soccer

MLS history books: The next generation

When I wrote Long-Range Goals, I said the following: “If this is the only MLS book on a bookstore shelf in 2011, that’s disappointing.”

Not sure about your local bookstore, but mine doesn’t even stock Long-Range Goals. The “soccer” section is usually a collection of dubious books on European stars, a few how-to-coach books ranging from mildly helpful to dangerously flimsy, and possibly something on Mia Hamm. Of course, I don’t venture into bookstores that often because (A) I’ve embraced my Kindle and (B) the front displays are always best-selling political punditry written with neither any discernible effort or concern for anyone outside a narrow agenda. But I digress …

Thankfully, we do have some more entries in the MLS history genre. The new effort is Sounders FC: AUTHENTIC MASTERPIECE: The Inside Story Of The Best Franchise Launch In American Sports History by Seattle broadcaster Mike Gastineau. When I saw the press releases for that one, I figured I should finally get around to checking out an older entry in the genre, Steve Sirk’s A Massive Season, the chronicle of the Columbus Crew’s 2008 championship season.

And I owe Sirk several apologies. He’s one of the good guys in soccer media, and I should’ve gotten to this book much sooner. Also, I somehow created exactly the same book cover for Enduring Spirit that he used for A Massive Season. Same template, same modifications to the template. Different photo, of course, and different primary color. Everything else was the same.

I was intimidated away from reading A Massive Season by its massive size. It’s more than 450 pages. If you took two copies on a plane, you’d probably be charged for an overweight bag.

But it’s an easy, fun read — or skim, if you prefer to read a few sections of the season. It’s a collection of Sirk’s witty and informative notebooks on the team, supplemented and annotated after the season. One of the entries written after the fact is compelling — it’s the story of the Crew’s plane encountering powerful turbulence and aborting a landing, leaving even the hardened travelers on the plane in a quivering mix of nerves and nausea.

(Eerie coincidence: The one time I’ve ever been on a plane that aborted a landing, it was a small plane similar to the one the Crew was on, and I was traveling back from Columbus after covering the USA-Mexico game in 2009. Winds were extreme all over the East Coast, and a Colgan Air plane crashed that night near Buffalo (though the investigation attributed the causes to pilot error and ice). I was on that plane with the ESPN commentary crew of JP Dellacamera and John Harkes. JP was astoundingly calm. John and I were both a bit more rattled. John did mention that he had seen worse when the USA’s plane landed in Central America despite a warning to divert elsewhere. We bumped into each other again while waiting for parking lot shuttles. He mentioned what a rough ride it had been. I quipped: “Really? I didn’t notice.” He was stunned for a moment before I said I was kidding — I don’t think I’ve ever been so terrified.)

Sirk gets terrific details from those who were on the plane. Before the situation got too serious, players joked with devout Christian Eddie Gaven to put in a good word for everyone else when they all ventured to the pearly gates in a few minutes. The Trillium Cup (Columbus-Toronto rivalry) wasn’t on the plane — players joked later that the lack of such a heavy trophy may have saved their lives.

Throughout Sirk’s notebooks, he benefits from being inside the locker room (an option we women’s soccer writers don’t have) to catch the teasing and bonding within the squad. Frankie Hejduk is every bit the colorful character you’d expect him to be. Danny O’Rourke is like a hockey enforcer — snarling pit bull on the field, good-hearted fun-loving guy off it.

The whole of the book will appeal more to a hard-core Crew fan than it will to a casual MLS fan. Nothing wrong with that. Every championship season deserves its retrospectives and celebratory words. Maybe we could collect edited versions to celebrate the league’s first 20 champions … hmmm … new book idea …

Gastineau has no MLS champion to celebrate just yet. And the hyperbolic title does the book no favors. Given the reputation of Seattle fans (some, of course, not all) to pull attitudes in online discussions with people who’ve been supporting MLS through some dark years, it’s easy to imagine people outside the Northwest scoffing at the title and studiously avoiding any mention of it.

And that’s a shame, because the book is better than its title. Sure, it’s very friendly to the Sounders. But it rarely makes its point at the expense of other teams. This isn’t the ranting of some Internet braggart who doesn’t realize MLS teams have had supporters groups and tifo all along.

A better title might have been Sounders FC: The Perfect Storm — except that the “Seattle Storm” name is already in use elsewhere. The Sounders didn’t create the atmosphere they have through some innate superiority of Seattle fans. It came about through having the right people in the right place at the right time.

– A USL owner and soccer fanatic who had taught himself how to run a team effectively
and efficiently. (Adrian Hanauer)

– A movie mogul who really wanted to own a soccer team. (Joe Roth)

– An entertainer whose idea of a good time was to drop him to a soccer bar and pick up
the tab. (Drew Carey)

– An NFL team (Seahawks) with a civic-minded owner (Paul Allen) and some soccer fans
(Gary Wright) lurking in the administration.

– A convoluted history of stadium deals that left Seattle with a stadium that had been
built with the promise (and field dimensions) of soccer as well as football.

The book’s chapters aren’t linear. They tell stories of different aspects of the team’s construction. The reader also meets Sigi Schmid and Kasey Keller.

And we learn a few fun behind-the-scenes stories. Why didn’t the Sounders release doves at their first game as they had originally planned? Because they wisely did a dress rehearsal the week before. That’s when they discovered that the hawks around the stadium were rather aggressive. And so the first home game in Sounders MLS history was not spoiled by dead birds.

These are the fun stories that should be part of MLS lore. Without these books, we’d lose all that. So even if you’re not a fan of Seattle or Columbus, raise a glass to Sirk and Gastineau for the work they’ve done.

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Categories: soccer

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1 reply »

  1. Also in Seattle was Tod Leiweke, Tim’s brother, who was running the stadium. Tod and Tim got their first job in sports promoting the Kansas City Comets indoor team.

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