The STATE of Soccer in WASHINGTON
by Doug Thiel / Catch up on earlier Original Sounders stories HERE.
Writing All the Best became a series of surprises. The first was, “Why should I write a book about the Sounders?” says I to Dr. Marty Kushner, team physician to the Sounders and the Sonics. We’d just finished lunch.
“Because someone should. You write well and I’m asking you to do it. Do me a favor.”
Where to start? Someone said Cliff McCraff who, I discovered, was known as Uncle Nubby, Nubby and Nubs. Blew some fingers off his left hand when he was twelve.
Nubs became my launch pad into a world of sport I knew nothing about. I soon would.
With Nubs’ help and others I set up a series of interviews the earliest of which was with the new Sounder coach, Jimmy Gabriel.
In the midst of our first interview Jimmy brought up a topic unfamiliar to me. Here it is. Each country has its own style of play.
The nature of that style is based on a country’s cultural behavior. The German style is unlike the Italians whose is unlike the English whose is unlike the Scots and ad infinitum.
That was then. Today’s soccer teams have morphed into a potpourri of players from every continent. Our Sounder FC team is no different. There now is far less “country style” left in the game.
When Jimmy saw the Brazilians play in 1970, he noticed their style epitomized what Brazil was about: happy-go-lucky, laughing, the rumba and samba.
“Their soccer was skillful, bubbling, and joyful. They were happy playing the game. They seemed to be a happy nation. So what they did was to put the country’s personality into their soccer.”
“And when they did that, they came up with the best team in the world,” he concluded.
Jimmy then moved on to the great 1953 Hungarian team. “They did the same thing as the Brazilians.”
“Hungary is noted for its gypsies, its type of violin music. Their soccer flowed like a rhapsody. The brilliance of their music showed in the brilliance of their play.”
“Also the Hungarians’ skill and excitement reflected generations of their culture. They got those traits in their game as well. It was amazing to watch. They were the best.”
Next up were the West Germans who won the World Cup in 1976. “They played a game that was militaristic. They played almost in the manner that they go to war. Their brilliant general, Franz Beckenbauer, was in the back seeing that everything was all right.”
“The German defenses were strong, tight and hard. And they had Beckenbauer as their midfield general who dictated the flow of play.”
They had their Panzer Divisions, quick, raiding, thrusting, wham, wham, wham, on the wings, coming from fullbacks, wingers, and center forwards. It was almost like an army out there.”
“But the Germans didn’t play vicious soccer: they played pure soccer, like an army going to war. They used tremendous power and skill with exceptional thought behind their play. That year Germany had the best team in the world.”
Jimmy paused for a moment then started again with Holland’s style in the World Cup Match against Germany. “The Dutch came up with a style of soccer that is a marvel to watch. I don’t know much about the Dutch, but they played a fast, beautiful, elusive style of soccer. It’s beauty in motion.”
And being from Scotland he does know the Scottish and English styles. “England has fallen away from its natural style of play. The English style is to use your center forwards which, by the way had been the world’s best at heading the ball into the goal. England has always had that advantage. But the English team has gotten away from this and has suffered from it.”
Read a 1983 article about “Team America” of the NASL here.
“And by not using the threat of their very dangerous crossed ball,” he went on, “their threat to a World Soccer Championship has been lost.”
“The Scottish character is a wee bit easier,” he says with a brogue that rolls. “England is a more complex nation for me.”
“The Scottish character is easier because we go way back to the little Blue Bonnets who came over the border stealing sheep and whacking the English over the head, or trying to. We usually got bloody noses for it, though.”
“We’re the little lads who want to prove that we’re better than the rest. We have soccer players who are quick, lightning fast, individuals who get in there and out again; stealing the sheep and getting away, stealing a goal.”
“When Scotland plays like that, we play very, very well. We’re a very strong headed nation; we’ve got to have our heads. The discipline has got to be less than what you’d expect from a German team because Germans will accept discipline a lot easier than a Scots player will.”
How about the USA and Canada? Did we have to send out for one? Not quite but almost.
Developing a North American style could only be done in Seattle and Vancouver, BC because of John Best and his close association and friendship with Jimmy. But what was it?
It had to be what North Americans are. The style must allow freedom of movement, one that allowed for more player independence. And it required a very high degree of physical fitness.
To that end Jimmy Gabriel was developing a new rotational, free style of soccer that required every player to be able to play every position. Each player would have license to do whatever is required in whatever position he is playing at the moment.
But because positions changed quickly, each player had to be able to change positions just as quickly and do so with skill and knowledge of the new position. Center backs became center forwards at some stage of the game. The style of play was quite similar to that of the Dutch.
The basic nature of young North American players, that includes a fantastic desire to do well, would have fit right into Jimmy’s plans. And then we would, “…take the world by the scruff of the neck and say, ‘look at us we’re the champs. We’re the best.’ “
goalWA.net is very pleased to feature an ongoing column that allows writer Doug Thiel a forum to share his memories of our “Original Sounders,” the North American Soccer League (NASL) club that played in the Emerald City from 1974 through 1983. Doug is the author of the 1977 Sounders season highlight book “All the Best,” as well as two new books for youth soccer players, coaches and parents called “The Winners Way.” Click www.cowanparkpress.com to purchase one or both books.
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