ryan it would still be a dusty, country road,” McCrath added.

Ryan, born Feb. 14, 1935 in Dublin, was the youngest of six children and first began coaching when he was 12. It was an instant fit that stuck with him after emigrating to the U.S. a decade later.

In the 1960s, Ryan helped build the men’s varsity soccer program at the University of Washington, where he led the Huskies to 101 wins and four NCAA tournament appearances from 1966 to 1976.

Ryan became the first coach of the U.S. women’s national team in 1985.

“Mike Ryan was there at the very beginning of what has become the most successful women’s international soccer program in the world, and his contribution will never be forgotten,” said U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati in a statement.

“He dedicated his life to soccer and working with young people.”

Locally, Ryan ran camps, coached youth teams and led high-school programs at Garfield, Bush and, most recently, Nathan Hale, where he coached with his son, Kevin, in the spring. For his contributions to the soccer community, Ryan received an honorary Golden Scarf from Sounders FC on July 25, 2009.

Some of Ryan’s favorite soccer memories came at Woodland Park, which he likened to both the “Garden of Eden” and the “Mecca” for Seattle soccer in the ’60s and ’70s. Ryan made a point of inviting anyone who played in those pick-up games to his 75th birthday party in 2010.

“Don’t bring gifts, just your memories,” he said leading up to the event, boasting a thick Irish accent that never left him.

Ryan is survived by his sister Kathy of Dublin; four children, Catherine, Maureen, Kevin, Siobhan; and his partner of 13 years, Karen Waddell.

Per Ryan’s request, there will be no funeral.

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or jmayers@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @joshuamayers

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