"What's the secret of our success? Two words: blind luck." -- Jack Daley, Seattle Sounders general manager
Call them lucky. Call them a fluke. Call them boring, mechanical, unimaginative. Call them anything you please. Then check the record: 21-2.
In a league where the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-spending Cosmos are 1l-6, the Seattle Sounders, who play the Washington Diplomats at 8 p.m. tonight in RFK, have a 21-2 record. They have not lost since June 11.One of their two losses was a shootout.
These guys are very good. Who are they? How did they get so good?
"No luck involved at all really," said goalkeeper Jack Brand. "This is just one of thoes teams where no one worries about individual glory. Everyone plays together, works together, lives together. It's really a remarkable situation."
Most remarkable is Brand. After the 1979 season, Brand, 27, announced he was retiring from soccer. He had been the Cosmos goalie in 1978 when they won Soccer Bowl but had been traded to Tulsa in 1979 after a contract dispute. In Tulsa there were more problems. Brand threw up his hands and waved goodbye to the NASL.
Today, after being talked out of retirement by Daley and Sounders Coach Alan Hinton two weeks before the season started, Brand has compiled a 0.67 goals-against average -- that's 16 goals given up in 23 games. He has 14 shutouts -- a league record.
"Jack's worked for his shutouts," said Hinton. "But he would be the first one to tell you that all 11 men have contributed every night. Goalies don't lose games alone and they don't win them alone. It isn't that simple."
Nether is the story of how this team in less than a year has gone from mediocrity to fantasy land. Or, as Andy Dolich, Diplomat general manager said, "They've done what all the rest of us in this league dream of doing."
The Sounders rise centers on four crucial incidents:
The sale of the club at the end of last season by a group of Seattle businessmen to construction magnate Vince Coluccio, who put Daley in control of the operation.
Daley's decision to hire Hinton to replace Jim Gabriel as coach.
The trade engineered by Daley and Hinton that gave Seattle the rights to Brand, Roger Davies and David Nish. In return the Sounders sent to Tulsa Tommy Ord, since traded to Atlanta, and Bruce Rudroff, no longer in the league.
Daley and Hamilton went to Braunschweig, Germany where they convinced the disillusioned Brand to give the NASL one more try.
"The Tulsa trade was obviously a turning point," Daley said. "Alan had coached there last season and he thought we could get Davies and Nish. We went in thinking of a two-for-two deal with us adding cash. They wanted more cash than we offered. So we said, 'Add Brand and we'll add cash.'"
Thus, the man breaking every NASL goalkeeping record was little more than a throw-in in what may go down as one of the great trades in league history.
Davies, an ineffective player under Hinton in Tulsa a year ago, had some injuries, Hinton said. He has been healthy this season. He has 22 goals and nine assists, second best in the league. Nish has combined with Bruce Rioch to anchor the best fullbacking corps in the league.
And Brand? "He's always had ability," Diplomat Coach Gordon Bradley said. "This year he's had a chance to show it."
That is the way Brand feels. A native of West Germany, he grew up in Canada. He originally signed a NASL contract with Toronto in 1973 at age 19. The man who signed him Jack Delaney.
He moved to the Cosmos in 1977 and emerged as their top goalie in 1978. During the playoffs that season he had six shutouts and saved the Cosmos from extinction in the quarterfinals with an incredible save on an Alan Willey header in the sudden death minigame with Minnesota.
"I thought I had arrived," Brand said. "I went to Germany during the offseason and really worked. I wanted to be sure I would be the starter in 1979. Then I hear the Cosmos didn't even want to give me a contract.
"Eddie Firmani had faith in me, though. He went to bat for me. Finally, we agreed on a contract. Then Eddie got fired."
Shortly after Firmani was fired as coach, Brand was traded to Tulsa. His first choice, he said was Washington. When the trade was made, Brand announced, I've been traded to the moon."
That remark didn't thrill Hinton, his new coach. "I sat Jack down and told him I expected him to work hard and show me he was a class guy," Hinton remembered. "He did just that. He couldn't have been better."
Brand played well for Tulsa, keying a first-round playoff upset over the Minnesota Kicks. But when the season was over he had another dispute with management over his contract. That was it. He left for Germany.
While Brand was licking his wounds in Europe, the Sounders had finished 1979 with a 13-17 record, missing the playoffs for the first time. Gabriel was dismissed and Daley began searching for a new coach. He narrowed the list to five.
"Alan Hinton was fifth on my list before the interviews," he said. "But when I met him I just had a gut feeling he was the right guy. I hired him." w
Hinton, an Englishman, makes rules and hands out fines if they're broken -- something Gabriel didn't believe in.
But he is also a believer in lighter training sessions during the season. For example: the Sounders defeated Toranto, 5-0, Saturday night. The team was off Sunday, off Monday (except for goalies) and worked out lightly yesterday before flying East.
"I just believe that if you get the players in really top shape before the season you don't have to work them that hard during the season," Hinton said. "I think it helps morale knowing that you aren't going to get killed out there in training every day."
Brand agrees. "I think you have to give Alan a lot of credit for this team's attitude," he said. "Even the substitutes are happy. That's unheard of."
"If you had told me before the season we'd be 21-2 I would have asked you what you were smoking," Daley said. "The whole season has been like a dream."
It may well have been blind luck that brought the Sounders together. But at this point Daley and Hinton aren't about open their eyes to check. They are content to go on dreaming.