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Growing the game: under the guidance of Hank Steinbrecher, the former Secretary General of the U.S. Soccer Federation, American soccer came of age.

COACH: When did you begin playing soccer? Did you imagine that soccer would play a role, first in getting you to and through college, and later in becoming your life's work?

STEINBRECHER: I began playing the game as a young boy in Ridgewood, NY. I first played for German Brooklyn and then the Kohlsman Soccer Club. Our home field was the famed Metropolitan Oval. I played under the legendary coach, Hans Bayen. I had no idea that this game would be my passion and life's work. I just loved playing the game and had lots of good breaks along the way.

COACH: You've acknowledged the role that your coaches played in your development. How did they help shape your career?

STEINBRECHER: Next to my family, my coaches have had the greatest influence in my life. I played for Warren Swanson at Mitchell College in New London, CT, and then went on to coach his two sons at Boston University. I also had the pleasure of playing for Greg Myers. He is a man who I really admire. He was the coach at the U.S. Naval Academy for a long time, but I played for him at Davis & Elkins College in West Virginia, where we won the NAIA National Championship. Greg also coached in the NASL. He has had a profound influence not only on my career but also my son, Chad's. Through Greg's character, Chad enrolled at the Naval Academy. He now serves as a Navy SEAL. Greg taught me many lessons. Warren and Greg taught me that honor and integrity are the most important qualities of a leader. My admiration for these two gentlemen also directed me into teaching and coaching.

COACH: How did you get into coaching?

STEINBRECHER: After receiving my M. Ed., I returned to Mitchell College. Jim Lennox was the highly successful coach there at that time. I played ball in New Britain, CT, and a teaching/coaching post opened up at Warren Wilson College, a small college in Asheville, NC.

I applied for the head soccer coach job at Warren Wilson and was lucky to be the one selected. I stayed at Warren Wilson for five years and was very fortunate to coach some fine players and wonderful men. I assumed the coaching duties at Appalachian State University from Vaughn Christian. This was a Division I team and we had some absolutely gifted players--Thompson Usiyan being one of the greatest.

I transferred to Boston University in 1980 and worked closely with Neil Roberts, who is the current coach. I was very blessed to have had great administrations behind me and wonderful players on the field.

COACH: The opportunity to manage the Cambridge (MA) site for the 1984 Summer Olympics helped pave your way onto the business side of your sport. How did that come about?

STEINBRECHER: The Olympic Soccer Games were being played at Harvard. Although I was a BU man, I decided that this was the biggest soccer event I could be involved with, so I volunteered to do anything to help the cause. I thought I would clean the locker rooms or something of that nature. Within a week of my working there, Bill Schmidt, who was in charge of the soccer venues for the LAOOC, visited Boston. He asked me to lead the project. I naturally accepted. Bill and I worked together again at Gatorade. He was my boss there and we remain good friends to this day. It was at the '84 Games that I really learned about the business side of soccer. There is so much more going on than what is inside the white lines.

COACH: After six years in sports marketing at Gatorade, you became the Secretary General of the U.S. Soccer Federation. In what condition was American soccer at the time and what were your immediate goals in your new position?

STEINBRECHER: Working for Bill Schmidt and the Quaker Oats Company was one of the best things to ever happen to me. This post taught me so much about the corporate side of sports. It was a very valuable education.

In 1989-90 the sport was very fragmented. I referred to our game, at that time, as alphabet soup: USSF, NSCAA, USYSA, AYSO, MILS, FIFA. You had all of these acronyms without common cause. We were awarded the World Cup by FIFA and were not ready to stage what we thought the U.S. was capable of doing.

By and large the Federation was a volunteer organization with many people doing great work, but with little consistency. There was a need to raise capital and to reinvest it into the infrastructure of the game. There was also a need to professionalize the offices and the game, to make the sport accountable. I believed then and still do that you must invest heavily in the coaching ranks.

The most significant day, as far as I am concerned, was in 1993, when the sport held its first strategic planning meeting. We brought together 250 soccer leaders from within and outside the Federation. This meeting led to a common cause, to a single purpose, a single vision, with a plan to enact vision. To this day I remember what that vision was: "By the year 2005 soccer in all its forms in America will be a preeminent sport, characterized by excellent international competition, spectator appeal and gender equity".

I would say we have achieved that vision. Our Men's National Team is rated in the top 10 in the world; we have qualified for our sixth World Cup. Our Women's Team won the World Cup twice and is Olympic champions. We see large crowds for our National Teams and we have a league, MLS, which is thriving.

COACH: The U. S. hosting of the World Cup in 1994 was one of the biggest successes in the event's long history. What were the biggest challenges in putting together the event? When do you think FIFA would like to return the World Cup to the U. S.?

STEINBRECHER: I remember sitting with Sunil Gulati, who is very intelligent, and Alan Rothenberg, who is equally brilliant. We were doing an exercise in probabilities. What would it take to create a league and have a wonderful World Cup? This was about six months before the opening of our Cup. We had to create a World Cup that was financially successful, was artistically successful, and our team had to perform well. I recall that the probabilities were very low. Yet with the leadership of these two men we were able to achieve that success.

The greatest task, however, was to develop a soccer culture that would embrace the sport. Naturally we also had to develop a team that Americans could be proud of. Hiring Bora Milutinovic was a proper decision, as he did a fantastic job. We had two teams, one based in Europe and one based in California. He did wonders getting them together. I still get goose bumps when I recall the victory over Colombia.

COACH: You're fond of telling people who ask if America will ever win the World Cup, that we've already won two--referring to our perennially powerful women's team. What has produced the world leadership in U.S. women's soccer?

STEINBRECHER: There were many factors that led to the success of our women's team. These factors were found both on and off the field. First, you have to begin with the players. These wonderful ladies, the 'Fab Five' as some would refer to them, were strong in their character. They willed their success. I know how tough they were because I had to sit across the negotiating table from them.

I have never found a group of individuals so focused and so determined as they were. They were also very great players. This was the outcome of work done at the youth level. Off the field, you have to look to the work of Marty Mankamyer, Betty De Angelo, Bob Contiguglia, and the network of strong volunteers that believed in women's sport. Donna DeVarona and Marla Messing were two great leaders who have helped the cause.

COACH: While we're on the subject, the U.S. men's team is now regularly ranked among the top 10 teams in the world. How much longer will it take for America to make it to the World Cup Final Four or, perhaps, even win it? What needs to happen for the U.S. to make it into the upper echelon?

STEINBRECHER: In 1994, Alan Rothenberg demanded a plan on how to win the World Cup. Right after the final game in 1994, Alan came to Sunil Gulati and I and demanded a written report on how we would win the World Cup. Honestly, I thought he was nuts.


We spent 18 months studying the various factors and commonalities with the successful Cup winners. Remember that there are only a few. We called this Plan 2010. It was also a great marketing tool. We held a press conference in Washington D.C. and announced that by the year 2010 the U.S. would win the Cup. There was actually laughter among the media in attendance. Well, they are not laughing now.

We have had this plan and we have markers on how each team must perform. If a team fails in its task, then questions are asked. We were in the top 8 in the last Cup. Ask Germany if we are legitimate. I think that our team has gotten better and deeper since then.

Bruce Arena has done an exceptional job. The truth is, that at the level we are now, some luck must also come into the equation. The draw is important. The margin of victory or defeat in soccer is very narrow. The important fact is that we are in a position to win it. I believe that it will happen in my lifetime.

COACH: Major League Soccer has certainly become stronger and more respected in its 10-year run. How much of MLS' success can be attributed to the success of the '94 World Cup? How important is it for MLS to keep U.S. stars playing in this country rather than for European teams? Or is it preferable to have our best playing with the world's best elsewhere?

STEINBRECHER: I have to tell you that I am very proud of the MLS. Soccer in America is paranoid. We refuse to believe that this league is as good as it is. I have stated in the Halls of FIFA that I believe the MLS is among the top 6 to 8 leagues in the world. People thought I was nuts. Well, do the math. Who has a better league? England, sure. Germany, Italy, no doubt. Brazil, Argentina, and France? Perhaps, but they are dominated usually by two teams.

Our attendance is around 15,000 per match. The competition gets better each year. And the end product of a good domestic league should be its contribution to its World Cup team. How can you argue that? The ownership and management do a great job. American soccer players need to stand up and support this league; it is strong and getting stronger.

COACH: In August you were inducted--along with an all-star cast of players--into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, NY. Where does that rank on your list of major soccer-related moments?

STEINBRECHER: I must say that it was a very special day in my life. I know that I would have never been inducted as a player. I was a hack. My coaching credentials would also fall far short of such an honor. I am sure that my administrative acumen would never get me in to the Hall as well. Therefore I felt unworthy of the honor. I know that sounds silly, but I know of so many people who have contributed to the sport so much more than I have. Therefore I choose to accept the award on behalf of all of the people who toil away so others can come to know the joys of this sport. It was a special day and to be inducted with such a fine roster of players as Marcelo (Balboa), Tab (Ramos), John (Harkes), and Fernando (Clavijo) was overwhelming.

COACH: During your acceptance speech, you constantly reminded the audience "Our time has come!" Do you truly believe that?

STEINBRECHER: I actually gave that speech to our National Team before Bora's first game in Denver against Uruguay. I was tired of hearing that soccer would be big in ten years. Hell, I have been waiting 40 years and I still hear it. Our time has come. Look at the results. We are a participant sport. While we would all like it if 100,000,000 Americans viewed all of our teams play, I tell you that there is everything right with having 18,000,000 play the game. I would rather have 18 million play the game, than 100 million sitting on their butts on their couch, on a Sunday, watching the tube with a beer in their hands. You tell me, what is better for our country? It is a matter of perspective. I think soccer is a great contributor to the American culture.

COACH: Obviously soccer has come a long way since you coached your last game in 1985. But how do you see the sport evolving over the next 20 years?

STEINBRECHER: The game will get faster and harder. The speed of play today is lighting fast. But to be more precise, it will change at different levels. The pro game will need to change. The players today have so many games with such a short recovery time; there will be a need to reduce the number of contests. The player's health is at stake. The women's game will expand and will find more acceptances around the World. The U.S. will struggle to keep the number 1 spot.

Unfortunately I see the youth game becoming even more organized and legislated. I would love to see more spontaneous play, but I do not think that will happen. This problem, however, is not just one faced just here in the USA. Europe is also becoming highly structured in their youth development. There will be more money and more pressure in the game.

COACH: You're a relatively young man by most standards, how do you envision your future in what you and all of your colleagues call your "beautiful game?"

STEINBRECHER: I have had a lifetime of experiences with soccer. It has been the central aspect of my life. My faith and family always come first, but as I have said before soccer is my second family. I love the diversity of its people. I really do not know what direction my life will take.

I am very happy with the way the U.S. Soccer Federation is managed. Dan Flynn does an exceptional job. Dr. Contiguglia has had a large body of great success. Don Garber and his team at the MLS are doing a fantastic job. If I were unhappy with the direction the sport has taken I would perhaps be more politically active. The fact is that the sport is in very good hands.

I believe that I will volunteer for various projects, with soccer as the theme. I will continue to manage my consulting business, which thank God is doing well. Ultimately I want to go back to teaching. I believe that with my varied experiences I may have something to contribute to students who wish to pursue a career in sport. It has been a hell of a ride already.

Interview by Bruce Weber
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Title Annotation:PERSON TO PERSON
Author:Weber, Bruce
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2005
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