At 27, Joachim “Jack” Brand is demonstrably the best goalkeeper in the North American Soccer League. This season he has a record-setting 15 shutouts, leading the Seattle Sounders into the 1980 play-offs with the league’s best record, including 21 wins in their first 23 games. Why, then, has the German-born Brand been bounced around like a corner kick, playing for four different teams the past four years?
For one thing, as he admits, he has exasperated owners since he was a rookie in Rochester in 1977. “I sign one-year contracts,” he explains, “because I take one year at a time.” Indeed, Brand was in New York in 1978 minding the nets for the Cosmos—a team he describes as “everyone out for themselves”—as they prevailed in the NASL’s Soccer Bowl. The next season he was traded to Tulsa. That, Brand undiplomatically noted at a press conference, was like being sent to the moon. “Hi, Jack,” read a sign at his first game in Tulsa. “Welcome to the moon.”
“I felt like a piece of meat,” Brand says. And sure enough, Jack-of-many-trades was dealt to Seattle after the ’79 season. With that, he decided to retire. But a good contract and good feelings changed his mind. “I saw the kind of players the Sounders were going after,” he says, “players with good character who are not out for glory all the time.” Seattle, whose best record in six previous NASL seasons was 15 and 7, has fulfilled his expectations. “We cheer each other on,” he says. “There is no jealousy, no rivalry. I never knew professional soccer could be like this.” Brand’s coach, Alan Hinton, describes Jack as “a classy young man. He works harder than any goalkeeper I’ve ever seen.”
Brand assesses his ability with self-assurance. “I feel confident about what I can do,” he says, “as a matter of fact, very confident.” Confident off the field, too, Brand insists he would have no qualms about giving up soccer. “It’s only a game, after all,” he maintains. “For me, a hobby. I’m losing money by playing.” Jack in fact earns more in the off-season, as an executive in his family’s textile plants, than his five-figure Sounder salary.
A Canadian citizen, Brand grew up in Braunschweig, West Germany, where his father and uncle founded the textile company after World War II when the family fled East Germany. As a boy, Jack played soccer with his mother in the garden. He also enjoyed gymnastics, and it shows. “He’s quick, agile, knows his angles,” says coach Hinton. Brand believes his biggest problem is staying at an even emotional pitch—”not too much excitement but enough to get the adrenaline flowing.”
At 17, he played goal for West Germany’s national youth team but turned down a chance to turn pro when his father insisted he attend college. So Brand enrolled at the University of Toronto as a business major, leaving high school sweetheart Birgit Leveloh behind. Between classes he tended goal for the Canadian national team in the ’76 Olympics.
Brand and Birgit, married in Germany in 1978, now share a fourth-floor apartment overlooking Seattle’s Lake Washington. Birgit has just completed her master’s in English literature at Toronto and hopes to get a job in publishing as a translator. “I’m happier here than I’ve ever been,” declares Jack. Not that the Seattle front office should get complacent. “Before,” he says, “money wasn’t important to me. Now it is. If I don’t get the kind of contract I want, I will have to say, ‘Now I have to look after my family. I’m sorry. Thank you. I had a good time.’ ”