Roman Strug was a Northwest soccer pioneer by any definition except his own.
He guided championship youth teams in Tacoma and Federal Way when the game was still strange to the region, was involved in the development of varsity programs at Pacific Lutheran University and the University of Puget Sound, and finally convinced a skeptical soccer community that it made sense for young players to learn on smaller fields with youth-size balls. He coached future pros such as Jeff Stock, Jeff Durgan and Mark Peterson.
“Did he consider himself a pioneer? No,” his son, Daniel Strug, said this week. “Everybody around him did. But he just thought, ‘I’m just doing what makes sense.’ ”
Strug died in February of 2013. A memorial tribute will belatedly be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Browns Point Improvement Club, 201 Tulalip St. NE, Tacoma. Everyone is welcome.
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“We’ve got to have something to celebrate what Roman gave to us as youth,” said Kurt Hovrud, who played on the Cheney Studs Hustlers team that Strug took to England in 1971. “Everybody involved in soccer in the Northwest knew his name. You either played with him or against him. If you played against him, you usually lost.”
Daniel Strug said his father was born in 1927 and was a freedom fighter in the Ukrainian underground during World War II. When the war ended, he immigrated to Italy and eventually to England. There he resumed his childhood love of soccer and played on the semipro level while supporting himself as a coal miner. He taught himself to speak English by listening and going to movies.
He started a family, and in 1962 came to the United States on the Queen Mary. The family continued moving west, from New York to Chicago and, in 1966, finally to Tacoma. He took one look — the trees, mountains and water — and decided this was where he wanted to raise his children.
While looking for a house in the Browns Point area, he noticed a youth soccer team in training. He stopped, spoke to the coach, and just like that, a two-generation bond with Northwest soccer was begun.
In 1971, Strug took Norpoint’s under-16 Hustlers on a six-game tour of England. They went 0-3-3 but turned heads in a country that knows a thing or two about soccer.
After that, Strug turned his attention to the local colleges, including UPS, where eventual U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena was about to being his coaching career. Strug departed for a couple of years to help coach in Africa, then moved to California and Australia before returning to the Northwest, where he helped the Federal Way youth team Solaris win a state championship.
“I’m proud of my dad,” said Daniel Strug, who went on to play at UCLA. “I’ve been exposed to high-level coaches all over the country. I’d put him up there. That’s not just because he was my dad. … He was ahead of his time. There were people out there who didn’t like him because he was so stubborn. But like he put it, he goes, ‘I’m only stubborn if I know I’m right.’ ”