Mario Prieto shares Seattle SeaDogs days

Once there was a team called the Seattle SeaDogs. They wore purple and ran through the mouth of a giant inflatable dog before matches. It’s all true.

by David Falk, with Mario Prieto

Mario Prieto.

In 1995 the Seattle SeaDogs of the Continental Indoor Soccer League (CISL) were born. The club was owned by Barry Ackerley, who also owned the NBA Sonics at that time. The idea was to fill some summer dates at Key Arena. While the business side worked to build attention via the Sonics, the soccer side was challenged to get players together for an indoor side. The Puget Sound region had been without soccer since the Tacoma Stars folded in 1992. In their first season the SeaDogs played at the old Mercer Arena while Key Arena was being remodeled.

See a SeaDogs gallery at Facebook.com/goalWA

Mario Prieto had a soccer background which we will reveal later in this story. SeaDogs head coach Fernando Clavijo turned to Prieto to help build the SeaDogs. “I told Fernando that I was involved in soccer all these years with the WSSA, and at that time I was the Referee/Players coordinator for the first indoor facility in Everett, The Soccer Dome, which one of the Owners was a former Seattle Sounders player, Pepe Fernandez, with a long and well-recognized professional soccer career in the USA,” Prieto begins. “We were almost running out of time before the SeaDogs debut so I proposed to organize open try-outs at the Everett Soccer Dome facilities to start looking for new players.”

“If the first two seasons of the SeaDogs were a headache for the coaching staff, the try-outs were a nightmare for us and all the people who helped us to look for players during those two days,” recalls Mario. “At the try-outs I was on the field as a referee and evaluating players; we had players that had obviously never kicked a soccer ball in their life. Some came dressed with the American football gear, (helmets included), a few left on the field turf a succulent breakfast, others just left the field knowing that soccer was not their sport. At the end of two grueling days we came to the conclusion that we needed to call only those local players we knew could play soccer, but most needed to be adapted to the indoor way of play, playing in a much reduced area, and at a very fast pace.”

“The list of the local talented players was enough to have a decent roster of 20-man players for the opening season of 1995,” says Prieto, who provides us with an initial SeaDogs local player list: Jason Dunn, Bill Crook, Dick McCormick, Bruce Broughton, Shannon Murray, John Purtteman, Brian Schmetzer, Todd Woodhouse, Dave Mattson, Shane Decker, Nat Gonzalez, Todd Stauber, Tim Babcock, Tom Bialek, David Wheeler, Seth Spidal, Ralph Black, Michael Collins, Ben Erickson, Vasco Rubio.

Salty, Mario Prieto, Brian Schmetzer.

Brian Schmetzer joined the Seattle SeaDogs as a player/assistant coach; a knee injury ended his career on August 12, 1995 limiting him to playing in only nine games. He continued as the SeaDogs assistant coach.”

For “international flair” the SeaDogs brought in Marcelo Fontana (Argentina), Gaston and Leonel Pernia (Argentina), Juan de la O (Mexico), John Olu Molomo (Nigeria), Jean Harbor (Nigeria), Camilo Casal (Spain), and Rafael Garcia (Mexico).

The SeaDogs of 1995 and 1996 were not very good, going 12-16 the first year and 11-17 the next. In 1997 it all changed as the club led the league from start to finish and hoisted the championship banner after a 21-7 regular season.

“1997 was a terrific year from match one, the team was HOT HOT, the numbers don’t lie,” Prieto shares.

In the finals Seattle faced the Houston Hot Shots. “It was a dramatic game until the last second, we beat Houston 6-5 in the first match in Seattle,” Prieto recalls. “After the game there was no time to spend with the fans to celebrate the victory. Outside Key Arena was the Greyhound bus belonging to the Seattle Supersonics, waiting to take us all to the Boeing Field and get on board of the private jet Boeing 707 also belonging to the Supersonics. Dinner was hot and ready on board already, and we had a pleasant flight. We had a full day to recuperate and play the second game of the playoffs. That was a great strategy by the SeaDogs organization; to fly us all right after the game. Houston left the next morning from SeaTac, they had no time to rest….(no private bus or jet.) We beat them 7-1. It was an amazing game. We ran all over them! Right after the game we flew back to Boeing field and we found several hundred people waiting for us. Incredible experience!”

Prieto was used to winning soccer,  having come to the United States and going through the New York Cosmos system. “I am a native of Uruguay, from the capital city of Montevideo, and with a soccer career that began at the early age of 16 years old playing for Montevideo Wanderers F.C. I moved to the U.S. in 1970, and soon after my arrival to New York City I began playing for a first division team in a semi-professional league. During three seasons with the team we won two New York Cups.

Mario with Jean Harbor.

“In 1973 with the New York Cosmos I was part of a group of new players from open tryouts and was fortunate enough to play on the field with all those super stars. I knew it from the beginning that it was almost impossible to join the Cosmos main team, because the organization was looking to attract big names, and players from the big leagues (mostly Europeans). Out of hundreds of players I was very fortunate to be chosen in the preliminary round of the best 35 players with chances to join the team and play alongside great players such as Pele, Beckenbauer, Chinaglia and others, which I did in several unofficial matches.”

“By the year 1975 I moved to Seattle with my wife Gladys and our two-year old Melanie. I worked for Lockheed Shipbuilding Co. several years as a Buyer/Estimator, and in 1985 I was called by the Boeing Co. to work as a Financial Analyst/Estimator at the Everett site.  Now I am retired after over 20 years representing the Boeing Co.”

Mario looks back with fondness and a sense of adventure when he thinks about some of the behind the scenes moments the SeaDogs shared.

“It was a game against San Diego playing as a visitor,” Mario says of one of his most vivid SeaDogs memories. “They (San Diego) were already qualified for the playoffs, so they put on the field most of their substitute players. We put the strongest line up on the field because we needed to win to qualify for the playoffs. At the end of the first quarter the SeaDogs were down 6 -2 and playing really bad. By the half time, the score was 9-4 in favor of San Diego. Fernando the coach, Brian and I as the assistant coaches could not believe what was happening on the field.”

“When we got into the locker room the three of us went into our private office, and looking to each other we asked the question ‘What we are going to do with our players? they look like rookies out there. It is embarrassing.’ We got out of the office, and the players were drinking some refreshments. Over on a table was five gallons of Gatorade. Fernando kicked out the legs of the table and Gatorade was all over the floor, and Fernando yelled to the players: “YOU DON’T NEED REFRESHMENTS. WHAT YOU GUYS NEED IS A BLOOD TRANSFUSION. YOU ARE AN EMBARRASSMENT. THEY ARE LAUGHING AT YOU. THEY ARE PLAYING WITH A BUNCH OF ROOKIES AND HAVING FUN WITH ALL OF YOU!” It was pure silence in the locker room. We still ended up losing the match and a chance at the playoffs.”

Mario shares another road trip moment when the SeaDogs were in Monterrey, Mexico. The players had supposedly scattered for lunch, but when the coaches went for a walk they notice SeaDogs shirts flashing in a restaurant window. Clavijo, Schmetzer and Prieto entered the establishment to find almost the entire squad. The players were told to leave at once. Some took their food back to the hotel with them. The coaches were left shaking their heads. It was a SeaDogs convention—at Hooters.

“Nice, very nice, we cannot believe that you guys have just done this!” Mario remembers them saying to the players. “The head coach and the assistant coaches were NOT INVITED to have lunch with you guys, so now let’s walk back to the hotel rooms all together. Pay for your order and let’s go.” Again there was silence…with a few laughs of course, Mario says. “We also lost that game, big time.”

Mario runs through the fog out of the mouth of a giant purple “Salty.”

It is the champions year of 1997 that Prieto still remembers the most.

“Not only did the SeaDogs win the CISL Championship,” he says, “we received many honors: Goalkeeper of the Year to Juan de la O, Coach of the Year to Fernando Clavijo, Championship Series MVP to Juan de la O, All Star Game MVP to Jean Harbor.”

“Unfortunately the Ackerley family was having tremendous financial problems with the Seattle Supersonics,” Prieto ends with. “So we were told that they no longer could support another sport. So despite being the CISL Champions and the first professional indoor team to ever win a tournament for the city of Seattle, the SeaDogs folded in the off-season before 1998. Fernando resigned as a head coach and moved to Florida with his family to be the head coach of a newly formed team, the Florida Thundercats.”

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