Remembering Mike Ryan, A Founding Father of Washington Youth Soccer
By Brian Beaky
In a 2008 interview posted by the Seattle Sounders FC, Mike Ryan reminisced on the origins of Washington Youth Soccer.
"I called the first meeting at my house," he said, recalling the day he invited the leaders of what few soccer clubs there were at the time to gather together. "We sat by the fireplace and determined that we had to get a league, had to get an association and communications. I guess you could say that was the first meeting of the Washington State Youth Soccer Association."
If it was, it was one of many "firsts" for which Ryan will be long remembered by the local and national soccer community. One of the founding fathers of Washington soccer at all levels, Ryan died the week of Thanksgiving at age 77. His legacy, however, lives on.
A native of Ireland, Ryan trained professionally with England's Blackpool F.C. as a teenager before immigrating to the United States at the age of 23. A stint in the U.S. Army brought Ryan to Fort Lewis, and in 1962, he relocated to the Seattle area on a permanent basis.
For the next 20 years, Ryan worked tirelessly to replicate the youth soccer development models he had grown up with in Ireland in his adopted hometown, scrounging up cleats, balls, shinguards and other equipment wherever he could, even if that meant venturing across the border to Canada. He badgered Washington athletic director Joe Kearney into creating a UW varsity men's soccer program, then spent 11 years as its head coach, taking the Huskies to four conference titles and four NCAA Tournament appearances.
After retiring in 1977 to care for his wife, Karen, who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, Ryan returned to coaching in 1985 as the first head coach of a brand-new team — the United States' Women's National Team. For the USWNT's first-ever tournament, in Italy, Ryan named a local girl — Michelle Akers — to the roster. Her goal against Denmark in the team's second game was the first ever scored by an American woman, and the first of a then-record 105 the Washington Youth Soccer product would score over the next 15 years.
After retiring from the National Team, Ryan returned to the Seattle area and continued to develop the next generation of soccer stars, coaching officially at Garfield, Bush and Nathan Hale High Schools, and unofficially at thousands of pick-up games and youth team practices around the state.
"Anyone that's worked in soccer in this area knows him," said Andrew Hendricks, the girls soccer coach at Seattle Prep, in a 2007 Seattle Times interview. "He's really the dean of coaches in the area."
Longtime Seattle Pacific head coach Cliff McCrath — himself a Northwest coaching icon — echoes that opinion: "[He's perhaps the] principal pioneer of soccer in the area," McCrath said in a Seattle Times feature shortly after Ryan's passing. "If Washington State is the Autobahn of soccer, without Mike Ryan it would still be a dusty country road."
Ryan, though, preferred to see his efforts in a simpler way.
"I just want people to love the game," he said.