Mark Peterson: Looking back at a Tacoma legend

It was a much different soccer world in America, and even in the state of Washington, in the early 1980’s. The idea that an American player could excel alongside foreign team mates in a top-tier league was a new one. Defenders? Maybe. But an out and out America striker? Practically unheard of…and then came Mark Peterson.

by David Falk

Mark Peterson’s (wiki) sudden death on July 7th has shocked and saddened long time Sounders and Tacoma Stars fans and those who coached, played along side, and knew the Tacoma native.

See also: A tribute to Mark Peterson’s life

It couldn’t have been that long ago that Mark was kicking the ball around as a youngster for the Norpoint Royals. It seems just yesterday that the Wilson High grad made his way up to the NASL Seattle Sounders’ roster; it seems like just weeks since he was delared the “North American Player of the Year” in the NASL.

It seems like only months since Peterson turned down a chance to play for “Team America” so that he could stay a Sounder.

It has been literally been just weeks (May 14, 2011) since Mark stood on the pitch at what is now called CenturyLink Field and raised a Golden Scarf while standing next to his long time friend, fellow Tacoman, Seattle Sounder and Tacoma Star, Jeff Stock.

May 14, 2011 Jeff Stock (left) and Mark Peterson were honored with Sounders Golden Scarves. (Rick Morrison)

These two as young men were part of the second wave of Americans to invade the British-dominated roster of the North American Soccer League Sounders. Before them were names like David D’Errico, Jimmy McAlister, others. It was Mark and Jeff who made such an impact on Seattle sides filled with players such as Alan Husdon, Roger Davies, Bruce Rioch, David Nish.

Over 30 years earlier (1980), Stock and Peterson stood side by side in Seattle’s Kingdome. (Jenni Conner)

It was Mark Peterson who scored two goals against Manchester United when they visited Seattle in 1982.

It was that little kid from Norpoint, all grown up, who was declared the rarest of rare things in those days, and still today even: a natural, American-born talent at the striker position.

The news of Peterson’s passing hits Sounders fans of my age (49) right between the eyes. Mark was about our age, hit his peak when we were all going into our mid-20’s together. He represented a dream in all of us: to be an American kid out there not only playing the world’s game, but keeping up with some of the best players in the world. In 1982, that was a stunning accomplishment.

Current Seattle Sounders FC assistant coach Brian Schmetzer was another of those local Americans who made the Sounders. “I am deeply saddened over the unfortunate loss of Mark Peterson,” Brian said in a brief club release. “Mark was a very close friend of mine from the years we played together with the Sounders. Mark was a very talented goal scorer and always a nice man. I have nothing but respect for him. He was too young to go at 51. This is a sad day.”

“He meant a lot to me,” Jeff Stock said in the Tacoma News Tribune. “We grew up together and kind of went  through everything together: the youth national team, the Olympic team, the  Sounders and the Stars. We were pretty close afterward too. It was a proud  moment when we were both given the Golden Scarves. I guess it’s no secret how he felt to me: He was like a brother. … He was one of the top scorers for the  Sounders, a battler and an all-round good guy.”

This look back is published only a day or so after learning of Mark’s death. It’s just a beginning look back at a man and a career that inspired local players and touched many.

Perhaps a poster on the GOALSeattle forums says it best:

“Mark was part of that Golden Era in local soccer when so many of our kids made it as
pros (e.g., Billy Crook, Tim Bartro, etc.). He was a real talent and for me his
two goals against Manchester United in 1982 (the first and the last Sounders’
goals in a 3-0 victory!!!) were a treat beyond compare. For those of us who got
to see him play, he will be missed but never forgotten.”
Mark Peterson, 1983.



13 thoughts on “Mark Peterson: Looking back at a Tacoma legend

  1. Mark Peterson was a great player and a great person. I played on Sam’s Diggers with him when we were 9 years old and we had a great time. he could score at will then too. i switched to football after that but when i got to high school picked up playing soccer again in the spring. my first game against Wilson H.S. there was Mark. He walked right up to me and said; “How does it feel to be back playing soccer again?” Just like that, he was one of the top players around but was a regular guy who remembered me form our youth soccer team. He was a great competitor but always had fun while he was out there playing.

    I didn’t appreciate it at the time, the overall talent of playing against him in high school along with Jeff Stock and Jeff Durgan. We were all the same class so I followed Mark’s career in my 20’s and was inspired to keep playing soccer recreationally and coach for a long time. Mark had a part in that and he I’m sure he touched many people in the same way over the years. he will be sorely missed…my condolences to his family.

    Hans Christenson

  2. Washington Youth Soccer extends its sympathies to Mark’s family and friends. Mark lived the young American dream as a soccer-crusader in the NASL-era of American soccer. His journey was far too short but packed with success and memories that will endure for many of us to fondly remember.

  3. I met Mark 20 some years ago, not as a soccer player, but as a businessman when he was working for Pepsi. Most likely, one of my favorite ‘sales people’ that I ever dealt with in 40 years! Very honest and reliable. It was known that he was a pro baller, but he never made an issue of it! Very nice and professional man…RIP!


  5. Mark was a star, with a deeply quiet soul. I don’t know if he tried to compensate for his fame by not making a big deal out of it, but he truly was humble in NOT thinking he was a big deal. Very sweet. I loved being his friend and coworker at Pepsi. I loved being his peer as we all grew up and went through first marriages that didn’t work, then found our mates and settled in to have families. My heart breaks for his children and family. I know Mark’s belief in God was firm and his everlasting life is won!

  6. Although I didn’t know Mark well, I played against him a few times and he was a terrific player. He was also a nice guy who really enjoyed playing the game. I am sorry to hear the news.

  7. Mark was my coach back in the mid-late 1990s. We were a Select girls team (Nortac Heat – high school Juniors/Seniors) in Tacoma and we practiced at Wilson HS. Mark did not have a daughter on the team – he simply coached for the love of the game. He pushed us hard but we always had a great time laughing and battling for the ball in practice. I am saddened to hear of his passing – my condolences to his family and loved ones.

  8. As obviously stated Mark was a great man who’s talents exceeded any notion he might convey. His humility was a lesson I sought to emulate as a person more so then a player. A couch I will always remember and a person I will never forget. His style was such that he remained distant yet his distance drew you closer. As a player under him I constantly wondered what he thought. He was a man of few words, yet his criticism always found me. At the times I hated him for it but eventually realized it was one of his rare attempts to reach out… Following several instances of being singled out I consulted him and he told me something I will always remember… “Don’t worry about me criticizing you, you should start to worry when I no longer mention your name”

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