1971 – Around the World and Close to Home
China’s Chairman Mao invites U.S. table tennis team to visit Beijing, and a week later the U.S. ends its trade embargo with China. Congressional passage of 26th Amendment to Constitution lowers legal voting age to 18. Glasgow's Ibrox Park stairway gives way, killing 66 and injuring over 200 at Rangers-Celtic match. Seattle voters approve preserving Pike Place Market as a historic district. Starbucks opens its first coffee shop on Western Avenue, near Pike Place Market. Kirkland native JoAnne Carner becomes the first to win all three U.S. Golf Association titles by earning her first U.S. Open. Lynn and Rick Colella win backstroke and breaststroke gold at the Pan Am Games in Colombia.
Let’s Hear It for the Boys
It’s one thing to have a gut feeling. It’s another step to publicly express that notion, and still a lengthy leap beyond that to outwardly act upon that belief. And that’s exactly what Mike Ryan did in 1971, when he invited the U.S. Olympic Team to get a taste of how Washington amateurs could compete on the pitch.
So convinced was Ryan that he staged a high-profile match (actually a doubleheader) to prove his point, that this state’s best compared favorably with the top players in America. And while he didn’t realize the ultimate objective of placing his players on the ’72 Olympic Team, it was a point proven Ryan’s Triumph Continentals fell, 3-1, to the Olympic Team while his Seattle selects won, 2-1, against the Olympian reserves.
It was the first salvo fired in demonstrative show of support for emerging local talent. Bud Greer’s FC Seattle, stocked almost exclusively with local players, would give the Olympic Team all it could handle in 1984 and go on to win a league championship. Local colleges and senior amateur clubs committed to going all-Northwest, if not all-Washington, in competing for multiple national championships. The NASL Sounders developed a handful of homegrown pros who merited national team call-ins, and that tradition has accelerated in the USL and MLS eras.
The path from expectation to certainty might have been a protracted one for Ryan. He was attracted to the area by reports of passionate displays exhibited by various ethnic squads in Sunday state league tilts. “Immigrant soccer could not sustain itself,” he said later. “Attracting youth was essential to the game’s growth.”
Ryan was soon coaching the CYO team at St. Catherine’s Parish. He was teaching the game in terms of both technique and devotion. “I started getting some really good American kids,” he said.
If you were coached during that era by Ryan, or Robin Chalmers or Geoff Wall or Walter Schmetzer, the style may have differed, yet their craft was common. They might be gruff, they might shout, they might, at times, become animated on the sidelines. But they knew the game, and they all wanted the best for – and from – their players.
Paul Mendes, who came to Bellevue from Brazil, played for Ryan as a youth and again in college and state league. “He was fully dedicated to the game,” said Mendes. “He was an old-school coach, not very complicated. He was all about work ethic and full commitment.”
By 1971, in addition to his day job as a shipyard steel molder, Ryan coached three teams: University of Washington varsity, Triumph Continentals (state league) and Lake City Raiders (youth). Ten years later, he was coaching two women’s teams to multiple regional and national titles, feats leading to his appointment as the first head coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team. There he picked a squad with a heavy concentration of Washington women, including Michelle Akers. In earlier days, Akers had desperately wanted to beat Ryan’s teams.
“I loved it and rose to the occasion to play against a top team and impress Mike,” she says. Later on, Akers played under Ryan on the national team. “I enjoyed Mike’s intensity to win, his passion and expectation to be the best.”
Jimmy McAlister, the first of Ryan’s players to reach professional stardom, credits him for building the foundation for more and more success to come.
“It started in the Sixties and with guys like Mike Ryan going door to door, just trying to put together teams of 11 players. They were the cornerstones, people who put in tons and tons of hours without getting paid. Without those guys like Mike, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”