Major League Soccer in partnership with Mitchell & Ness on Tuesday launched a retro-inspired apparel collaboration called “Since ’96.” While it celebrates the beginning of MLS in 1996, it also has a Cascadia flair, including the likes of the Seattle Sounders, Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps, all three of whom had been around for decades but were not a part of the league’s initial launch.
In 1996, the Sounders won their second consecutive A-League title, defeating the Rochester Rhinos 2-0 at Memorial Stadium in Seattle. SoundersFC.com takes a look back at that memorable season through the eyes of two players who lived it in defender Wade Webber and goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann.
Editor’s Note: These interviews were condensed and edited for clarity.
Wade Webber (WW): There was MLS’ arrival, and that for me was the big change. In 1994, the league was still competing to be designated Division 1, to reap the spoils of World Cup 1994. It wound up not happening, and this new entity MLS got the designation. So, 1996 was MLS’ debut, and the A-League became a second division, whereas the two years prior it hadn’t felt like that.
Marcus Hahnemann (MH): Before 1996, the A-League was all there was.
WW: It was a weird year in the beginning for me personally because I was coming off an ACL tear in the conference finals the previous season. We had lost a good chunk of our group. We didn’t know going into ’96 how similar we would be in previous years.
We won the title in ’95, but there was a change and suddenly we were second division and the money wasn’t going to be the same. We had a really good bonus structure, and we were making current MLS minimum to play outdoor soccer in America in 1994. You don’t think that about the USL now, but the wage structure once MLS came totally changed for that second tier. We were basically playing for MLS contracts. The crowds had gotten a little smaller, the novelty of ’94, which was exciting, had somewhat worn off.
The Sounders lost several key contributors from the 1995 title-winning season to MLS and entered the ‘96 campaign comprised primarily of western Washington players.
MH: We had such an awesome team built out of local pros. The locals we had, Chance Fry, Peter Hattrup, Billy Crook, Dick McCormick, Jason Farrell, Jason and James Dunn. We had one of the best teams that I’ve ever been on. We were super tight. All being from the local area, we would do so many different things together.
WW: We were a Seattle group. And when I say Seattle, I am Federal Way, and dammit I’m proud of it. The Dunn brothers are from Olympia, and they’re proud of it. But we’re Puget Sound people. Billy Crook’s from Kent, Chance is from Sammamish. Going back to the ’94 team, we were local. It’s unusual that you can have a team of local guys and be as successful as we were. I think it’s a testament to the quality of player that tends to come out of this area.
MH: A lot of those guys were older than me and were guys I looked up to when I was younger playing. With us doing it with a bunch of local players, no matter what, we were going to have people in the stands because we had all these local guys.
WW: We knew each other off the field. We knew each other’s wives and partners and brothers and parents. Marcus’ parents, I’ve known them forever. It was just a group of buddies that just happened to be good at soccer together. The camaraderie of knowing these guys for such a long period of time was essential to our immediate success.
The Sounders repeated as champions in 1996 featuring their purple and teal kits that are commemorated as part of the Mitchell & Ness collection. Webber took the uniform farther than most.
WW: I had purple hair in ’95. I had red, purple, usually white hair, that was my default.
MH: Don’t even get me started. I completely forgot about that. What’s so funny is that it’s not him. I don’t understand. He’s like this schoolteacher, super smart, intellectual guy. We’d play Scrabble on the bus, and he would just beat everybody. And then he goes and dyes his hair purple.
WW: I do remember the purple shade that I dyed my hair matched the uniform to a T. It was perfect that way.