It’s not called the Beautiful Game for nothing.
In the coming months, as Seattle’s new MLS team evolves from unnamed blob into flesh and blood, every effort is being made to create a Beautiful Team. On and off the field.
But beauty is in the eye of the ticket holder, and with potentially 11,000 season ticket-buyers out there already, there may be just as many definitions of beautiful.
Polling three local soccer personalities of the past and present, here’s some ideas about what the future may hold for Seattle fans.
First off, winning isn’t everything. Sorry, Mr. Lombardi, it just isn’t.
So says a guy who already paid his deposit on tickets and also paid his dues as a professional player. Jeff Stock is a Tacoma native whose career spanned eight seasons with the original Sounders, Tacoma Stars and FC Seattle.
“In other countries, soccer is all about winning,” said Stock. “In this country, winning is one of the most important things, but soccer’s about entertainment.
“Whatever style they pick, it’s got to be an entertaining style of play,” adds Stock. “Soccer fans in Seattle are sophisticated. They know their stuff.”
Not surprisingly, at the team’s official MLS announcement two months ago, owners Joe Roth and Adrian Hanauer each emphasized this would be an attack-minded team. Undoubtedly, bigwigs at the other 14 franchises have said the same.Style With Substance
Attacking soccer can be exciting. It can also be dull, especially if the method is unimaginative and the chances go unfinished. Goals do not come cheaply and the beauty, more often than not, is in the buildup as much as the execution of the final touch.
Ideally, an attacking team makes the minutes fly by, makes the goals worth the wait.
“Definitely you’ve got to build an entertaining with flair, that almost cliché,” said Stock.
Although never confused with Galacticos of their day–the Cosmos–nevertheless the original Sounders were fun to watch. They averaged nearly 23,000 over the first six years in the Kingdome, and what attracted them there is far from an exact science.
Aside from the phenomenal season of 1980, the Sounders’ record from 1976-81 was .500 and they averaged 1.77 goals. Good stuff, but not all that great. Whatever it was, it went beyond the numbers.Market Analysis
“There’s no limit to how many fans you can get in the Seattle area,” states Jimmy Gabriel, truly an original Sounder and head coach from 1977-79. “But you have to know your crowd and know what they want.”
In Los Angeles, Ruud Gullit is selling “sexy soccer” to Galaxy goers. Elsewhere, the lure might be a Latin style. Each region, each city, will have slightly different tastes.
Hanauer, who was raised on a steady diet of Sounders soccer, will be seeking speed in when evaluating potential players.
Along with Hanauer, Brian Schmetzer has built USL Division 1 championship sides for the reborn Sounders, and some of the players he chooses in 2008 will be promoted to the MLS team in ’09.
“Speed is something we’re serious about,” said Schmetzer. “If you look at Arsenal and the speed at which they play, that requires good players and real athletes who can play the up-and-down, fast-paced soccer we want.”Speed Kills
As the saying goes, speed kills. And Schmetzer has wasted precious little time in putting speed into his lineup. Just two days after Maykel Galindo was cleared to play following his defection from Cuba in 2005, Schmetzer started him.
“We didn’t know how good Galindo was, but we knew he was fast,” Schmetzer recalls. “He just glides on the field, and every time he touched the ball he was great.”
Fourth in the USL regular season, with the Cruisin’ Cuban Seattle went on to win the championship. The ’07 title-winning team also broke quickly from defense to the attack.
The original Sounders also kept opponents on the run, says Gabriel, and the most successful seasons, both on the field and at the gate, seemed to revolve around wingers.
Among the best of the bunch were two flying Scotsmen, Jimmy Robertson and Tommy Hutchison. Robertson starred in the side which was 1977 NASL runner-up. Hutchison energized the ’80 team which established the regular season win record (25).
“The Seattle crowd loved wingers getting past people and whipping the ball in,” Gabriel notes. “There may be new people but in the past the crowd was most passionate when you had good wing play.”
They Mean Business
Then again, Gabriel may have sold himself short. He became a fan favorite as a defensive midfielder. Huh?
True story: As head coach, Gabriel once inserted himself into the lineup at halftime, with the Sounders down 2-0 to Portland at home. With a couple strong tackles, he brought the crowd to life, which then helped lift the attacking spirit in a 3-2 come-from-behind win.
“Every coach wants to attack, but you also have to have that certain individual, when the game is going either way, who will get stuck in,” says Stock, himself a defender who learned his trade from the likes of Gabriel, David Gillett and Bruce Rioch (all, coincidentally, Scotsmen like Robertson and Hutchison).
“When those kind of players would tackle, at that point people would say, ‘Whoa, they mean business.’ Those kind of players can turn a game around.”
So, to those local patrons of the Beautiful Game, be on the lookout for speed, but don’t discount the guys who do the dirty work. And as Stock said with a chuckle, “You can’t have 11 Jeff Stocks out there; you’ve got to be entertaining.”