It’s been six weeks since I wrote my last Taking A Pass column on June 24. With pro soccer returning with the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup and MLS Is Back Tournament, I figure it was time to take a break. Today, I am resuming this series on a limited basis.
By Michael Lewis
During four glorious days in Philadelphia in late July 1988, the U.S. Soccer Federation celebrated itself on its 75th anniversary.
The federation looked back, took in the present and anticipated the future.
Hey, there was much to celebrate.
A little more than three weeks prior, the U.S. was given the privilege of hosting the 1994 World Cup, an event that heralded in the modern age of American soccer, which included a major professional league that had been lacking since the demise of the North American Soccer League, a burgeoning minor-league system that grew, slowly, but surely, and saw the incredible growth and dominance by the U.S. women’s national team that is still being felt to this day.
Of course, during those days in Philly – July 28-31 – no one knew what the future held for U.S. soccer (BTW, this was four years before U.S. Soccer, with a capital S was used by the federation). But many of us, soccer media, the soccer base (amateur and youth associations), felt things were pointed in the right direction.
It was a busy, whirlwind of four days, with regional meetings for the youth and amateurs, their respective councils, the National Council, the unveiling of a master plan for professional soccer in the USA and four U.S. Youth Soccer national finals – at the Under-19 and U-16 levels for young men and women.
Thanks to the Aug. 11, 1988 edition of Soccer Week, I have been able to piece together one memorable weekend, which included Werner Fricker, Henry Kissinger and Joao Havelange, among others.
The master plan
Actually, it was officially called The Development Plan, and its concept was expected to shape and strengthen U.S. pro soccer from then to the 1994 World Cup and then to the end of the century.
The plan was unveiled and accepted by the National Council – youth, amateur and professional divisions at the USSF AGM Saturday, July 30.
In a nutshell, the plans called for a three-tiered prof league, with promotion and relegation.
At the time, USSF officials stressed that the plan was a concept and that it would be refined by a committee in the coming months.
“We now have a concept, a structure, the details down to the various levels,” USSF president Werner Fricker said. “Now we can get feedback from, let’s say, the Southern New York [State Soccer Association, now Eastern New York State Soccer Association and Chicago people, where soccer is in existence.”
In 1988, USSF president Werner Fricker celebrated the USA being award the 1994 World Cup. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
The plans were for it to be a three-level league, with one national first division (32 teams), four 12-team regional second divisions (48 teams) and eight 12-team third divisions (96 teams).
While it took a long time to come to fruition, the pro soccer landscape looks a lot like that today.
According to the plan, teams would be certified for the various levels on the basis of competitive standards, technical and organizations stands and economic viability and standards for team composition and commitment to youth and amateur soccer.”
Perhaps the most interesting aspect that Scott LeTellier, counsel for World Cup USA 1994, and one of the authors of the report along with future U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, addressed was the possibility testing of antitrust laws with a potential promotion-relegation set up.
“With a relegation/promotion system that is unique to American sports, there is no precedent,” he said. “This would be new and revolutionary.”
It might have sound gratuitous for the USSF to hold such a back back-patting celebration, but then again, how many times does an organization celebrate its 75th anniversary?
More than 1,100 soccer people – international dignitaries, coaches, players, officials, media and invited guests – fathered in the ballroom at the Wyndham Franklin Plaza that Saturday night.
The black-tie dinner, emceed by announcer Mario Machado (you might remember him as the commissioner of the old American Soccer League in 1981 and in some movies such as RoboCop, Rocky III and Airport ’79 and a host of guest-starring appearances on TV shows), was flawless. It was well-scripted, well produced and well executed.
The event kicked off with the national anthem and closed with everyone signing “God Bless America.”
Kissinger, the former secretary of state and big-time soccer fan who helped U.S. Soccer behind the scenes, just might have stolen the show at the dinner.
He remembered the time he wasn’t supposed to be watching a soccer game in his native Germany.
“I never got away with it,” he said. “There was always someone who told my father that he was proud to see me at the games.”
He also remembered when he played in the net.
“I was the answer to low-scoring football,” he said. “When I played goalie …”
Then the crowd started to laugh.
“… I broke my hand when on the rare occasions I touched the ball.”
He also remembered the time one of his syndicated columns received more mail than the others (remember, this was in the days when there was no or little email). It was the one Kissinger compared a country’s national team to the style of the people.
“Soccer – that’s when their passion is really aroused,” he said.
Henry Kissinger, during a World Cup USA 1994 press conference, was one of the hits of the anniversary dinner. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
There are few things in life where the realizations match the expectations, but the United German-Hungarian Club in suburban Oakford, Pa certainly was what I had in mind for a soccer club.
The club, which hosted the National Youth Challenge Cup finals, was set on 16 beautiful acres. That includes four soccer fields, seating for 1,800 on one, and another 2,500, if needed, a hall for banquets, a concession stand, picnic areas, dressing rooms and parking.
“The thing I want to stress is all clubs build their own facilities,” said Fricker, former president of the United German-Hungarian Club.
The club wasn’t used just for soccer, but also for social activities, such as weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, parties and other appropriate celebrations.
“This area is very strong,” Fricker said. “Within 10 or 15 minutes of here, there are four, five or six clubs like this.”
In what very well could have been a USSF first, the National Council re-elected the incumbent – president Fricker, executive vice president Hank des Bordes and treasurer Paul Stiehl by acclamation. That certainly was a far cry from the 1984 election in New York City, when Fricker originally was elected president by the narrowest of margins.
The highest achievement
During the AGM, Havelange called the awarding of the 1994 World Cup to the United States “the highest achievement I have realized.”
Meet the amateurs
The Senior Division of the United States Soccer Federation was renamed the United States Amateur Soccer Association.
The switch, approved by the USSF at its AGM, was done for marketing purposes, according to national amateur administrator Fritz Marth.
“We did it mainly because seniors don’t mean anything to the public,” he said.
To some people, seniors did not mean amateurs, but players over 50.
“You’d be surprised on how many calls I’ve gotten about that,” Marth said.
Passing it down the line
The McGuire family was on hand to present the McGuire Cup (Boys Under-19), named after the late James McGuire, the USSF president from 1964-74.
The clan included wife Margaret of Albertson, N.Y., daughter Susanne of Great Neck, N.Y. and granddaughter Kara of New Hyde Park, N.Y.
Kara, as it turned out, followed in the soccer tradition of her grandfather, playing with an NHP team in the Long Island Junior Soccer League.
James McGuire died when Kara was an infant.
“I wish I could have met him,” she said. “Everyone tells me he was a great man.
“When I play, I feel like he’s with me. I tell him to help me out – give me strength, give me power.”
An impressive list
The Boys U-19 division had a bunch of familiar names coaching the four teams — Manfred Schellscheidt (Union Lancers) and Terry Fisher (Santa Clara United), who both coached in the North American Soccer League, and Wolfgang Suhnholz (Austin Capitals), a former Bayern Munich player who also performed in the league and was Soccer Bowl ’76 MVP. Suhnholz passed away in December 2019).
“These signs are good signs,” Schellscheidt said. “We have people in the game now at higher levels.”
Union Lancers coach Manny Schellscheidt (right) with the McGuire Cup. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
That championship feeling
Speaking of higher levels, the Union Lancers became only the eighth team to successful defend a U-19 title by defeating Santa Clara United, 4-2.
“It’s just as sweet the second time,” said Lancers midfielder Richie Williams, who was a member of the team that took a victory lap in St. Louis to celebrate the first title in 1987.
And yes, it was that Richie Williams, who went on to play for three MLS Cup championship teams with D.C. United, became an assistant coach with the Red Bulls, an interim coach twice. He is an assistant coach to Bruce Arena with the New England Revolution, among his other coaching endeavors.
“I’m just happy we could come and show what good soccer is,” Schellscheidt said.
Now, this is domination
The Dallas Sting defeated the Braddock Road (Va.) Cyclones, 2-1, to capture the Girls U-19 crown, aka the Athena Cup. It turned out to be the 900th victory for the Sting against 21 losses over 15 years and 30 seasons. Founded in 1973, the Sting had won four Athena Cups up until then, 27 of 30 league titles and qualified for every Texas championship game in the past 13 years, winning 10 titles.
When he established the Sting, coach Bill Kinder said winning a boatload of championships was the farthest thing from his mind.
“It was a purpose other than winning to learn discipline and team sports,” he said. “Winning takes care of itself. If your objective is to win, it won’t happen.”
A moving gesture
Peter Masotto, then president of the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association, made a poignant and moving speech while awarding the Patricia Louise Masotto Cup to the Girls U-16 champions, the Springfield (Va.) Spirit. Three years ago (1985), his daughter, Patricia, and her friend, Brenda Driscoll, were killed in a car accident.
“Ladies, after watching your competitive matches, all of you have exemplified many attributes that my daughter Pat had possessed and which was an integral park of her character and life, ” Masotto said to the Spirit.
“This award will always have a very special meaning for me and my family, for as long as girls soccer is played, the memory of my daughter will always live on.
“In closing, I would say to all of you each day is a very precious gift, use it well and never take it for granted for we never know what tomorrow may bring.”