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Original Issue

Their Brand is a great big O

Goaltender Jack Brand has eight shutouts in 10 games for Seattle's Sounders, a team no longer discordant but now humming along sweetly in first place

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."

Hinton kept the veteran Seattle midfielder, John Ryan of England, and youthful Ian Bridge, a 20-year-old Canadian. In another trade with Tulsa, he got British Forward Roger Davies, who now is second in scoring to Chinaglia, with 20 points for the young season.

To complete his defense, Hinton wanted Brand, who had performed brilliantly at Tulsa in '79, achieving a shutout and a 1.60 goals-against average in the playoffs. But by the time Hinton went shopping, Brand had had enough of the NASL and its disputes and was off to Braunschweig, West Germany, where he had been born, forsaking soccer to work in his family's industrial-textile business. "I'm lucky," Brand has said. "I don't need soccer to make a living."

Brand's parents had fled from what is now East Germany to the present West Germany at the end of World War II and had established strong business ties in Canada. Their dislocation taught them to caution their children always to have an anchor out against unpredictable disaster. Thus, when Jack was goalkeeper for the under-18 West German National team, he also studied English, Latin and classical Greek. And when he was still only 17, he was sent to Canada to study at the University of Toronto. Subsequently he became a Canadian citizen, which allows him to qualify as one of the mandatory three North Americans on the Sounder's roster. Similarly, his older brother Dietrich attended Yale and is now a judge in Medicine Hat, Alberta.

While Jack was at the University of Toronto he also minded the nets as an amateur for the Toronto Metros-Croatia (now the Blizzard). In 1976 he was on the Canadian Olympic soccer squad, and in 1977, the year he got his degree in business and finance. Brand played for the Rochester Lancers.

Cosmos Coach Eddie Firmani was impressed by Brand's goaltending when the Lancers shut out the New Yorkers in a regular-season game, and the next year he was in a Cosmos uniform. "The Cosmos shattered every ideal I held as an athlete," Brand says with atypical vehemence. "I was naive, but I believed that the guy who worked the hardest got the job. In training camp Firmani handed out the starting-number shirts. I had No. 1. A few days later he asked for it back. Erol [Yasin, from Turkey, like the team's top brass, Nesuhi and Ahmet Ertegun] was going to start. Pressure from upstairs. I sat there for seven games, and then I went to the press and complained. I started the next game. I wasn't myself at the Cosmos. It was a crazy place and I was caught up in the craziness." Nonetheless, Brand got three shutouts in the playoffs and was in the nets when the Cosmos defeated the Tampa Bay Rowdies 3-1 to win the Soccer Bowl.

Firmani was fired at midseason last year, and soon afterward Brand was traded to Tulsa. The goaltender suspects he was paying for airing his complaints to the press the previous year. Disillusioned and bitter. Brand went to Germany at the end of the 1979 season.

It took three months of weekly phone calls from Hinton to lure Brand back to the game as a Sounder. At the end of one pleading call. Brand sighed and asked evenly, "When do we play the Cosmos?" The answer was July 20, but Brand isn't holding anything back for that game.

In goal for the Sounders, he has been a study in concentration, although he gives an un-Brand-like laugh about that image, saying, "My biggest problem is staying awake back there; our defenders don't give me enough to do." And there is some reason for Brand's self-effacement. Rioch has blanketed opponents with a Scottish thoroughness, and Nish and Ryan overlap as if they had played together for years. Despite their aggressiveness, the Sounders' defenders have been assessed only 19 fouls this season. And when the shots come, Brand certainly hasn't been dozing, having been credited with 45 saves thus far.

When it suits him, Brand can be devious. Two weeks ago, while the Sounders were trouncing the then league-leading Strikers 4-0, he was bumped by his former Cosmos teammate, Marinho, now a striker for Fort Lauderdale. Brand fell writhing to the earth. The referee showed Marinho his second caution card of the game, ejecting him, and Brand suddenly recovered to rack up another shutout. The league office reviewed the game film but took no action. Brand says coolly, "Do I seem like a person who would take a dive? Ridiculous."

Says Hinton, "The key to Jack is that he simply hates to have a goal scored against him. He takes it personally. He's a very classy lad, top-drawer."

"I don't believe that fast hands or feet or big saves make a goalie," says Brand, who seems to be at his best in big games. "The real test is communication. I talk to Rioch, he talks to the midfield. You need it off the field as well."

While with the Cosmos, Brand had suggested that the players socialize more, get to know one another as friends. "Chinaglia vetoed it, said it wouldn't work," he recalls, "but here in Seattle all I value in sports is coming true. Hard work and closeness."

Most of the Sounders live in the same apartment complex in Seattle, and on road trips Hinton has instituted a revolving-roommate plan that not only allows veterans and rookies to get to know each other better but also gives everyone an opportunity to endure the league's leading snorer, veteran Midfielder Al Trost.

Last Saturday in the Kingdome, however, all the Sounders seemed to be snoring for a time. Within 15 minutes, Socker Midfielder Bernie Gersdorff chipped a goal over the onrushing Brand from 14 yards out to terminate 435 scoreless minutes of play. But Seattle answered in less than two minutes with Mark Peterson's slamming shot from in front.

In the second half, the Sockers scored first again. This time Gersdorff booted the ball past Brand from a crowd in front of the net. A couple of minutes later Seattle Winger Tom Hutchison crossed a slow ball to Peterson, who headed it toward Socker Goalie Volkmar Gross. Gross punched the ball away, but directly at the right foot of Davies, who evened the score. In overtime Midfielder Frank Barton whistled a shot past Gross in the fifth minute for the Seattle victory.

Back in the dressing room, Hinton addressed a homily to no one in particular. "Soccer is such a simple game," he said. "It's made difficult by coaches." If Brand continues to cool the opposition, soccer will remain simple in Seattle, a simple matter of winning.