The Seattle Sounders will honor coaches from across their history Saturday as part of the club’s 40th anniversary celebration.
Among them will be Alan Hinton, who coached the North American Soccer League club from 1980-1982, earning coach of the year honors in 1980.
However, Hinton also played a key role in a less-heralded but also important anniversary that has flown comparatively under the radar this season: the 20th anniversary of the Sounders’ rebirth in 1994.
The original Sounders arrived in 1974 and folded after the 1983 season. That team was followed by the Seattle Storm, playing from 1984-90 in a forerunner of the A-League. But in 1991, professional soccer in the region went dark. It stayed that way until its resurrection with the 1994 Sounders by former Microsoft executives Scott Oki and Neil Farnsworth with Hinton as coach.
“Not only did we bring the Sounders back to Seattle, but we kept soccer going,” Hinton said. “And don’t forget it was at a very high standard, because it was the top league in America. There weren’t many players going overseas at that time, so we had the best talent.”
Some of those players had familiar names, including current Sounders goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann and top assistant coach Brian Schmetzer.
“I have a lot of good feelings about Alan because he was the one that started my so-called career,” said Schmetzer, who went on to coach the second-division Sounders from 2002-08. “… Some of the things that I still coach today, I’ve taken from Al when I was a 17-, 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kid doing some of his training sessions. I still remember those days very fondly.”
Tacoma also was instrumental in the rebirth, in a couple of ways.
The new Sounders played their first games in the Tacoma Dome before moving to Memorial Stadium in Seattle. One of those Tacoma Dome games was against the Canadian national team. Hinton recalls that ticket sales weren’t going well until he gave each player tickets to sell. Some 1,500 tickets were sold that way.
Hinton also says it was during his time coaching in the Major Indoor Soccer League that he made a decision that remains crucial to Northwest soccer history.
“I secured the (Sounders) name when I was coaching the Tacoma Stars,” he said. “I thought it was a value to the community. I didn’t think it was a way for me making money. I just thought it was an asset to the community one day, because I knew soccer was going to make it one day. … When we did come back, we came back right.”
The new Sounders finished 1994 at the top of the regular-season table. The 1995 team won the league championship, which in those pre-MLS days gave them the right to be considered the top team in the country.
When Hinton left the club in 1996, rights to the Sounders’ name went to Oki. Then they were acquired by Adrian Hanauer when he became majority owner in 2002. That, in turn, made the name available to the MLS club, where Hanauer is part owner and general manager.
“Resurrecting the name and the spirt of the Sounders was another important milestone,” Hanauer said. “Obviously also re-launching with the success the team had: immediately going out winning championships, having great seasons, some of the players from those early years.”
The MLS Sounders also reached out to Hinton, bringing him in as a broadcast analyst for the first five seasons. He was dropped from the broadcast team after last season. For a time, that caused hard feelings, which both sides say has now largely been patched over.
“All I need is a pat on the back and a little bit of respect, which I thought was lost somewhat when I was deleted from the broadcast team,” Hinton said. “And the way they did it was not good. … But I’ve been loyal to the Sounders. I’m a team player. I’m my own man, and I was never going to stop being a fan of the Sounders, because it would hurt me.”
At 71, Hinton now serves in his new official capacity as team ambassador, while cheerfully continuing his unofficial role as greeter, historian and storyteller for those who follow the Sounders, and for the Sounders themselves.
He is a regular at the team’s training sessions, shaking hands with players as they depart the pitch, sometimes offering tips from his playing days in England, from 1961 to 1975 with Wolverhampton, Nottingham Forest and Derby County. He finished his playing career in the NASL with Dallas and finally Vancouver in 1978.
“I think the players know where he’s been,” current Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “Unfortunately, many of them haven’t seen him play; but for the ones who have gone in and looked and seen him play, they realize he was an excellent player. … Sometimes he has words of advice for them — especially the wingers — that are helpful. It’s more so than anything to know here’s a guy who has been through it all with the club, and supports the club, and is out there watching training. I think it fills everybody with a good feeling.”
Hinton also often visits soccer pubs and watches away matches with fans, offering halftime analysis and teaching the old English song “We’ve Got the Best Team in the Land.”
Before home games, he mixes with sponsors, talking soccer all the while.
Before the 1 p.m. Saturday home match with Chivas USA, he’ll be honored alongside others who have coached the Sounders since the team’s beginnings 40 years ago.
“There’s no question that the past and the history of the past should be glorified,” Hinton said. “I hope I’m still around — I might not be — but the 50th anniversary, when this club has another 10 years under its belt will be even more spectacular. I’m glad they’re honoring the 40-year celebration of the club, because it’s a wonderful history.”