1989 – Around the World and Close to Home
Chinese students take over Beijing’s Tianamen Square in a rally for democracy, and hundreds, perhaps thousands, are killed by the military response. The Berlin Wall opens to the West after 28 years, and Communist regimes fall throughout eastern Europe. Ruptured supertanker Exxon Valdez spills 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound, creating an environmental disaster. Serial killer Ted Bundy, who confessed to more than 20 murders of girls and young women, including 11 in Washington, is executed in Florida. Norm Rice, a 10-year member of the City Council, is elected Seattle’s first African American mayor. Ken Griffey, 19, debuts as the Seattle Mariners rookie centerfielder, doubling in his first at-bat.
A World of Opportunity Awaits
While the World Cup would be coming in five years, as 1989 dawned America was not exactly a land of opportunity in soccer. The Major Indoor Soccer League had shrunk from 11 to 7 teams, effectively trimming the number of full-time paying jobs by about 70. The American Soccer League and Western Soccer League were incubating talent outdoors, largely sans paychecks.
Oddly enough, faith in the game’s future was coming from a heretofore land of the lost: The U.S. National Team program. What’s more, two sons of Washington were very much in the mix. Kasey Keller and Chris Henderson were key contributors to the United States reaching the semifinals of the FIFA Youth World Cup. Although still teenagers, they were regarded as among the top players in the WSL and the college ranks.
Henderson, a senior at Everett’s Cascade High School, had always kept his eye on the future and specifically his older brother Pat and those players a few years ahead of him. Ten years before, Puget Sound had sent future stars such as Jeff Durgan and Mark Peterson to the pros. Following an increasingly dark decade, the emergence of Keller and Henderson synchronized nicely with current events.
“At that time, you felt like the future was bright,” recalled Henderson. “We got into a World Cup and things were changing and you felt you were going to be part of something. MLS was not even talked about yet. But you thought if you do well, you’ll get a chance somewhere in the world, to find a club. Up until then, you were just hoping to get a college scholarship.”
That dynamic began to change when the U.S. Under-20s stunned the world in Saudi Arabia. Keller, a freshman at the University of Portland, was runner-up as player of the tournament. “Kasey came out of the Youth World Cup as one of the best keepers in the world for his age,” noted Henderson, who had been chosen national high school player of the year. It was a Henderson volley that proved vital in a quarterfinal victory over Iraq.
Later that spring, Keller was between the sticks for the WSL Portland Timbers, and Henderson joined FC Seattle Storm weeks before his Cascade graduation. They would each earn WSL Best IX, with Keller named MVP.
Both players were receiving invaluable help from veterans at those clubs, players who had reached the NASL, and who seemed poised to lead the America back to the world stage for the first time since 1950. Instead, the league collapsed, and the project remained unfinished. Until 1989, that is. With Mexico disqualified, a pathway was cleared to Italy.
Henderson’s summer with FC Seattle and many of those veterans would help launch his next adventure.
“I have the best memories of those evening training sessions with the Storm at Memorial. So much good technical work, types of training I hadn’t experienced before,” he said. “Bernie James, Brent Goulet, Chance Fry, Ricky Davis, Peter Fewing, Fran O’Brien, Jeff Stock – they were all super helpful.”
Storm coach Tommy Jenkins lauded Henderson, labeling him “the best young American in the game,” while adding that a slot on the 1990 World Cup squad was within his grasp. Until those words were spoken, Henderson said he had not fathomed such an opportunity. Instead, within a year, both he and Keller had made their senior international debuts and were regular members of the squad.
“All those memories I have of training and playing for the Storm, that set the foundation for my career,” confirmed Henderson. “So, I’m super thankful for all the players and coaches who helped me, including those who stuck around after the NASL, and gave back to the people in the Northwest.”