1980 – Around the World and Close to Home
President Jimmy Carter calls for a boycott of Olympic Summer Games in Moscow to protest Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Iranian militants take 52 American diplomats and citizens from Tehran’s U.S. Embassy hostage and Michael Jackson’s Thriller album and breakthrough music video are released to wide acclaim. In Washington, Mount St. Helens erupts on May 18, killing 57 and causing widespread destruction, Microsoft earns contract to provide operating system for IBM computers and census data indicates Washington population has grown by 21 percent (700,000) since 1970.
Everything But a Championship
Short of a championship, no summer can come close to creating the colossal number of record-breaking performances and, perhaps more notably, the volume of memories than the magical Sounders of 1980. Decades later, fans will vividly recall glorious goals, saves and signature traits of the key players and the prevailing notion that this team set a standard by which all others will be measured.
This side not only wins an NASL-record 25 matches, it entertains. They score 72 goals and silence foes, with 15 shutouts. Seattle draws over 400,000 fans, with five crowds in excess of 30,000. And no one saw it coming.
Soccer America terms the Sounders a rebuilding project. ABC shuns Seattle from its national telecast schedule. Three days before the regular-season opener, they barely beat Mueller Barons, the state amateur power. Seattle is not expected to make the playoffs, let alone contend for the division title.
There had been a housecleaning since missing the ’79 playoffs and finishing 13-17. A new owner, Vince Coluccio, hires a new coach, Alan Hinton, who, in turn, brings aboard nine new players. Three follow Hinton from his last stop, Tulsa. Two will shatter club records with new, nearly untouchable standards. With rules calling for a third North American in the lineup, Hinton introduces two local players who are just age 19 at the outset.
With so many new pieces, it’s understandable that the season begins with a grind: three goals scored over the first four games. Still, the back four of John Ryan, Ian Bridge, Bruce Rioch and David Nish is stout and goalkeeper Jack Brand does not allow a shot past him. That translates to three wins before the attack slips into gear and the onslaught commences.
Roger Davies, who along with Nish and Rioch was a Hinton teammate for championships at England’s Derby County, is a four-tool striker. Davies is effective as the hold-up target man, and a prolific scorer, able to score with head or either foot. He scores 11 times over seven consecutive matches. Mark Peterson develops into a complementary forward and opportunistic finisher. Pulling the strings from midfield are Alan Hudson and Steve Buttle, and the wild card is winger Tommy Hutchison, breaking down defenses with his piercing runs down the flank or cutting across for outside shots.
The Sounders score three or more goals in 15 of their 25 wins, many of which come in bunches: 11 straight, then nine in a row. Down the stretch, an ACL tear takes out Bridge, and nagging pains to a handful of others also take away some of the luster. Still, Seattle manages to finish with one more win than the Cosmos and ousts defending champion Vancouver to begin the playoffs. All that’s left between a semifinal showdown with the Cosmos is L.A., a team the Sounders swept.
After a season-worst 3-0 drubbing in the first leg, Seattle rallies two days later to pummel the Aztecs, 4-0. Straightaway, the series goes to a 30-minute deciding ‘game.’ Tied, 1-1, it then proceeds to the shootout where four consecutive misses send the Sounders out of the playoffs. The crowd, although, like the players, crushed by the unthinkable, rises to cheer the heroes for one last lap around the Kingdome.
Afterward, Buttle expressed what everyone was thinking. “Anywhere else in the world we’d have won the league because we had the most wins and the least losses. L.A. was supposed to be the third or fourth-best side in the league. and we just annihilated them,” he said. “And we come out losers.”
Davies would be voted league MVP, Brand the North American of the year and Hinton the top coach. Seven players are among the three levels of all-stars. For years and years to come, that would be the prevailing sentiment, the Sounders had done it all and won everything – except a championship.