MLS Soccer

Impact FC has traveled troubled road to opening day

Click the “Technical staff” link on the Seattle Impact FC website, and only one name appears: Dion Earl.

The 11th-hour departure of the Impact’s coaching staff left Earl as club owner, CEO, president and coach, as well as a defender on the playing roster. He will relinquish the coaching duties to interim coach Teddy Mitalas at 7:30 p.m. Saturday when the Impact opens its inaugural Major Arena Soccer League season against the San Diego Sockers at ShoWare Center.

The club’s rocky road to opening day is not what Earl had in mind last spring when he announced he was bringing top-level indoor soccer back to Western Washington.

“It’s been the most difficult time in my life,” Earl said. “… I wish I could take some things back, of course, and do it a little bit different to start off with. But unfortunately in life, all I can do now is try to move forward. The love of the game and the love of this team and the love of the sport, it’s still there.”

The announced departures of coach Jason Dunn and assistant Todd Haley this week were just the latest in a series of organizational disruptions leading to the club’s first game. There have been other front office shuffles, and even the club’s dance-team tryouts went seriously wrong, resulting in one of the participants securing a protection order against Earl.

No criminal charges were filed. The dance team has been dissolved.

MASL commissioner Kevin Milliken said a league investigation turned up nothing meriting disciplinary action.

“If he was arrested, we’d have a totally different story from the league: He’d be gone,” Milliken said. “We had a board meeting with the six people that are on the board of directors for our league, and our attorneys basically told us there is nothing here. … We have a binding contract with (Earl), so if we’re going to kick an owner out of our league, we’d better have some proof.”

Milliken added, “Mr. Earl has a tendency to rub people the wrong way.”

Told of that remark, Earl said, “I think people misperceive my passion and enthusiasm and intensity of wanting to do the right things. People that don’t really sit down and talk to me face to face, I don’t know what they see: maybe this overly intense person … just overbearing intensity, maybe.”

Earl was born in Portland and grew up in Bellevue. He played soccer at Seattle Pacific University and went on to play with the A-League Seattle Sounders of the 1990s and the indoor Seattle SeaDogs.

He eventually moved into the automobile business, and in May he announced he would bring an MASL team to the area. In July, the team held a press conference rolling out the name “Impact” and introducing Kent’s ShoWare Center as its home. Also speaking at that press conference were general manager Jose Moreno and Haley, neither of whom remain with the club on the eve of its first league game.

“It’s that revolving door,” Dunn said. “Because if Dion didn’t get what he wanted, you were gone.”

Dunn should know. He was introduced as coach on Oct. 17. But things started to go wrong less than a week later when the Impact lost a preseason game to the amateur Tacoma Stars, 7-4. Both parties agree that Earl’s complaints from the game started a chain of events that quickly led to Dunn’s departure.

“The way I describe it, he fired me — basically released me from my contract,” Dunn said. “Then he begged me to come back, and I decided I couldn’t do it. As much as I want to be a professional coach, the principle of it kept me from coming back. I don’t like humans being treated as dogs.”

The MASL is a 23-team league stretching from Canada to Mexico. The Impact will play in the Pacific Division along with San Diego; Turlock, Ontario and Sacramento, California; and Las Vegas.