By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Aug 20, 2012) US Soccer Players – Hank Steinbrecher has been a ubiquitous presence on the American soccer scene for the past few decades. Elected as a builder into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2005, Steinbrecher was the recipient of this year's Werner Fricker award – the United States Soccer Federation's top honor. Steinbrecher was there for many of the crucial moments in American soccer's recent history.
“I served as (US Soccer’s) Secretary General from 1990 through 2000. I look back on those days with warmth,’ he recalled. “The most significant achievements for the Federation was to create a men’s and women’s team that our country could be proud of. We started off without a professional league and a few players stationed in Europe. Our men performed well and our women won World Cups. We made the country proud. Being in the Rose Bowl to see the USA defeat Colombia was a high point for me personally and to witness our women play in the Rose Bowl before 94,000 people and win was euphoric.”
Under Steinbrecher, US Soccer helped organize the 1994 Men's and 1999 Women's World Cups and the 1996 Olympic Soccer Tournament. Both the 1994 and 1999 World Cup tournaments are largely considered by many to be the most successful FIFA tournaments of all time.
Steinbrecher, now 64, remains modest about those achievements, giving the credit to former US Soccer President Alan Rothenberg for laying the groundwork that helped the Americans become competitive in recent years. He said Rothenberg was the architect behind it all, including the launch of Project 2010.
“Just after hosting the World Cup in 1994, Alan took Sunil Gulati and I aside and asked, ‘How do we win this?’ We went to work and developed a plan of development that would put us in a position to win a Cup. It was simply a blueprint on how we may get much better.”
Steinbrecher has been involved with soccer since his youth days. A standout player at Davis and Elkins College, a small school in West Virginia. Steinbrecher later coached at the NCAA level at Appalachian State and Boston University. In 1985, he became director of sports marketing at the Quaker Oats Company. In 1990, he was hired as CEO and Secretary General at the United States Soccer Federation. He stepped down from the position in 2000. Steinbrecher said one of the most innovative things the federation ever did under him was change its name from the USSF to simply US Soccer in 1991.
“Tradition is a wonderful thing until it is compared to inertia," he said. "An object not in motion will stay not in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. At the time the Federation was in a negative inertia period,” he recalled. “The Federation was represented by various acronyms. In an effort to host the World Cup, we know it could not be done when we were so divided.
"We created the name US Soccer to appeal to all of the US. It is about the US. We focused on a young demographic and rebranded the Federation. Our research was that many people viewed the Federation in a negative way. We needed to change the culture of our organization.’’
Asked about his biggest accomplishment, Steinbrecher said, “I like to leave that to the critics. I can say this: There was a tremendous amount of growth during the period of time I was at the Federation. I take credit for none of it, but I was in the middle of all of it. It was a fantastic period of time for our sport and it was an honor to be involved.”
Steinbrecher is not far away from the game these days. He runs a consulting company and still enjoys watching the sport at all levels, from youth to the National Team.
“These days I am semi-retired. For the past 12 years, I have had a private practice consulting company. Thankfully it has been successful," he said. "I have now become one of the biggest fans of the US Soccer program. I love the game and simply cannot get enough of it. Whether it is a youth game, a pro game, or a National team game, I love to watch. I spent much more time at home with family and love it.”
On whether the National Team can ever win the World Cup, Steinbrecher said he gets asked that question a lot.
“To me it is to be in a position to win," he said. "You could ask some 200 other countries that same question. The real question is how did we play? Did the team represent the Nation well? I am proud of our players, proud of our coaches, proud of our fans and proud of our Federation."
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