Original Sounders with Doug Thiel

Original Sounders: US “style” quest has roots in NASL

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allthebest-aby 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.”

Still Searching: What is the American style of soccer?  Found: An American style is born

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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6 thoughts on “Original Sounders: US “style” quest has roots in NASL

  1. While i agree with the premise that a countries cultute is reflected in its style of play, letting George or Jimmy (who i have the uptmost respect) determine our style is off. We are a melting pot of different cultures and defining a commonality is difficult at best. That being said, i beleive our commonality is that an Anerican, from any culture is a risk taker. ,Americans would rather play in a 4-5 match that was wide open, full of risk and hi-pressure. Bunker defending, even when outmatched is offensive to an American. My two cents, we need to be fit and fast, we must press high in the field and attack swiftly and with authority. Yes we have technical deficciencies, but we will force error if we play at such a pace…i think that matches the american melting pot.

  2. I agree with much of what you said. However, I do have this comment meant as explication not refutation. A country’s style of play is based on that country’s cultural habits, not a style of play that some coach or GM wants. This style of play comes from intuition not cognition. There a vast difference between these two elements.

    But thank you for commenting. I write these columns for people such as you and am delighted that you care enough to respond. Email me at doug@thielnet.com anytime.

    Doug Thiel

  3. Doug — Thank you for the fine article. Over the past couple decades, the nature of soccer playing styles by country has changed., Yes, it still exists to a degree. However, as the world economy has grown up, so has the approach to soccer. About 20 years ago Johan Cruyff brought the Dutch style to Spain via FC Barcelona and now that is recognized as the style for Spanish teams. Likewise in the recent past, Germany and Brazil have had coaching exchanges so the Germans could be come more creative and the Brazilians could become more methodical. As the game evolves, I’d expect best practices to be taken from various cultures and develop a far more interesting game.

    With regards to American, hard to say where it is headed. For sure we are a culture that values effort and a culture that values scoring. So those two elements appear central to what becomes. I hope there is an element of the Dutch style that comes into play as it would bring another perspective to our play that we lack today. But it does appear that story remains to be written and is probably a good 20 years off before someone can truly say this is how American wishes to play. Maybe our country is too large to have one style … that may be our greatest challenge when we compile national teams.

    Thanks again for the article.

  4. Doug,
    thank you for the article and responding to my first post. This is such an interesting topic for such a large diverse country. For years, hear in the NW the British influence was remarkable. All my youth coaches were English. And its very difficult to discount their contributions to American soccer.

    As Mike said, it may be hard for us to define, that’s why I tried to find a thread.

    I too have been influenced by the Dutch, but I fear FCB may have taken it too far since they now seem to often posess without intent. As an American, i feel that swift penetration, whether dribbling or passing, must be a cornerstone of our game. Much like the alley-oop in basketball, or at least the fast-break being an exciting American analogy. Who didnt like it when the old Raiders played vertically?

    But i dont know if we have a leader with the juice to define and implement. Where is our Cryuff?

  5. One other story on this subject. 20 years ago Japan was not on the map for soccer. An individual who shall go unnamed went there, was able to link up with a high level executive (business, not soccer) who was able to bring in a development style that aligned with the Japanese’ tradition of fastidious attention to detail. The result is that country now may have the highest technical competence of any country on the planet when you look at both their women and men’s programs. It suited them properly on the world stage because they were not going to out-run, out-muscle or out-athleticize countries like the US, they needed a different approach. But this shows that styles can come from all sorts of pathways, the country needs to be open to it, it has to be the right fit and it needs either the highest level of adoption (Spain) or the widespread adoption (Japan). In the US, we do not have either today given the massive size of the country and massive number of players and no real leadership clubs to drive it. It will take time until we do….

  6. DRJ & Mike: You two obviously have done your home work. So, here’s some more commentary from my 1977 interviews with Jimmy G and Mike E.

    The Dutch style that uses a revolving pattern also means continuous position changing: a mid becomes a forward: a back a midfielder and then a forward.

    The essence of this scheme fits the American attitude of freedom to change, let out emotions. Design and redesign. We are cocky, over energetic, have big egoes, pride in working together, playing grab ass and being loyal to an usual degree. I remember this from playing football and in the Marine Corps.

    There is a reason why people call Marines crazy. It’s because we operate at 100% efficiency on a bad day

    Thank you both for your interest in these articles and your comments. Keep them coming. All the Best. Doug

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