Soccer team's senior vice president of business operations first will be honored at Seattle's 77th annual awards dinner.

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Gary Wright was not a soccer fan early in life.

Long before joining Sounders FC as its senior vice president of business operations, Wright viewed himself as more of a “traditional sports guy.” For the former high-school basketball and football coach, it took a trip to soccer-crazed Europe in the late 1990s for Wright’s disdain for the sport to turn to appreciation and then, finally, to love.

A decade later, when it became evident Seattle had a chance at an MLS expansion franchise, Wright knew he had to be a part of it. Turns out he’s been an integral part, as the Sounders have flourished in terms of merchandise sales, corporate sponsorships, local television ratings and a league-record attendance that compares favorably around the world.

For those contributions and more, Wright, 67, has been named Seattle Sports Star Executive of the Year.

“Honestly, I see it as a team award,” Wright said of the honor. “I’m the one standing up there receiving it, but it’s not about me; it’s about everybody that I work with. I think we have the greatest staff in professional sports, with the Seahawks and Sounders, and this is not a reflection of me, but a reflection of them.”

Had things gone differently, Wright would be accepting this award as a retiree. The 2011 season was to be his last with the Sounders, but plans changed, particularly when team vice president of business development Bill Chapin was hired by the NFL’s Kansas Chiefs in December. Instead, Wright will stay on for another year.

“We are so lucky that rather than retire, this great soccer enthusiast has led us, the Seattle Sounders, to the unparalleled place we now hold in American soccer,” majority owner Joe Roth said. “Gary has been the heart and soul of the organization and I will never let him retire.”

Wright, the MLS Executive of the Year in 2009, had worked 33 years with the Seahawks before joining the Sounders — though the organizations continue to work under much of the same leadership. The press box at CenturyLink Field is named in his honor.

“I’ll be 68 this summer,” Wright said, “but I still have such a passion for both the Seahawks and Sounders that it’ll be tough to walk away.”

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