The breakthrough kid: Seattle’s first Homegrown Player Jimmy McAlister

DeAndre Yedlin bears no resemblance to Jimmy McAlister. And yet they are unmistakably related.

Yedlin, now representing his country at the World Cup in Brazil, is the first MLS Homegrown signing to emerge as a Sounders FC starter.

Today the notion of a local player making good is significant, demonstrating that the club and the Puget Sound soccer community, together, are nourishing and developing our area’s natural resources.

There will come a day when local players coming through the Rave ranks will be positively commonplace. Forty years ago, however, it was unheardof. That is, until Jimmy McAlister.

“Now you have (American) kids out there, they’re going to Europe, they’re making money and younger kids are saying, ‘I want to do that,’” says Jeff Stock, who followed McAlister to the Sounders. “Well, Jimmy’s the one that paved the way. He was the first.”

In 1977 McAlister made the breakthrough. In an era when NASL teams were predominantly foreign-born, Jimmy Mac won a starting role on a side bound for the league final, but more importantly he demonstrated to others that it was OK to dream.

Tracing Yedlin’s footballing roots back through four decades to their origin would place you on the doorstep of the McAlister’s West Seattle home in 1974. The 17-year-old towhead was no longer playing with boys his age but had been playing in the state’s top men’s division for two years. McAlister’s best option for playing at the next level was college, likely with UCLA.

Then the Sounders hit town. McAlister joined the crowds converging on Memorial Stadium, watching a team comprised almost exclusively of Britons. With league quotas for North Americans looming, Coach John Best knew the key to keeping the Sounders competitive was to develop more and more Americans.

Out of the blue, Jimmy Mac got his shot. A local scout invited several local players to a tryout. “I didn’t think I had much of a chance,” admits McAlister, the youngest of the group.

Best thought otherwise. “He was the best athlete,” he remembers. “He didn’t know enough about the game, but how could he at that stage?”

McAlister made his debut at age 19 years, 89 days–147 days younger than Yedlin’s. Unlike Yedlin, he didn’t play at the college or academy level. Seattle’s reserve team–the first of its kind in the NASL–played men’s league and college teams on a sporadic basis.

“Jimmy McAlister was in a different class,” Best says. “What he needed was to be around senior players, to gain some confidence and learn the basics of the professional game.”

Soon enough, the dominoes fell and McAlister was thrust into consideration for the first team left back. In the spring of his second year down went the starter, Scotsman John McLaughlin. American Manny Matos, the understudy, was also injured.

“So they put me in, I did OK and I stayed,” humbly states McAlister. “Sometimes as a young player you need a break. That’s how you get your chance.”

He credits Mike England, David Gillett and other veterans of the back line for his on-the-job development. Assistant coach and captain Jimmy Gabriel was, ”the greatest guy I was ever around, for feeling confident and good about yourself.”

“He was playing great,” Gabriel recalls. “The bigger the game, the bigger the player he was playing against, he was fantastic.”

The Sounders came on strong down the stretch, winning three playoff series to reach Soccer Bowl, and many took notice of the energetic McAlister, harassing opponents into turnovers. Stock, then 16 and planning on following his father into a baseball career, attended Seattle’s semifinal win. It was a life-altering experience.

“Each player would run out of the tunnel as his name was called, and they announced, ‘Rookie of the Year Jimmy McAlister!’ At the time I had no idea who he was, but here it was a sold-out crowd in the Kingdome, and the fans were going nuts, and I just got caught up in it,” says Stock.

“He was my idol,” he declares. “If it wasn’t for Jimmy McAlister, I never would’ve gone to soccer. He was someone to look up to.”

Three years later, Stock was starting for Seattle, and his emergence sparked the fire inside Brian Schmetzer, then 17. Schmetzer then showed the way for Bill Crook. And so on. The parade of outstanding talent from Puget Sound had begun, and it continues to this day.

After playing and coaching in the professional ranks for 12 years McAlister now develops the next generation. He now is coaching director for Seattle United.

“When I watch Yedlin and these American kids, these kids in the stands who are 14-15, they know there’s no question of whether it’s possible. Now they know they can do it,” Stock says. “I know Jimmy made a difference.”

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