1977 – Around the World and Close to Home
Concorde, the British-French turbojet-powered supersonic passenger airliner, goes into service, cutting transatlantic flight times in half. Elvis Presley, The King of Rock and Roll, dies of a heart attack at 42, Jimmy Carter is elected president, and Atari, the first major home video game console, is released. Locally, the Seattle Aquarium opens to visitors, Major League Baseball returns to the state with the Seattle Mariners, with Washington-based owners, Seattle Slew becomes the 10th horse to win the Triple Crown, and Lenny Wilkens begins his second stint as coach of the Seattle Sonics.
David Can’t Beat Goliath
Three years into professional soccer’s residency, Seattle Sounders went in a new direction under a new leader. Jimmy Gabriel ascends from his assistant role under John Best to become head coach, and Gabriel introduces a Seattleite to the lineup and the world.
While Best had been the face of the Sounders since their inception, Gabriel had effectively been the heart. He started and captained the club the first two years. As coach of the reserve team, Gabriel had also overseen the development of young Americans and local Washingtonians in particular. He believed some of them were ready for first team roles, and 20-year-old left back Jimmy McAlister foremost among them.
McAlister wasn’t the only American in the lineup when Gabriel’s era began at Honolulu versus Team Hawaii. Although NASL rules minimum for on-field North Americans is one, Gabriel starts four. He does it again the next game and the next. Four games in all. Once Mel Machin, Micky Cave and Jocky Scott arrive from Britain by late May, Gabriel regularly plays McAlister and Canadian goalkeeper Tony Chursky.
Before then, it was a rocky road. The Sounders lost six of their first eight outings. Gabriel, who first retired in 1976 and again following that season, called his own number to jump-start the season. At 0-3 and down 2-nil at home to Portland, Gabriel substituted himself, immediately went all-in on a tackle, and his play provided an emotional lift that translated to three goals and a 3-2 comeback victory, his first as a coach.
Overcoming that near-disastrous start, the Sounders catch fire down the stretch and reach Soccer Bowl for the first time. There, despite being huge underdogs to the Cosmos of Pele´, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Giorgio Chinaglia, Seattle battles and nearly nips the tying goal in the final minutes before falling, 2-1.
Also reaching a national final and finishing runner-up is Seattle Pacific. The Falcons take second for the third time in four years, this time to Alabama A&M, 2-1.
Most of the SPU players hail from in-state, and the Sounders’ Jimmy McAlister becomes an overnight sensation. McAlister, 20, wins a starting job at left back, then is named NASL Rookie of the Year and, soon after, becomes the first Washington native to earn a U.S. National Team cap.
The youth soccer explosion continues unabated, jumping 41 percent, to 46,874. However, there is growing friction between the clubs and high school programs, whose players face conflicts in play and training.
Women’s soccer begins to get sponsorship at the collegiate level. Five years since the Title XI ruling, Whitman College is the first to be granted varsity status. Meanwhile, club programs are initiated at Seattle Pacific, Washington, Washington State and Western Washington.