1994 – Around the World and Close to Home
South Africa holds its first multi-racial elections with Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress winning 62 percent majority, Netscape Navigator is launched as the first successful web browser, O.J. Simpson flees police after the murder of his wife, and the 31-mile Channel Tunnel (aka Chunnel) connects France and England. In our state, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates marries Melinda French, Spokane’s Tom Foley, U.S. Speaker of the House, is voted out of office after 30 years, and the Sonics coast to the NBA’s best record (63-19) but are upset in the first round of the playoffs.
For all those who worried that their beloved game was on the wane, 1994 marked the second coming of soccer in America, and Washington leaders were soon positioning their state to be at the forefront.
Sparked by a tremendous turnout for USA-Russia international friendly and underpinned by one of the largest playing youth populations in the nation, there was a movement to bring back a top-level professional team to Seattle. Meanwhile, two pro teams were already in the works. That's a bright contrast to the preceding four–and some might say 10–years.
Since the demise of the original Sounders in 1983, FC Seattle Storm and the Tacoma Stars sought to fill the void for fans. Still the amateur ranks thrived in the Eighties and early Nineties. Washington Youth Soccer participation figures grew 20 percent from 1983-94, and more adults than ever were active in the game. However, no spike in popularity compares to the 12-month gain from 1994 to '95. Nearly 10,000 more kids and in excess of 200 teams were added to the rolls, and obviously the sport's dramatically heightened visibility was a huge factor.
When 43,651 souls found their way to the Kingdome to see the World Cup-bound teams of the U.S. and Russia face-off on Jan. 29, it was a celebration of community as much as anything. National broadcasters and U.S. players remarked that not only was it a large, loud crowd, it was the most pro-American throng in recent memory. For the record, it was Washington's largest soccer gathering in 14 years. Furthermore, it was an opportunity to see a native son return home. Chris Henderson of Everett was a USMNT starter that night, which ended with a 1-1 draw.
The carryover was reinforcement of the state soccer community's size and passion, and that got the attention of U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer leaders. They were soliciting bids from communities wishing to secure franchises for the first MLS season, in 1996. Immediately after the match, a 'Soccer Summit' of state leaders was convened for the purpose of organizing an MLS bid. Despite a late start, Seattle submitted a competitive bid, the lack of a suitable stadium was a notable soft spot. Husky Stadium and Memorial Stadium were both far from ideal options. As it turned out, when ceiling tiles began to fall from the Kingdome ceiling later in 1994, it may have proven a boon to eventually landing an MLS club.
Fans wouldn't have to wait for MLS to see the return of pro soccer. The Seattle SeaDogs spent the year preparing for their 1995 start indoors. As for the full-field, traditional game, former Microsoft executive Scott Oki and former Seattle coach Alan Hinton brought back the Sounders brand, launching their first A-League season in July and featuring a Who's Who of Washington players in their lineup. Better still, the born-again Sounders boasted both the league's best record (14-6) and best attendance (6,347), including a sold-out Memorial for their final regular season home game.