He might have followed his dad (Wes) into pro baseball, but as a senior coming out of Stadium High School, Jeff Stock chose soccer instead. With the original Sounders for four years, he established himself at left fullback and, later, both the Tacma Stars and FC Seattle. Now he’s got game on the links, with a 2-4 handicap. Last weekend he was on Oahu to play in the ProAm portion of the Sony Open.
You’ve had kids and you have friends who are involved locally in soccer. How has the sport’s landscape changed since you graduated in 1978?
In my youth team, you had your good players up the middle. Now, there are better athletes playing soccer and the talent is deeper and it’s better at a younger age. We have 15-year-olds who can go over to train in Europe now.
Your club, the Norpoint Royals, were the first Washington team to win a regional championship. They must have had more than just good players up the middle.
Yeah, it was pretty remarkable, really. We had three go on to play professionally: Jeff Durgan (Cosmos), Mark Peterson and myself (both Sounders). But more importantly, all but two of the others went on to play in college at Washington, Harvard, Yale and other places. That’s a tribute to our coaches, Roman Strug and John Duggan.
So, before signing with the Sounders, what was your highlight as a youth?
When I was able to put on the USA jersey and play for the youth national team and represent them overseas. And what was even more exciting about was that Durgan and Peterson were on it at the same time. We’d been on the same youth team and here we are among 16 of the best players 18 and under, and three of us come from the Browns Point area of Tacoma.
What about your best memories as a Sounder?
Definitely, playing in Soccer Bowl (’82) was a highlight. And right up there was my very first start, when I had to mark George Best.
Early on, you and Mark Peterson went to train in England for the winter, a very rare opportunity. How much of a difference did it make?
It was a career changing experience. Americans were thought of as second-tier players. We went over for three months. It was a hard time of year, November through January. I was 18 at the time, homesick and missed Christmas. But to stick it out and go through the mental toughness and find out, ‘Hey, you can play this game,’ really made a difference. I wasn’t as good as everybody there, but I needed to think that at 18, until I could work hard and become a professional.
As you say, American players were not respected as perhaps they are today. How were you treated?
We trained at West Ham, where Harry Redknapp (then a Sounders assistant coach) had contacts, and Bournemouth, where Jimmy Gabriel (Seattle’s head coach at the time) knew people. They treated me great, but put it this way, that first day of practice was 40 degrees and I showed up in sweats. They said, ‘What are you doing in sweats? Get those off. We don’t do that here.’ That’s what I mean by toughness. They showed me what was expected.
It must seem like a different world now, with locals like Kasey Keller and Marcus Hahnemann playing in the Premiership along with other Americans. Are you surprised how far the U.S. has come?
No, I’m really not. There’s been a great deal of the commitment to youth soccer, and that’s made a big difference. The kids have to be taught at a young age, and the coaches have gotten a lot better. You have kids now being coached by professional players.
Many of the former Sounders and Stars have become coaches. What’s your involvement in the game?
I’m just a big fan now. I stay in touch with the youth through Jimmy McAlister, he’s done a lot for the youth game, and he fills me in on the players and what’s going on.
What do you value most about your playing days?
Companionship with the players, anybody will tell you, you go thru a career and what you miss is the camaraderie. It’s almost like the guys I played with, we’ve got our own little college. I see Jimmy McAlister, Tony Chursky, and when my son had his wedding in December, Bobby Howe was there and all the old players. I stay close with the Royals guys as well. In fact, Mark Schuur works with me. We had a pretty close-knit team. We all stay together.
And what would you like to see as the next steps taken by the soccer community?
Hopefully, what this professional MLS team will do is create a spark in some kids’ eyes and the city catches on. As long as it’s a high level of entertaining soccer, that’s what it’s all about. You don’t realize when you’re younger, but every time you step on the field you’re an entertainer and soccer’s entertainment.