In some respects they were the Lost Generation. They were the gifted players whose prime years coincided with the absence of an American top-level outdoor league.
Only there’s no hard feelings, at least not from a few of Seattle’s best and brightest during those days. They played for a living and in front of appreciative fans and, in their own way, they paved the way for what’s coming to Qwest Field in 2009.
Their ages all now hovering around 40, Dick McCormick, Peter Hattrup and Andy Schmetzer grew up with a dream of some day playing for the Sounders, or some other top-tier club. Only the North American Soccer League was gone before they got the chance, international opportunities were at a premium and it was 13 years before Major League Soccer arrived.
“I wouldn’t change anything,” says Schmetzer, whose older brother Brian played for the NASL Sounders and now coaches the USL Division 1 champions.
Now, Schmetzer, Hattrup and McCormick are all back in the Puget Sound area, coaching local youths.
Indoors Proves Inviting
Andy Schmetzer and his twin brother Walter arrived just in time to see the NASL disappear in a cloud of dust. Instead, reigning the day around the U.S. was six-a-side indoor soccer. Although they initially signed to play with FC Seattle, the local semipro club, the majority of both Andy and Walter’s careers were played within the dasherboards.
“Because Brian had gone that route it was something we jumped at,” says Andy of the initial decision to pursue a pro career rather than college. “With FC Seattle, we thought that if we can do this, we’ll be on our way to making a living as a player.”
And in actuality they did. Andy played 16 seasons, 14 of them in Cleveland.
“Even through those up and down years, I was able to live on what I was making indoors,” he says.
If you wanted a pay raise, you simply played more. Hattrup and McCormick chose that avenue.
A Change in Plans
In 1982, when Hattrup came out of Seattle Prep, the Sounders were still a staple of summertime entertainment.
“As a kid and even in college I thought, ‘In a few years I’ll be playing in front of 25,000 people in the Kingdome.’ Then it went away in a hurry,” he recalls of the Sounders’ 1983 demise.
“It was hard for those of us who grew up in that era,” says Hattrup. “You’re watching the Cosmos in front of 70,000 people and the Sounders with big crowds. You assumed that was going to be around forever.”
When he left Seattle Pacific in 1986, the Sounders may have been gone, yet the Tacoma Stars had arrived. He signed with the Stars and went on to play 10 seasons indoors and another 10 outdoors, including six with the USL Sounders and the first two MLS campaigns.
Always on the Move
“You moved around,” says McCormick, like Hattrup a Seattle native who launched his career with Tacoma. As rookie, he notes, the minimum contract was $16,000, plus an apartment and insurance.
“We played six months of indoor in the East, and in the summers you came back to play in Seattle.” McCormick and Hattrup teamed in midfield for the Sounders first title, in 1995.
Each spring following the indoor season, Hattrup, McCormick and many other players would pack their belongings and crisscross the nation, en route to their outdoor club.
At times, McCormick played indoor year-round. In 1997, after a winter in Wichita, he joined the Seattle Sea Dogs. They won the league championship that summer, only months before the entire league folded.
“Honestly, for a soccer player, that was a great way to go. You had the opportunity to go to different teams, different cities,” Schmetzer says. “Pete fit in. As family guy, for me it was a little more complicated.”
“The nice thing about Cleveland,” said Schmetzer, “Was that it was stable and you didn’t need to worry about your paycheck.”
MLS Proves Tempting
Like Hattrup, Schmetzer and McCormick were tantalized by the high-profile arrival of MLS in 1996.
“When the MLS first came I was about 28, and I made conscious decision not to go for it,” says Schmetzer. “I was married. I had kids, and the indoor teams were telling people if you went MLS, you wouldn’t be allowed to come back. I didn’t want to take that chance.”
Hattrup, however, seized the moment. Coming off an A-League MVP season, he was at the top of his game in 1996 and, at age 32, with his window of opportunity soon closing.
A knee injury forced him to miss the first season, in Tampa Bay. The next year, in Dallas, his effectiveness was undercut by a coach’s decision to move him outside, from his accustomed central midfield role.
Says Hattrup: “There are times when you say to yourself, ‘If only I was 22 now.’ On the other hand, most of are–and I am–proud of the fact that we had to fight more to make a living out of the game. You had to search and scrap and move, and not many of us played in one place for any long period because teams and leagues were folding underneath us all the time.’
Still, neither Schmetzer, McComrick or Hattrup have any regrets.
“Searching and trying in our own way, our generation kind of helped keep the game alive and bridge the gap,” Hattrup says. “Some of the fields, some of the places we played and some of the paychecks we got weren’t all that grand. But we all did it because we loved playing.”