Two events happened in May and August of 1999 that will forever be linked with sparking today’s thriving men’s professional game in the United States: the opening of the country’s first soccer-specific stadium in Columbus, Ohio, and the appointment of Don Garber as MLS Commissioner.
In order to better understand the significance of each – and how they are connected – let’s briefly review where the game was at the time.
Fulfilling a commitment made to FIFA in order to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup, Major League Soccer launched in 1996 with 10 teams and much fanfare.
The first-year buzz led the league to expand to 12 teams in 1998. But deep down there were doubts about the league’s long-term viability, in which teams played in college and professional American football stadiums. Furthermore, there were only three owners who operated all the teams: Phil Anschutz, Robert Kraft, and Lamar Hunt.
Getting Soccer Specific
A sports pioneer, Mr. Hunt believed that a key component in the success of other sports franchises was that they played in their own stadiums. So out of necessity and with ambition, Lamar paid for and built the country’s first soccer-specific stadium. On May 15, 1999, Lamar Hunt’s Columbus Crew hosted Robert Kraft’s New England Revolution in the first game played in a stadium made for one of the league’s charter teams.
It was one step, but the investors felt they needed a new vision in order to see out their belief in the game. As owners of wildly successful NFL franchises, Mr. Hunt and Mr. Kraft knew who they wanted to lead the league’s next phase. On August 4, 1999, MLS appointed 16-year NFL executive Don Garber as its new Commissioner.
And here’s how we know they made the right call: in 2016 Garber was elected to National Soccer Hall of Fame through the Builder’s Ballot.
“I can honestly say that it was totally unexpected and something that is truly an honor for me and for my family when you look at the list of players and Builders already inducted, and certainly this year’s class with Tiffeny Milbrett, Cindy Parlow Cone, Brad Friedel, Dr. Bob (Contigulia) and JP Dellacamera,” Garber said of his upcoming enshrinement.
Garber opted to defer his official enshrinement until this year’s Hall of Fame Induction Weekend in Frisco, Texas to honor Lamar Hunt, who also built the stadium that houses the new soccer museum. “Most of all, I have to say it’s especially meaningful because we’ll be at the new National Soccer Hall of Fame just outside of Dallas, built by the Hunt Family as part of FC Dallas’ Toyota Stadium complex. Lamar Hunt was one of the MLS owners directly responsible for my hiring as MLS Commissioner in 1999.”
Beckham’s MLS Spark“On the field, David Beckham’s arrival in MLS in 2007 and the birth of the Designated Player rule was a signature moment that announced to the global soccer community our intention to become one of the top leagues in the world,” Garber said. “We set out then, more than 10 years ago, to make MLS a “league of choice” for the top international and U.S. National Team players. Without it, we would never have been able to sign players like Landon Donovan, Thierry Henry, David Villa, Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.”
The introduction and continued rise of salaries has provided teams flexibility to recruit high-profile and rising stars from all over the world. And just as important, another key initiative introduced under Garber’s leadership in 2007 was that of providing homegrown players a chance to join a club at a young age and dream of one day playing for their hometown club.
“There was also the mandate for every team to have their own academies to drive the development of young players for our clubs and National Teams,” he added. “We now have youth development academies and facilities that rival those of the game’s top clubs. The investment in player development and training facilities made by our owners during the last few years has been more than a half-billion dollars. When I look today at what FC Dallas and all the rest of our teams have done with their youth programs and the profound impact it has on U.S. Soccer, I believe it will help drive the future of our rosters and National Teams.”
In 2018, MLS is one of the most diverse leagues in the world, with players representing more than 70 countries. At the same time, the youth initiative continues to pay dividends, as over 250 players have signed first-team contracts.
From a business perspective, Garber guided the league through an initial step back with the contraction of two teams in order to set the stage for the giant leaps forward the league has taken over the past decade. This coincided with two major developments.
Major League Marketing Push“Off the field, it was the creation of Soccer United Marketing, a company we founded almost 20 years ago to help grow the commercial value of soccer in America,” Garber explained. “The concept came out of a meeting in 2001 with some of our pioneering owners at Phil Anschutz’s ranch. MLS’ survival was on the line. We needed fresh ideas and a commitment to a strategic, long-term plan.”
At the time, no TV outlet was planning on broadcasting the upcoming World Cups. Teams had little control of dates or ancillary revenue streams as secondary tenants in massive stadiums. And the small footprint presented other challenges to gain the attention of the country’s soccer fans.
“A decision to purchase the rights to the FIFA World Cups in 2002 and 2006 was debated and ultimately approved,” Garber continued. “Soccer United Marketing was created out of those conversations and it led to two decades of enormous growth for our league and the advancement of soccer in the U.S. and Canada.”
SUM worked a deal to provide the rights to the World Cup to ABC/ESPN, ensuring the world’s biggest sporting event would air in the budding soccer nation. The USA advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, and along the way captured the country’s attention, sparking an interest from the business world to casual sports fans.
“At that same meeting, the vision to build true, world-class soccer stadiums was also mapped out, and it’s extraordinary to think of where we are today,” Garber added. “In 1999 we had one soccer stadium built by Lamar Hunt in Columbus, Ohio. Next year, 20 of our clubs will play in soccer stadiums that are built specifically for the sport and that are accessible to our young and increasingly urban fan base.”
MLS Still Growing
Fast forward, and Garber’s steady approach has turned the League – and the sport – into one that continues to grow at a high rate. Consider this: in 2001 there were 10 MLS teams, three owners and one soccer stadium. In 2018, there are 23 teams with Cincinnati, Miami, and Nashville joining in the comings years, bringing the total number of owners to 26 and soccer stadiums to 23.
Talk about a Builder.
So fittingly, Garber joins an elite group who will forever be memorialized for their efforts and contributions to the beautiful game in the U.S.
And on an occasion meant to recognize him, Garber demurs, reminding us who helped set the vision of what he’s helped accomplish.
“Indelible - that’s the word to describe my memories of Lamar, whose grace will never be forgotten,” Garber said of his induction into the Hall of Fame in another house that Lamar built. “The support of Lamar, Clark, Dan and the entire Hunt family has enriched my life. But more importantly, beyond their impact personally on me, they will forever be viewed among the most important people in the history of our game in this country.”Read more
It’s easy to put things like soccer into perspective when you’ve dealt with life and death. “After being in critical care situations, you know to manage when the occasional crisis pops up and those around you are getting a little too excited,” said Doctor Bob Contiguglia – MD, U.S. Soccer President from 1998 to 2006 and one of the men responsible for helping the American game hit some of its highest notes. “I used to tell the staff at USSF when I was there and things got tough: ‘this isn’t life and death – I know life and death and this isn’t it,’ and that would always calm everyone down.”
Intelligent, ambitious and a leader from an early age, Contiguglia was drawn to the game of soccer on Long Island in his native New York. He grew up in the 1940s and 50s in Great Neck, just a stone’s throw from Lake Success where the United Nations was located before opening in its current home on Manhattan in 1952. “I was introduced to the game in grade school by a coach who was Israeli and also played in Israel and with the UN right down the road we had a lot of foreign kids in my school system. Because of that, there was lot of soccer played around me and I liked it right away.”
Contiguglia, now 77, recalls kicking a ball against a wall hundreds and hundreds of times each day, forcing himself to use both feet. There were trips to Randall’s Island with his high school teammates to see Pele play in the early days of the North American Soccer League (NASL) and watching the old PBS program Soccer Made in Germany to get a glimpse of the soccer world beyond. He took in all that was available to him before eventually lining up in the first varsity program at Colombia University since the end of World War II, between 1959 and 1963.
Medicine & Soccer
After that, soccer hit the back burner as Contiguglia pursued his medical degree. Medical School and training and residency doesn’t leave much free time and soccer fell by the wayside for a while. But it was there, during his training at King’s County Hospital in Brooklyn – one of the busiest city hospitals in the country at the time – that Contiguglia learned to deal with high stress, high pressure and high stakes. “It was a real gun-and-knife club back then and you had to manage emergency situations with no sleep and long hours. If you can manage those situations, other things suddenly become a lot easier.”
It was in the 1970s when soccer reemerged in Doctor Bob’s life. Having relocated to Denver, he picked up playing in the local men’s leagues – now as a left fullback instead of a speedy left winger. And when his son turned six, he was volunteered to coach. From there, his natural organizational instincts – honed as a student leader in both undergraduate and graduate school – took hold. “It started out locally and then I moved on to the Colorado State federation and you kind of develop and see what’s needed where you end up,” said Contiguglia, looking back on his first steps into soccer administration. “We united all the independent local organizations and we went from 300 registered players to 30,000 in six years.”
Standing with former CEO/Secretary General Hank Steinbrecher and player Brandi Chastain,
former U.S. Soccer President Dr. Bob Contiguglia (right) helped the U.S. stage the transformational 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Contigulgia went on to become president of U.S. Youth Soccer and by 1990, he was on the USSF Board of Directors in charge of guiding the stars of tomorrow, while Alan Rothenberg focused on hosting the upcoming World Cup in 1994, and Hank Steinbrecher handled the professionalization of the game in the country, which eventually led to the establishment of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1996. It was a crossroads for the game in America. Contiguglia was elected USSF President in 1998, one year after the failure of the U.S. Men in France, a year before the pivotal 1999 Women’s World Cup and four years out from the USA’s best performance in a men’s World Cup in the modern era.
U.S. Soccer Savior?
“I remember a story running in the newspaper after I was elected president and there was my picture and the headline read: ‘Can this man save the sport?’” remembered Contiguglia. “There was fragility around MLS, which had just started. The men had just come off the horrible performance in France at the 1998 World Cup and we were still a year before the great success of the Women’s World Cup in 1999. My response was this: “Just look at the players we’re bringing up and what we’re doing – we had guys like Tim Howard and DaMarcus Beasley and a kid named Landon Donovan in the pipeline.”
Four years after the doom and gloom of 1998, Contiguglia – ever eager to pass the credit off to all those volunteers and subordinates down the line – had presided over an astonishing turnaround. He calls the 1999 Women’s World Cup, “the most important women’s sporting event of the 20th century,” and the 2002 Men’s World Cup in Korea and Japan stands as a watershed moment and the best performance by an American Men’s team in its modern era (1990-present). Many of those youngsters he pointed to in his first year on the job had fully come of age; the likes of Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley had become stars on the world stage in a run to the Quarterfinals, eliminating Mexico, stretching Germany, and unlucky not to reach the Semifinals.
Dr. Bob Contiguglia (right) and Bruce Arena (left) helped guide the U.S. MNT to its best finish at a FIFA World Cup in the modern era of U.S. Soccer.
“The reality is that 2002 put us on the stage,” said Contiguglia from his home in Colorado, where he teaches, fittingly, a college course on Sport and Society. “That was really the event that gave us credibility. We went from a minnow to a real player on the world stage. I remember going to a FIFA meeting and having delegates come up to me and say ‘you played better than Germany [in the Quarterfinals], it was a handball and you should have won the game – that coming from serious soccer people in the international arena was something.”
2003 Women’s World Cup – Last-Minute Challenge
In 2003, Contiguglia oversaw the considerable organizational challenge of putting on a FIFA Women’s World Cup on U.S. soil with only four months notice. The tournament was moved from China PR at the eleventh hour over fears surrounding the outbreak of the SARS virus. The Final of that 2003 tournament, which went off without a hitch, was played in the Home Depot center – then the USA’s sparkling new National Team Training Center, a project Contiguglia himself oversaw from start to finish.”
His tenure at the top of the Federation came to an end in 2006. And now, still coaching youth soccer out west, he enjoys looking back on a lifetime spent in the game – from kicking the ball against a wall with both feet to presiding over massive growth at the highest levels of the American game. “You’re able to sit down and reflect on what you’ve done over the last 65 years from where I am now,” he said. “It’s an enjoyable thing and it’s humbling to be honored by your peers. But somehow it seems improper for me to be recognized while so many who put so much into the game during the years aren’t – and I’ll be sure to stress the importance of all of those people when the time comes.”
On 20 October, Dr. Bob will enter the National Soccer Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2018. What he’ll remember most, more than the wins or losses, were the connections made. “Relationships you made with your friends through soccer. I have those relationships through to this day,” said the former president, who still ranks among his best friends those teammates he lined up alongside at Colombia, organizing out West and raising the profile of game through the course of an impressive life in soccer. “These people, these connections – that’s what I remember most and what I value most.”Read more
Brad Friedel’s international career was launched in a low-profile location at King George V Park in St. John’s, Newfoundland in 1992. But Friedel considers that match, a 2-0 U.S. victory over Canada before a crowd of 3,500, a high point of a career that included 82 National Team caps, victories in the English League Cup and Turkish Cup, and an English Premier League record: 310 consecutive appearances.
“The first time you put on the shirt for the senior [National] Team, it was not a luxurious game, it was away from home against Canada,” Friedel recalled. “But I was still in college at the time and to get a senior cap was a special moment.”
For Friedel, a member of the 2018 National Soccer Hall of Fame induction class, that match was the first of 21 shutouts in goal for the U.S. Fittingly, Friedel concluded his international career with another clean sheet in a 1-0 victory over Poland at Kazimierza Gorskiego Stadion in Plock on March 31, 2004.
2002, the Highpoint
Then, there was the 2002 World Cup, the best U.S. finish since 1930, on the globe’s biggest stage. “The run we had in the 2002 World Cup,” Friedel said. “You look back and I think that was – I know there have been some fantastic players since then – but that was arguably the best U.S. squad that’s been assembled top to bottom. A lot of players played in Europe, big roles at their clubs at the time. Incredible competition for places. And I think being disappointed going out in the quarterfinals instead of just being happy reaching the quarterfinals says a lot about where soccer in the United States had come. That whole run was probably the most special moment in the U.S. shirt.”
Friedel saved penalty kicks against Korea Republic and Poland, then blanked Mexico 2-0 in the second round as the Americans advanced to a quarterfinal date with Germany (1-0 loss) in the 2002 World Cup, joint-hosted by Korea Republic and Japan.
Friedel celebrates defeating arch rival Mexico 2-0 at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Round of 16.
Friedel’s first exposure to international soccer had been as a youngster, when he accompanied his father to a Charity Shield match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Wembley Stadium in 1980. But Friedel’s professional career aspirations did not begin to take shape until he was selected for the U.S. Olympic team while still a student-athlete at UCLA.
College Pathway to Stardom
“When I got out to UCLA, Sigi [Schmid] brought in a lot of talented players,” Friedel recalled. “College soccer was a lot different then. It was the place where all the best young players went, so the level was much higher back then than it is today. But he, along with a few of the other universities in the country, put on really good programs, and it was the first time I had been looked at by a National Team coach. It was Lothar Osiander with the Olympic team, and that was when we started traveling overseas and to South America. And after each game that you play and training sessions, and agents are coming up to you, and you start thinking this could be the career path. “I didn’t really think about it until then. I was just a Midwest kid in Cleveland playing every sport and soccer didn’t really have a much of a future to it back then. So, looking back on it, it was really fortunate stuff.”
Before making his debut with the full U.S. team, Friedel played in the 1992 Olympic Games (he also helped the team finish fourth in the 2000 Olympics) and later that year won the Hermann Trophy as the top collegiate player in the country.
Friedel combined athletic versatility – he played basketball, soccer and tennis in high school – with anticipation, a powerful presence and tactical savvy to attract offers from Europe. He had trials with Nottingham Forest, then coached by Brian Clough, and Liverpool before signing with Newcastle United in 1995. Friedel returned home to play for the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1996 and ’97, then spent the next 18 years in Europe, where he played for seven clubs in three countries.
Cup Success for Friedel
Former Liverpool star Graeme Souness brought Friedel to Galatasaray and Blackburn Rovers, the teams winning the Turkish Cup (1996) and English League Cup (2002).
Meanwhile, Friedel was competing with Kasey Keller and Tony Meola for the starting goalkeeper position with the U.S. National Team. Friedel played in a 1-0 loss to Serbia in the final U.S. game of the 1998 FIFA World Cup, then became the undisputed starter in 2002. Friedel credited a healthy diet and yoga workouts to helping extend his career. In Friedel’s last season with Tottenham Hotspur, he weighed about 200 pounds, less than his playing weight at UCLA.
“I never started playing this sport for the personal accolade,” said Friedel, who currently coaches the New England Revolution of MLS. “It’s a team sport. But when you can be recognized by the country you were born in and represented, it truly is an honor and I accept it humbly. It’s not something that ever really crosses your mind when you’re playing, getting into a Hall of Fame. But it’s a very nice feeling when I found out, and the way I did find out was really good. Over the last few years I’ve become pretty close with Tab Ramos, and when he turned up [at New England Revolution practice] I had no idea. It was a nice touch. But it truly is an honor and I enjoyed every minute playing and representing the United States.”Read more