CHICAGO (March 11, 2022) – U.S. Soccer today named Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber as the 2022 winner of its prestigious Werner Fricker Builder Award. Garber has served as the league’s commissioner since 1999 and has played a crucial role in growing the sport in North America during his tenure.
The Werner Fricker Builder Award is given to an individual or group of individuals who dedicate at least 20 years of service to the sport, working to establish a lasting legacy in the history and structure of soccer in the United States. First awarded in 2002, the award recognizes those who have developed programs that will outlast their own involvement in the sport.
“We’re immensely proud to add Don Garber to this distinguished list of contributors to the game in our country,” said U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone. “When the history of the unprecedented growth of our sport in the United States during the past two decades is written, Don will be among the giants whose profound impact forever changed its trajectory. He deserves our admiration and our gratitude."
Throughout Garber’s 23-year tenure, MLS has expanded from 10 to 29 clubs, added new, diverse owners and secured long-term agreements with major broadcast outlets in the U.S. and throughout the world. Garber has also led efforts to develop 26 soccer-specific stadiums in the United States and Canada, with more set to open in the next few years. In 2019, he confirmed that the league would look to expand to 30 teams.
One of Garber’s marquee accomplishments was the establishment of Soccer United Marketing (SUM) in 2002, which serves as the marketing arm of MLS and manages commercial rights for the league as well as various other soccer properties like Concacaf and the Mexican Soccer Federation. Garber serves as the CEO of SUM, which was also the exclusive marketing partner of U.S. Soccer for 20 years.
In 2006, Garber established the Designated Player Rule, which would revolutionize the way player transactions occurred in the league by allowing teams to sign up to three players whose total costs exceeded the salary budget cap. The rule paved the way with the signing of David Beckham to the LA Galaxy and has continued to allow for world-class international players to help elevate the stature of the league over the years with signings like Thierry Henry, Kaka, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Carlos Vela, Lorenzo Insigne and many more. In addition, U.S. National Team players such as Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Jesus Ferreira have been signed as Designated Players during the past decade.
While creating the Designated Player Rule in 2006, Garber also mandated all MLS clubs have youth academies, leading to a significant rise in the level of domestic talent the past 15 years. Current U.S. National Team players Kellyn Acosta, Brenden Aaronson, Jordan Morris, Ricardo Pepi and dozens more MLS club academy products have played for the U.S. National Team. Within the last two years, the league established MLS NEXT and MLS NEXT Pro to create an integrated player pathway from the youth ranks through MLS first teams.
In 2007, Garber formed MLS WORKS, the league’s social responsibility program dedicated to addressing important social issues and improving communities. MLS WORKS creates national programs and legacy projects, charitable giving campaigns, and undertakes various initiatives that enrich and educate youth, create sustainable communities and promote inclusion at all levels of the game.
During Garber’s tenure, MLS club owners have invested more than $8 billion in stadiums and training facilities. MLS also has nearly 10,000 full-time people working for the league and its clubs, including many former players.
The New York City native has been ranked by Sports Business Daily as one of the 50 most influential people in the U.S. sports business every year since 2005, and MLS has been honored three times as Sports Business Journal’s League of the Year. He is also a member of the U.S. Soccer Federation board of directors.
Prior to joining MLS, Garber spent 16 years in a variety of leadership positions at the National Football League. In 1996, he launched NFL International, a division he managed that was responsible for all aspects of the NFL’s business outside the United States.
The award is named for Werner Fricker, who served as U.S. Soccer President from 1984 to 1990 and was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1992. Fricker is widely credited for playing a major role in bringing the 1994 FIFA World Cup to the United States. Born in Yugoslavia and raised in Austria, Fricker lived his adult life in Pennsylvania, where he was a star midfielder for the United German Hungarians of Philadelphia soccer club from 1954 to 1969 and was a member of the 1964 U.S. Olympic Team.
The U.S. Soccer president appoints the Werner Fricker Task Force to review award nominations. The nomination and consideration process takes place annually with a maximum of one award given each year; however, the Selection Committee is not required to bestow the award annually.
WERNER FRICKER AWARD RECIPIENTS
2002 Werner Fricker, Sr.
2003 Sunil Gulati
2005 Gerhard Mengel
2006 Sal Rapaglia
2007 Francisco Marcos
2008 Bob Gansler
2009 Alan Rothenberg
2010 Dr. S. Robert Contiguglia
2011 Kevin Payne
2012 Hank Steinbrecher
2014 Richard Groff
2015 Bruce Arena
2016 Anson Dorrance
2017 Mary Harvey
2018 Tony DiCicco
2019 April Heinrichs
2020 Esse Baharmast
2022 Don Garber