As a kid, Sounders FC broadcast analyst Wade Webber watched the Sounders at a school assembly at Lakota Junior High in Federal Way.
The NASL stars started off juggling the ball around. They would play against the teachers in a scrimmage, scoring goal-after-goal to beat the teachers to the roars of the approving students.
Then, inevitably, they would lose by one to a team of students, but do it with a smile.
They would go through the same routine the next year, and again the year after that.
Webber already loved soccer and the Sounders. But it was moments like this that cemented the Sounders in the Seattle community, even well beyond the demise of the NASL club in 1983.
His father went to coaching clinics put on by then-coach Jimmy Gabriel and then used what he learned to coach Webber.
Dave Gillett gave away trophies at his banquet when he was 10 years old.
He wore his socks around his ankles because that’s how Alan Hudson wore his socks when he played.
174 miles down I-5, Portland was going through a similar phenomenon with the Timbers.
That is one reason, Webber estimates, that the game has thrived so much in the Pacific Northwest and the rivalry between the two clubs has become so bitter.
“Portland and Seattle have something unique and I’m convinced that it is directly related to the NASL legacy,” Webber said. “People stayed and coached kids and influenced a generation of soccer supporters and players. I don’t think that happened everywhere else. It was different here.”
He knows firsthand the prevalence of the NASL legacies of the clubs in both Seattle and Portland. After growing up in Seattle, playing at one point for Sounders midfielder Frank Barton, Webber went on to play at the University of Portland for former Timber defender Clive Charles.
While with the Pilots, Webber would work summer camps and play with FC Portland, who would later become the Timbers. In the summers of 1986 and 1987, he looked across the field at FC Seattle Storm and was desperate to beat the team from his hometown.
He went in hard for a tackle on Pete Fewing – who now works with Webber on the broadcast team. The tackle left Fewing dazed on the ground, but such was the desire that Webber had to play for Seattle.
“After I hit the ball, I got a lot of them with elbows and hips. As a Seattle kid, I felt somewhat rejected. I wanted to go to the University of Washington, but I wasn’t recruited there. Same with Seattle Pacific. So I went to the University of Portland and I had a chip on my shoulder,” he explained. “One way to show how much I loved Seattle and wanted to be there was to play really well against them.”
That emotion went both ways, though, as players found themselves with roots on both sides of the rivalry over the years.
Webber would play for the Sounders in the A-League from 1994-1996 then played three seasons in Major League Soccer with the Dallas Burn and Miami Fusion before retiring in 1999. Along the way he helped the Sounders to two straight A-League titles and Dallas to the Open Cup title.
13 years later, he is coaching at Washington Premier FC, where he, too, is passing on the lessons learned playing with the Sounders, just like the generation before him.
In addition to his work as an analyst, he is also a fan, so he isn’t immune to some of the fan tendencies of a man who grew up with a passion for Sounders soccer.
For instance, on a recent trip to Portland for a tournament with Washington Premier FC, he stopped at Burgerville in Centralia.
“I go in and they have Timbers cups. … In Centralia, Washington, I can get Jack Jewsbury on my 32 ounce soda,” Webber laughed, shaking his head. “I didn’t. … I got water in a little paper cup.”