w/ Former MNT Forward Willy Roy

With U.S. Soccer always looking toward the future with World Cups, Olympics and Youth World Championships on the horizon, we’ve gone to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y., to create this section for a chance to pop it in reverse and look back at an interesting or enlightening part of U.S. Soccer’s history that you may have forgotten or possibly never knew. 

What’s it like to be the United States’ all-time leading scorer in World Cup qualifying? Just ask Brian McBride, Earnie Stewart or Willy Roy. Few people realize it, but former U.S. Men’s National Team forward Willy Roy topped the USA’s World Cup qualifying goal-scoring chart for 29 years, with six goals to his name before Earnie Stewart surpassed him on March 28, 2001.

In fact, did Willy Roy even realize that he was No. 1?

“Probably not,” said Roy, 62, from his home outside of Chicago. Roy was part of three World Cup qualifying squads, earning 20 caps between 1965 and 1973. One of his teammates was U.S. Men’s National Team Manager Bruce Arena.

As the old adage goes, things weren’t the same back then when Roy was topping the charts in near obscurity. It actually wasn’t until Earnie Stewart and Brian McBride began scoring consistently in World Cup qualifying more than 20 years after Roy’s last goal, at a time when U.S. Soccer was coming into its own on the international stage, that people began to realize Roy’s accomplishment. He has since been surpassed on the World Cup qualifying scoring charts by Stewart, McBride, Landon Donovan and Eddie Johnson, but that doesn’t weigh too heavily on his mind.

“We’d get together every four years and say, ‘Let’s get ready now,’” Roy said of the national team he was a part of. “If you look at the players today, look at how many games they’re playing. There are several players with more than 100 caps. I think I had 20 or 22. I think that if you score in about every second game that you play, that’s pretty good.”

Besides scoring goals for the U.S. team, the German-born Roy was also a part of the 1967 Chicago Spurs of the National Professional Soccer League and moved with the team in 1968 when it was relocated to Kansas City. He also played for the St. Louis Stars from 1971-1973 before moving back to Chicago to play for the 1975 Chicago Sting of the North American Soccer League.

In 1979, Roy began a new challenge: coaching. He became the head coach of the Chicago Sting, leading them to two NASL championships, winning the Soccer Bowl in 1981 and 1984. Some of the players that he coached while at the Sting included former Dutch National Team Head Coach Dick Avocaat and U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Greg Ryan.

“I’m sure that they built their own character but I hope that something rubbed off on them,” Roy said of his former pupils. Ryan, whose team is undefeated and has yet to allow a single goal this year, would agree.

“The thing that defined Willy was, he was one of the most intense competitors as a player and that carried over to his coaching,” Ryan said of his former coach who was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y., as a member of the 1999 class. “He was so intense and so determined that he brought that quality out in his players. If he mentioned people who went on to bigger and better things, it was because they learned to work so hard and give so much.”

Roy later went on to coach at Northern Illinois University, where he spent 16 years at the helm of the men’s program and watched his three sons, Willy Jr. and twins Markus and Karsten, go through college. During that time, he led the team to a 142-131-22 record and two conference championships.

Even though Roy’s coaching days are over he still has plenty on his plate, including two family businesses, playing in an Over-30 league and working on his golf game. The two businesses are Willy Roy’s Soccer Dome, an indoor soccer facility, and The Dolton Bowl, a bowling alley that shares a parking lot with the soccer dome.

The business venture began more than 20 years ago when Roy and a group of people purchased a tennis facility on the same grounds as the bowling alley. Once his children finished college, they took over the reigns. Later, they were able to purchase the bowling alley as well. Sometimes on Friday nights, the 62-year-old Roy still plays in the Over-30 league at the dome.

“It’s a lot of fun because you see people that I grew up playing soccer with come in with their children,” Roy said. And just in case some people don’t know who the dome is named after, Roy’s sons put up pictures around the facility “so they could compare me to when I was in shape,” Roy said, laughing.

When Roy isn’t playing soccer or golf, which he plays three or four times a week, he’s spending time with his “other super joy”: his five grandchildren. He and his wife, Karin, take trips with Lukas, Greta, Addie, Oliver and Marina, all around Chicagoland, including the various zoos in the area.

His family is also planning a trip to Germany in 2006, to visit family and to follow the World Cup.

“I just hope the U.S. has a wonderful showing and I’m sure they’ll do quite well,” said Roy. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a re-match: Germany and USA for the championship? I think I would have a glass of champagne and toast both teams.