Sounders Set To Kick Off

Season opener: Seattle faces Colorado at 7:05 p.m. tomorrow at Memorial Stadium.

Soccer in the United States may be in turmoil, but there are two constants in Seattle - the Sounders and their coach, Alan Hinton.

"I love it. I hope I can continue for a long time," said Hinton, who unveils his 1995 team tomorrow night at 7:05 in the APSL season opener against Colorado at Memorial Stadium. "I'm 52, but I now feel like a kid, particularly this time of year when I'm out on the practice field."

Hinton was the coach of the original Sounders from the North American Soccer League and has been a force in the local soccer community for more than two decades. "My life's mission is to make professional soccer work in this area," he said.

It seemed to go well last season. The Sounders, who were put together in six months with a roster that included 19 players who came through the Washington Youth Soccer Association, led the league in several categories last year: best regular-season record (14-6), most goals (38), most assists (16), lowest goals-against average (0.57), largest attendance (6,300 average) and biggest crowd (11,847).

They lost in the APSL semifinals to Colorado in a shootout, 2-1.

But despite players scattering to Europe, invitations from the U.S. National team and the formation of two new soccer teams in the Seattle area, Hinton managed to keep his team virtually intact.

He lost just three players: Pat Henderson, who became coach of the Everett Bigfoot, a first-year Division III team in the United States Interregional Soccer League; and Michael Perrin and Brian Schmetzer, who will play for the Seattle Seadogs of the new Continental Indoor Soccer League, which begins play in June.

Hinton said his team can co-exist with the two soccer newcomers because area fans are so supportive. The Seadogs will play just a few yards away at the Seattle Center Arena. "We've agreed to be friendly rivals," Hinton said.

He said Everett is part of a developmental league that will provide opportunities for younger players. "The more soccer players, the better, as long as they respect that we're the best," he said.

At this point, the APSL, or the A-League, as it is called this year, is the highest level of American soccer, other than the U.S. national team. But the Major Soccer League, under Alan Rothenberg, is the only league sanctioned as Division I. It will start in 1996.

"Everything's up in the air right now. It's so screwy," Sounder goalie Marcus Hahnemann said. "They (MSL) won't acknowledge our league because they think some of our owners think too small, which they do. But our ownership is unbelievable. We have the highest attendance in the league and if we only had a grass field, we'd be there."

There is more to it than that. Seattle's owner, Scott Oki, has said joining the MSL "would be a step backward." Among other things, he does not like the idea of the league owning and controlling the teams as it proposes.

Hinton said, "Our mandate is to provide the highest standard of pro soccer available. That's what we did."

The Sounders return their top two scorers, forwards Chance Fry and Jason Dunn, the APSL rookie of the year, along with three all-stars - defender Neil Megson, midfielder Shawn Medved and Hahnemann, the league's keeper of the year.

"This is as fine a group as I've been around, almost ever," Hinton said. "They play hard and they really like each other."

Dunn and Hahnemann were invited to the U.S. National team qualifying and Hahnemann is still in the running for a position. If Hahnemann is selected, it will be a difficult decision for Hinton, who must grant his contract release.

"If things go well and it looks like I'll be in the first or second position, he (Hinton) said he'll release me," said Hahnemann, who had the league's lowest goals-against average last year. "I'll probably miss a couple games but it'll be really good for me.

"That's the next level," he added. "It's the ultimate to play for your country."

The Sounders have added two players, defender Marco Rizi, who played for last season's APSL champion Montreal Impact, and Marcone, a midfielder from Brazil.

"You would not recognize this team from a year ago," Hinton said. "The players all know each other now; they played together all during the winter. It looks real good. I know coaches say things they wish they hadn't, but this team will win a lot of games."


-- Rule changes this season include: When games are tied after regulation, teams move immediately to a shootout. A shootout starts with the ball 35 yards out, and each player has five seconds to score.

-- The playoff semifinals and the finals will both be best-of-three series with no 30-minute mini-games such as last year between Seattle and Colorado.

-- The A-League also has signed a 20-game TV contract with Prime Sports. The Sounders will be on TV five times, including Saturday night, which will be available on local TV.

-- The Sounders will be involved in two tournaments during the season, the U.S. Open Cup tournament, for U.S. teams, and the FA Cup, open to North and South American teams.

-------------------------------------------------------. Sounder schedule.

Tomorrow - Colorado at Seattle, 7:05 p.m. Friday, May 12 - Seattle at Vancouver, 7:05 p.m. Saturday, May 20 - Vancouver at Seattle, 7:05 p.m. Friday, May 26 - Seattle at Colorado, 6:05 p.m. Sunday, June 4 - Seattle at New York, 1:05 p.m. Sunday, June 11 - Atlanta at Seattle, 7:05 p.m. Friday, June 16 - Montreal at Seattle, 7:05 p.m. Wed., June 21 - Seattle at Colorado, 6:05 p.m. Saturday, June 24 - Atlanta at Seattle, 7:05 p.m. Thursday, June 29 - Atlanta at Seattle, 7:05 p.m. Sunday, July 2 - Seattle at New York, 1:05 p.m. Tuesday, July 4 - Seattle at Atlanta, 4:45 p.m. Sunday, July 9 - Seattle at Montreal, 4:05 p.m. Friday, July 14 - New York at Seattle, 7:05 p.m. Sunday, July 23 - Seattle at Vancouver, 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 28 - Colorado at Seattle, 7:05 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9 - Seattle at Colorado, 6:05 p.m. Friday, Aug. 11 - Seattle at Atlanta, 4:45 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16 - New York at Seattle, 7:05 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19 - Vancouver at Seattle, 7:05 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1 - Seattle at Montreal, 4:05 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 5 - Seattle at Vancouver, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 6 - Montreal at Seattle, 7:05 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 9 - Vancouver at Seattle, 7:05 p.m.