This was a fantastic find on e-Bay last week … a rare and colorful program from the very first soccer match of the famed Seattle Sounders franchise, played on the road at East Los Angeles College Stadium back on May 5th, 1974. Of course, it was also the regular season debut for their opponents and fellow North American Soccer League expansionists the Los Angeles Aztecs. But the Aztecs are largely forgotten today (despite boasting George Best and Johan Cruyff on their roster during the 1970′s) whereas the Sounders brand name, revived by Major League Soccer in 2009, marks the gold standard of American club soccer today.
Aztecs owner Jack Gregory hoped to attract Mexican fans to his new club. He printed portions of the match program in Spanish and chose a stadium in East L.A. So he was none too pleased when the NASL scheduled him to open the Aztecs’ home schedule on Cinco De Mayo. Only 4,107 fans showed up. Gregory needn’t have taken it personally though. The Aztecs would plod along for eight seasons at various stadia in the region and under the direction of numerous owners (including Elton John!) but they never really drew anywhere.
It was a rough, chippy match, at least for the hosts. The Sounders, playing their first match under the direction of manager John Best, committed 16 fouls and knocked two Aztecs players out of the game. But Los Angeles got the best of it in the scoring column, with rookie Doug McMillan netting two goals off of assists from Uri Bonhoffer. (McMillan would later earn 1974 Rookie-of-the-Year honors in the NASL).
Let the record show that 24-year old English forward John Rowlands scored the first goal in Sounders history off a header late in the first half. But it wasn’t enough as the Aztecs won 2-1. Los Angeles would go on to win their first and only NASL title in August 1974.
This early season re-match of Soccer Bowl ’82 demonstrated just how rapidly the Seattle Sounders franchise had deteriorated under the watch of the team’s deeply unpopular new owner, Bruce Anderson. In five short months, the former Los Angeles Rams football player had fired the club’s most successful Head Coach (Alan Hinton), changed the club’s colors, and repudiated the Sounders’ long-time commitment to English players, pursuing an “Americanization” plan that much of the Sounders’ faithful simply viewed as a cover story for budget cuts.
Only 10,085 fans showed up at the Kingdome to watch the Sounders play their staunchest rival, the New York Cosmos. The Cosmos were the team that bested Seattle in both of their visits to the NASL’s Soccer Bowl championship game, first in 1977 and again in 1982. The clubs’ previous matches in Seattle were big events. 58,125 turned out to see Pele when the Cosmos made their first visit to the ‘Dome in 1976. As recently as 1980, the Sounders drew 49,606 for New York’s regular season visit.
Besides the Sounders’ management and PR debacles in 1983, the team just wasn’t very good under new Head Coach Laurie Calloway. The Cosmos would shut them out 3-0 on this night, courtesy of second half goals from Roberto Cabanas, Vladislav Bogicevic and Giorgio Chinaglia. It was the Sounders’ third home match of the 1983 season and they had yet to score a goal at home.
This would be the last time to Cosmos ever visited Seattle. The once-proud Sounders continued to come apart as the season continued. Anderson was driven out in a palace coup, but the return of the former owners Frank & Vince Coluccio wasn’t enough to right the ship. Only one of their remaining twelve home dates drew more than 10,000 fans. A little less than three months after this game, the Sounders went out of business on September 6, 1983 without even waiting for the NASL playoffs to conclude.
Five matches into the 1983 North American Soccer League season, the Vancouver Whitecaps moved out of their long-time home at Empire Stadium into the brand new $126 million BC Place stadium. The Whitecaps would be one of two anchor tenants, along with the Lions of the Canadian Football League. Multi-purpose stadia were in vogue at the time and officials hoped the 60,000 seat dome might attract Major League Baseball to Vancouver as well.
The Whitecaps hosted the Seattle Sounders in the first sporting event at BC Place on June 20th, 1983. The festivities attracted 60,342 fans – on a Monday night, no less – which set an all-time Canadian pro soccer attendance record which stood for nearly three decades.
The star of the match was the Whitecaps’ 22-year old English striker Peter Beardsley. Beardsley was a peculiarity among NASL players. A young import who would go on to his greatest success after a few early seasons of seasoning in North America. The NASL was always heavy on British imports, but most were in their late 20′s to late 30′s with their best days behind them. Guys like former Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Corrigan of the Seattle Sounders, who Beardsley beat for both Vancouver goals on this night, including the game-winner in the 68th minute. The ‘Caps won the match 2-1.
In late 1983, BC Place hosted both the NASL’s Soccer Bowl championship match and the CFL’s Grey Cup title game. Soccer Bowl ’83 attracted more than 53,000 fans despite the fact that the Whitecaps didn’t make the final. Nevertheless, the move from Empire Stadium to BC Place ushered in rough times for the ‘Caps. Just one year after the move, the team was on the verge of financial collapse and nearly folded without finishing the 1984 NASL season. They made it through, but it was a moot point when the entire league folded the following winter.
Peter Beardsley went back to England after the 1983 season and starred for Newcastle United, Liverpool and Everton over the next 15 seasons. He also earned 59 caps for the English National Team. Beardsley was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2007.
On May 12, 2012 the Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer broke the Whitecaps’ 29-year old Canadian attendance record. 60,860 fans turned out at Olympic Stadium to watch the Impact draw David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Team America was a pet project of NASL CEO Howard Samuels who took over leadership of the struggling league from long-time Commissioner Phil Woosnam in midseason 1982. Samuels seized on “Americanization” as a strategy to reduce unsustainable player salaries and make the sport of soccer more relatable to American fans. Team America was the tent pole of Samuels’ strategy. He envisioned the club as both a franchise in the NASL and, simultaneously, as the U.S. National Team in training, as the country competed in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and tried to qualify for the 1986 World Cup after a 36-year absence from that tournament.
Nothing about the Team America concept went as smoothly as Samuels imagined. FIFA shot down the U.S. bid to host the 1986 World Cup, which would have provided an automatic bid for the U.S. Team. Then the International Olympic Committee declined to relax eligibility rules for the use of professionals at the 1984 Olympics, meaning that Team America would not be the U.S. Olympic team after all, as originally hoped. The rival Major Indoor Soccer League backed out of an agreement to make its American players available to Team America on offseason loan. Samuels pushed through a rule requiring NASL clubs to release their best American players to Team America. But there was no rule requiring the players themselves to comply with the transfers. Several of the best Americans in the NASL, including Rick Davis of the New York Cosmos and Mark Peterson of the Seattle Sounders, refused to leave their existing teams. By mid-summer 1983, Team America chairman Robert K. Lifton was justifiably questioning whether he had invested in the United States National Team he had been promised, or simply another money pit NASL franchise.
By the time the New York Cosmos arrived in the nation’s capital for this August 1983 match, Team America’s situation was dire. Head Coach Alkis Panagoulias’ team, losers of eight of their previous nine matches, couldn’t score goals. Their previous home match against the Montreal Manic on July 31st drew a season-low 5,281 fans to 55,000-seat RFK Stadium. In early August, Mark Peterson of the Sounders belatedly reversed course and agreed to join Team America. Howard Samuels, eager to help the sinking team, approved the transfer even though the NASL’s deadline for player transactions had expired two weeks earlier. After all, Peterson had 13 goals on the season for Seattle. The entire roster of Team American had only 25.
The Cosmos opened the scoring in the 23rd minute. Adding insult to injury, New York’s opening goal came off the foot of Rick Davis, the highest profile American star to rebuff an invitation to join Team America. Twenty minutes later, the Cosmos 22-year old Paraguayan striker Roberto Cabanas headed a Vladislav Bogicevic cross past Team American goalkeeper Paul Hammond for a 2-0 lead. Team America halved the deficit in the second half when Rudy Glenn converted off an assist from newcomer Mark Peterson. But team the was bedeviled once again by lack of offensive ability and lost the match 2-1.
The home loss to the Cosmos dropped Team America to 10-14. They would never win another game. One month later, almost to the day, Team America owner Robert Lifton shuttered the franchise and the players returned to their original clubs for the winter indoor season.
The Sounders began play as an expansion team in 1974. Walt Daggatt headed the original ownership group, which hoped to bring an NFL expansion franchise to Seattle. In his efforts to gain favor for Seattle’s NFL efforts, Daggatt met Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, who also owned the Dallas Tornado of the NASL. By December 1973, Daggatt and his partners owned a pro soccer club. A Name The Team contest followed, with Sounders triumphing over several other finalists, including “Mariners”, which would become the name of Seattle’s Major League Baseball expansion team in 1977.
The Sounders played their first two seasons outdoors at Memorial Stadium. In the spring of 1976, the Sounders moved into the newly opened Kingdome. The first sporting event held at the Kingdome was a Sounders match against the Cosmos on April 9, 1976. 58,128 fans packed the Kingdome that day to investigate the new building and get a look at Pele, the great superstar of the Cosmos. Pele scored two goals to lead the Cosmos to a 3-1 victory. That big crowd and the novelty of playing in a new building helped the Sounders lead the NASL in attendance in 1976 with over 23,000 fans per match.
Throughout their history, the Sounders were loaded with imported players from the British lower divisions. But the club also featured some big names from English game. Geoff Hurst, who famously scored a hat trick for England in the 1966 World Cup final, played for the Sounders in 1976. An elderly Bobby Moore, captain of England 1966 World Cup squad, played seven games for Seattle in 1978. Other English notables included former Chelsea and Arsenal midfielder Alan Hudson and long-time Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Corrigan. The Sounders managers were invariably English as well.
In 1977 the Sounders advanced to face the Cosmos in the Soccer Bowl title match at Portland’s Civic Stadium. The match would be Pele’s final competitive match before retirement. The critical play came in the first half with the score knotted at 0-0. Sounders goalkeeper Tony Chursky picked up and controlled a long ball sent in by Giorgio Chinaglia. Rather than punt, Chursky rolled the ball along the ground. Steve Hunt raced in from Chursky’s peripheral vision, took the ball off his foot and punched it into the Sounders net. The Sounders would recover from Chursky’s inexplicable blunder to tie the match a few minutes later. But Chinaglia scored the game winner in the second half for a 2-1 Cosmos victory.
The Sounders hit their competitive and commercial peak in the summer of 1980. Coming off a disappointing 13-17 season in 1979, new owner Vince Coluccio launched a rebuilding program by raiding another NASL club, the Tulsa Roughnecks. The first move was to replace Sounders Head Coach Jimmy Gabriel with recently axed Roughnecks manager Alan Hinton in November 1979. One month later, the Sounders robbed Tulsa of goalkeeper Jack Brand and a pair of Englishmen – forward Roger Davies and defender David Nish – in a multi-player trade.
Under Hinton in 1980, the Sounders came out of the gate 21-2 and went on to post the best regular season in the NASL’s 17-year history, with 25 wins against only 7 losses. Brand set a league record with 15 shutouts in goal. Roger Davies scored 25 goals in 29 games en route to NASL Most Valuable Player honors. Seattle fans jumped on the bandwagon and the Sounders averaged a franchise high water mark of 24,246 fans for 16 dates at the Kingdome that summer. But the charmed season died in the playoffs, when the Sounders were bumped off by the Los Angeles Aztecs in shocking second round upset.
The confounding playoff loss to the Aztecs seems to be the moment the tide started to roll back for the Sounders in Seattle. The 1981 club regressed to a losing 15-17 record and a quick first round playoff exit at the hands of the Chicago Sting. Seattle’s attendance dropped 25% in 1981, mirroring broader problems throughout the NASL. Seven franchises folded in the fall of 1981, reducing the league from 21 to 14 clubs.
1982 was Alan Hinton’s third season at the helm. Despite a 4-9 start, the club bounced back to 18-14 and took the Western Division crown. Tiny (5′ 7″, 145 pound) English striker Peter Ward earned the league’s MVP award. Unlike 1980, the Sounders would successfully navigate the playoffs to earn a trip to Soccer Bowl ’82 and a rematch of their 1977 Soccer Bowl loss to the Cosmos. But the club’s meandering path to the title game failed to captivate the city and attendance dropped to 12,539, barely half of what the club drew just two seasons earlier. The Coluccio brothers lost $2 million and the Sounders lost Soccer Bowl ’82 to the Cosmos 1-0.
The final dagger came in January 1983 when Vince and Frank Coluccio sold controlling interest in the Sounders to a former Los Angeles Rams football player named Bruce Anderson, and his investment partner Jerry Horn, the President of outdoor recreation retailer REI. Anderson shocked the Seattle media at his introductory press conference by announcing the firing of Alan Hinton, just months after he took the team to the Soccer Bowl. It was the first in a series of ham-fisted moves by Anderson, who wanted to Americanize the Sounders, who had traditionally featured a heavy contingent of British imports. “Americanization” was a big buzz word throughout the NASL (often as a euphemism for “cost cutting”), but Anderson took it practically to the point of xenophobia, repudiating the team’s British-influenced style and tradition. Anderson also abandoned the Sounders’ traditional colors and crest, which further alienated the club’s loyalists.
Midway through the 1983 season, the Coluccio brothers bought out Jerry Horn to re-assume control of the team and immediately banished Bruce Anderson to a dark corner of the basement. “My brother and I have $8 million invested. It would be foolish to give up now,” Vince Coluccio told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer at the end of June. But the debt and the damage were too deep. Within two months, the Coluccios threw in the towel, folding the club on September 6, 1983 a few days after the Sounders’ final game.
The Sounders name was revived in 1994 for an expansion team in the A-League. The franchise endured for over a decade as a 2nd Division club, playing one level below Major League Soccer (MLS). In 2007, Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer, who attended the 1976 Kingdome match against Pele and the Cosmos as a young boy, broadened his investment group and paid $30 million for a 2009 expansion franchise in MLS. By popular demand, the Sounders name was retained for the MLS entry, which is today considered the league’s model franchise. In 2010, the Sounders became the first MLS team to draw 500,000 fans in a season. In 2012, the Sounders attracted a league record 733,441 fans for an average of 43,144 per match. Only the 1978 and 1979 New York Cosmos have claimed a higher average in the history of American soccer.
==Seattle Sounders Matches on Fun While It Lasted==