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Q&A with author Mike Gastineau

With his new book on the Sounders out now, Mike Gastineau sits down with

“Sounders FC: Authentic Masterpiece” Launch Party
Tuesday, October 22, 2013, at 6 pm; The Market Arms in Ballard (21+)
Admission: $40 (includes a copy of the book)

The story of Sounders FC’s inaugural season was lived by the players, coaches and staff of the club, along with the thousands of fans that flooded CenturyLink Field. It made waves in Seattle and around the country and was a legitimate cultural phenomenon.

Mike Gastineau saw much of that success first-hand as a radio host at Sportsradio 950 KJR-AM in Seattle, but he truly dove into the story after his retirement from radio in 2012 when he began writing “Sounders FC: Authentic Masterpiece. The inside story of the most successful sports franchise launch in American history.”

Recently, Gastineau sat down with the Round Table Podcast and here is a piece of that conversation. What was the impetus behind writing the book?

Gastineau: In September of 2012, I just hit a point where I knew I wanted to leave KJR. I had been there 21 years and I just wanted to try something different. I was kind of at the end of the road there. I didn’t tell too many people. I kind of kept my cards close to the vest. I got my mind in a real good place. I was excited and happy and I was leaving on a good note. A guy named Aaron Reed, who is with ECS, had donated every year at KJR for our charity auction a bus trip to Portland or Vancouver and we had always gotten good money for it. He and I had been e-mailing and he said, “You’ve got to come sit with us in the supporters’ section.” I’m a season ticket holder and I’ve had season tickets since 2009 and for a variety of reasons, it just never worked out. All of a sudden, here comes the Portland game and I’m free. I met him at Fuel and I was blown away by the supporter’s culture at that point anyway. There was going to be a tifo that night and I was excited. I had seen the March to the Match and I knew how it worked, but it hadn’t hit me how cool it was until I looked up and saw who was on the PA in Occidental Park … it was Joe Roth. That’s the owner of the team on a makeshift stage in a city park addressing his fans and that just doesn’t happen. It does not happen in professional sports. It should, but it doesn’t. We go into the stadium and we do the tifo and it’s incredible. I’m dodging flags the entire game. I had a great time and I’m walking back home through Pioneer Square and I thought to myself, “This is a story I can tell.”

I was fortunate enough that I knew Adrian a little bit, I knew Tod Leiweke really well, I knew Sigi a little bit. I knew that this was the kind of story that you cannot tell on the radio. I got home and I was talking to my wife Renee about it – many of us know the story and we’ve experienced it, but there’s more to it than any of us realized. I had the idea that night and I met with Adrian within two weeks and he was one of the first people I told that I was leaving KJR. There were two people I needed to say “yeah” and it was Adrian and Gary Wright. They both liked the idea right from the start and they were true to their word. They provided incredible access and they never exerted any control. That made writing the book a pleasure. Since then until now, what’s been the most rewarding part for you?

Gastineau: That’s a great question. I think the overall accomplishment – being able to hold this right now and say “I did this and I did it all on my own and it’s going to sink or swim on the story and whether I told it the right way.” Also, finding out that the story is as good as I thought it was. No place is perfect and there are things inside that are clunky from time-to-time. There is a level of cooperation. There is a separation of person and ego when they get involved with this organization that really stands out to me. That Joe Roth and Adrian and Sigi … these are powerful guys and by all that’s good and right, there’s no way after five years that all the key players should still be here. With the exception of Tod Leiweke, they all are, and Tod left because he got an ownership chunk with a hockey team. It doesn’t happen in sports – somebody should have left and they haven’t. That speaks volumes to the willingness to work cooperatively. And you get that out of this book. There is a level of cooperation that directly leads to the success that they’ve enjoyed. What surprised you the most in the process?

Gastineau: Brian Schmetzer’s story, I thought, was really interesting. He’s Mr. Sounder in my book. This is a guy who played on the NASL team, played on the resurrected version, coached the USL version and arguably could have been the coach of the MLS version, but we get back to the cooperation and the lack of ego that he was willing to step back and be a good First Lieutenant. His story was really inspiring. The thing I hadn’t thought about was the six guys and Schmetz and Tom Dutra that made the jump to the USL team – none of them ultimately were superstars, but they brought the culture and most expansion teams don’t have that. There’s a huge eight-week period after they signed Kasey Keller where he came and worked out with the USL team and he almost became one of those guys and there was a bond between him and those guys that made the jump. He was willing to be a big star, but they all said he didn’t look down his nose at them. That was a part of the story I didn’t realize and I thought it was a critical part to why they had success. What’s something that you would tell someone that doesn’t know the story of the Sounders that would get them to read your book?

Gastineau: The vast majority of the people probably don’t know who Gary Wright is and who Tod Leiweke is. I think they were such gigantic, important influences on this story. They came from the Seahawks side and both had soccer in their background. It was easy to say that they had the Seahawks muscle behind them and that’s why the Sounders were successful. They had smart muscle behind them. They had guys who were willing to listen to the soccer side of the equation. Tod is as sharp a guy as I know and Gary gave them instant credibility in mainstream media in Seattle. I think those two guys come into this as unknowns and they were gigantic parts of the equation.

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For more from Mike Gastineau, listen to the podcast from October 11 here.