Ah, that Jack Brand, he's a cool one. Too cool to invoke the god of goal-tending with stuffed animals or amulets tucked inside the net like some other goaltenders in the North American Soccer League. Too cool to wear the enormous floppy Donald Duck gloves that have come into vogue. Too cool even to go by a nickname. So cool that he simply quit the game after the 1979 season when he felt he had been treated badly. And then cool enough to reconsider and come back to the nets for the Seattle Sounders this season and to coolly present his teammates with a bundle of clean sheets. A clean sheet isn't a Michelin Guide symbol for chambermaid service, but English jargon for shutouts. Going into last Saturday night's game against the San Diego Sockers, the 26-year-old Brand had no fewer than eight of them in 10 games and four in a row.
Brand and the Sounders weren't able to extend the streak to five, which would have broken a decade-old NASL record held by Lincoln Phillips of the Washington Darts, but they did pull out a 3-2 overtime win to put their record at 9-1, the best in the league.
Immediately behind them are the Fort Lauderdale Strikers (8-2) and the Cosmos (7-2). While both those teams boast shooting stars—the Cosmos' Giorgio Chinaglia broke the NASL career record last week with his 103rd goal, and Ray Hudson of the Strikers is tied for third in the league scoring this season with 19 points—the Sounders have marched to the top spot to a different beat.
Including Saturday's scores, only five goals have entered Seattle's nets this season. Two came in the Sounders' 3-2 win over California three weeks ago, and the remaining one was scored in a tie-breaking shootout that defending league champion Vancouver won 1-0. Goals scored in shootouts, however, don't count against a keeper's record.
Although Brand's goals-against average is an amazing 0.38, he says deprecatingly, "I don't believe in statistics. Forget shutouts. Who won? And besides, most of the shutouts aren't my doing. The defenders are doing it." Poll the Sounder defenders and they'll tell you the midfielders are responsible; the midfielders graciously accuse the forwards. Perhaps no one knows quite why the Sounders are tearing up the league.
It wasn't supposed to happen this way. This was to be a rebuilding season for a team that in 1979 had been wracked by bitter feelings left from the early-season NASL players' strike in which only a portion of the Sounders had participated, a team that had been plagued by injuries and, finally, a team that had been accused of doing most of its scoring at post-game parties. The result was a 13-17 record, the first losing season in the Sounders' six-year history.
Then last winter Vince Coluccio, a Seattle construction man, purchased the team from 11 disappointed and squabbling owners. Subsequently, President-General Manager Jack Daley replaced the Sounders' easygoing coach, Jim Gabriel, with Alan Hinton, an English-born disciplinarian who had been fired from his first head coaching job, with the Tulsa Roughnecks.
Hinton and Daley set about building a team modeled on the champion White-caps: an amalgam of British experience and tolerance for work combined with youthful North American energy. No German, Dutch, Peruvian or Italian superstars need apply.
"We didn't want a multinational team," says Hinton. "We just wanted lads who had good character, who worked hard and did their jobs. Lads who grew up in the same football system and spoke the same language. Superstars cause more trouble than the results they give you are worth."
Along with achieving lingual homogeneity, Hinton created the most effective defense in the league. He got 32-year-old David Nish, a former English International player, from Tulsa and moved him from midfield to the back. Hinton did the same with 33-year-old Bruce Rioch (pronounced ree-ock), the former World Cup captain for Scotland. "These lads had lost their engines for midfield," Hinton says, "but they've got years left in the back with less running."