Dietrich Mateschitz feels the U.S. must continue to develop its young players, train its veteran players at the highest levels and have the MLS bring in high quality foreign players. (Photo courtesy of Red Bull)

This story originally was posted on  Feb. 20, 2007. It is the only known interview with Dietrich Mateschitz since he purchased the MetroStars in 2006. He passed away at the age of 78 on Saturday.

By Michael Lewis

As far as soccer has come in the United States, it still has to make some giant steps before it can be on the same level as it is in Brazil, Spain, Italy and England, according to New York Red Bulls owner Dietrich Mateschitz.

In a recent and rare e-mail interview, Mateschitz stated that he believed MLS must make even further commitments to develop youth players and bring in quality foreign players to raise the level of play in this country.

But he realizes there is a strong base from which to work.

“We believe that soccer is extremely popular in the U.S. already,” Mateschitz said in that e-mail interview. “We recognized that it is the high school sport No. 1; there are approximately 40 million active soccer players in the U.S., so we do believe that the basis to make it more popular is there.”

But there still is work to be done at other stages, especially at the professional level.

“What still can be done is to improve and further develop the quality of U.S. soccer, so that in the future there won’t be any difference between U.S. teams and their soccer players and those in Brazil, Spain, Italy, Germany, the UK etc.,” Mateschitz said.

“This means that MLS clubs must make further commitments to develop their youth talent in the most professional settings, train the active players technically as well as physically at the highest standards and bring in elite foreign talent to raise the level of play in the U.S.”

And that doesn’t include just quality on the field. There must be strides made off the field as well, Mateschitz said.

“Marketing efforts have to also be increased,” he said. “For example, over the past couple of months Red Bull has organized a national high school age league called Red Bull National League 17. In this league the best youth teams compete against one another to up their level of play and be seen by university coaches. We will also try to increase the number of soccer fields and locations to play street soccer etc.

“Finally, the popularity of soccer mainly depends on print and TV presence. And for media presence you need excitement, high quality level of play, well known U.S. and foreign players, brilliant games, high attendance, etc. Of course, this may sound like we are going around in circles now, but unless you don’t start to break it up somewhere, you won’t be able to change the situation.”

When he purchased the MetroStars from the Anschutz Entertainment Group last year, Mateschitz realized he was entering a new and unique sports universe — MLS.

In MLS, players are signed by the league, not by teams, there is a salary cap to which each team must adhere to and that there seems to be more rules and regulations over players than Congress has passed in more than two centuries of existence.

“Indeed, it is different, but understanding how the league works has not been difficult,” Mateschitz said. “In our opinion, the regulations, restrictions, different rights and ownership also make a lot of sense as long as you only look at the national frame condition.

“It is a little bit more difficult when you compare it with the ‘rather free market situation’ outside the U.S., where the only rule is that of offer and demand i.e. is almost completely liberalized. Maybe a little bit more of liberalization within the MLS can combine ‘both worlds’ perfectly.”

Mateschitz and Red Bull are not planning to put a new franchise in another country year in, year out. They have two — the Red Bulls and Red Bull Salzburg in the Austrian First Division.

But there are plans to expand the company’s and brand’s soccer influence in the world.

“We are planning to have a soccer club and a soccer academy in Africa and Brazil, mainly for talent scouting reasons,” he said.

Mateschitz said that former German and Cosmos great Franz Beckenbauer will continue to advise him on soccer matters. Last April Beckenbauer said that he would have more input with the New York Red Bulls after he stepped down as head of the German Organizing Committee for the World Cup. But that hasn’t materialized.

“Franz Beckenbauer is a friend of mine so I can always go and ask him when I need advice or I would like to know his opinion in many respects,” Mateschitz said.