Mention the early autumn of 1995 and many local sports fans conjure visions of Ken Griffey Jr. sliding home to beat the Yankees. The Mariners’ mantra of Refuse to Lose took hold and Seattle became a baseball town.
Now, 19 years later, it’s time to celebrate that October for another reason—when the Sounders stood tall as the best futbol team in all the land.
Ninety-five represents a time when American professional soccer was in transition. In between the 1994 World Cup and the dawn of MLS in ’96, the A-League served as the pinnacle.
“Ninety-five was remarkable for the amount of talent that was in the league,” says Neil Megson, the Sounders captain that season. Of the 1995 A-League Best XI, within two years seven would make the jump to MLS, and two would be amongst the first MLS Best XI in ’96.
“We didn’t see ourselves as minor league in ’94 and ’95; there was no MLS,” says Wade Webber, who along with Megson anchored the central defense. If anything, adds Webber, the 1995 championship was the crowning achievement of the original NASL Sounders.
“The foundation of the ’95 championship team was laid with Barry Watling and John Rowlands and the side from the early ‘70s,” claims Webber. “We all went to those games. We all knew those guys and suddenly here we are in our 20s and early 30s, playing at a high level and playing in the same stadium. I see that as a culmination; 20 years of hard work bringing Seattle a championship.”
The bond between the original Sounders to the resurrected version was more than symbolic. Three starters–Megson, Chance Fry and Bill Crook–played in Sounders’ final NASL game 12 years earlier. Alan Hinton had returned for his second stint as head coach. Each of his three NASL Seattle teams won silver. In 1994 he brought the Sounders name back from the dead and saved the A-League from near-certain demise.
For sure, there was quality. And it was a largely homegrown side. Eight of the 13 players appearing in the final versus Atlanta were raised in Washington.
“Many of them were Seattle-born players, and if we’d gone (en masse) to MLS, five or six would’ve played for us,” says Hinton, who proposed (unsuccessfully) promoting the Sounders to the new Division I league in ’96.
“That was truly a local team and a good team,” recalls Brian Schmetzer, who played for the A-League Sounders in 1994 before moving indoors as player/assistant coach of the SeaDogs. “It could’ve competed at a very high level. They were MLS quality, for sure.”
No player was more prominent and MLS-ready than Peter Hattrup. He’d flourished as a stylish, attacking midfielder at every stop, winning championships at Seattle Pacific (twice), FC Seattle and indoors with Kansas City.
Hattrup had returned home admittedly out of form in 1994, when the Sounders forged the best record in the A-League but were ousted in the semifinal by shootout.
“I probably worked harder and was hungrier,” remembers Hattrup, then 31. Hinton said Hattrup emerged from the offseason a different man. He not only won a starting spot but at times put the Sounders on his shoulders. Figuring in more than half of the team’s goals, Hattrup led the A-League in both goals (11) and assists (8).
“It was the best season of any player I’ve ever played with,” claims Webber. “You give him the ball with three guys on him and they wouldn’t be able to take it from him. He was that strong and quick and confident.
“Pete is all about confidence,” adds Webber. “If he feels he’s got the best of you, he’s going to beat you.”
Hattrup was not the only player driven to finish the job that had begun in 1974 and restarted in ’94. Says Megson: “(Alan) went with players who were hungry and would run through brick walls for him.” They would not be denied.
After going out in the Open Cup semifinals, Hinton fortified his squad by adding Dominic Kinnear and Brian Haynes in August. During the final six weeks Seattle went 6-0-3 (one draw going as a loss to Atlanta in the first game of the finals). A late equalizer from Jason Farrell, Hattrup’s shootout conversion and a save by Marcus Hahnemann proved the finishing strokes to the ’95 masterpiece.
More than talented, the ’95 Sounders played together. Hinton was proud of the fact that his team not only won, but had fun and entertained crowds along the way.
“We had a great team, great camaraderie,” Hattrup says. “It was a group of guys that got along really well and enjoyed going out there and playing together.”
Hoisting a trophy toward the heavens is every player’s dream. Doing so while playing alongside friends in your hometown is priceless.