The U.S. Men's National Soccer Team enjoyed one of its best runs in the World Cup as the underdog squad survived a tough draw in group play to advance to the knockout stage.
Hank Steinbrecher played a big part in building U.S. Soccer to the level it's at currently.
The Glen Ellyn resident and former Secretary General of the United States Soccer Federation (commonly known as U.S. Soccer) got started in the game as a player, then as college coach and eventually was a key figure for U.S. Soccer when it hosted the 1994 World Cup and when the Women's National Team hosted and won the 1999 World Cup.
Steinbrecher took time to talk with sports editor Jason Rossi about his time with U.S. Soccer, the current state of soccer in the country and his plans for the World Cup final on Sunday.
Rossi: How did you arrive at U.S. Soccer?
Steinbrecher: It was kind of serpentine. I played in college (at Davis & Elkins College), then I coached for 11 years and ended up at Boston University (from 1981-84) and I was asked to direct the Olympic venue at Harvard in 1984.
Then I went to work for Gatorade as the Director of Sports Marketing, and when the U.S. was awarded the World Cup (in 1988) I was asked to come to U.S. Soccer. I was deeply involved in the World Cups in 1990, 1994 and 1999.
Rossi: Do you ever want to go back?
Steinbrecher: There are certainly things I miss. We hosted two World Cups and the Olympics, and I don't miss the pressure of it. I don't miss the politics of sports, and there are a lot of politics in sports.
When I left U.S. Soccer, I left on top after we won the 1999 World Cup. There's no better way to leave.
Rossi: What are you most proud of from your time at U.S. Soccer?
Steinbrecher: I really think of three things.
First, professionalizing the office. Before my time it was kind of a mom and pop operation.
Second, our win over Columbia in 1994 (the first World Cup victory for the U.S. since 1950). It was tragic, of course, as a player from Columbia was killed afterward, but it was very exciting.
Finally, our win in the Women's World Cup in 1999.
Overall, I'm very happy to see where the sport is today in this country.
Rossi: What are your thoughts on this year's World Cup?
Steinbrecher: This is the first one I've missed since 1986. I wrote to Dan Flynn (the current Secretary General of U.S. Soccer) and told him, 'I know the excitement, I know the pressure and I know the thrill of being there, and I send my regards to you.'
But if I was there then I wouldn't be here to see how everyone got excited for the games here. There were 20,000 fans at Grant Park. I was in Atlanta for a U.S. game and went to a bar to watch it and it was jam packed. It was like that everywhere. The sport is taking a major step this year.
Rossi: Any plans for the World Cup final this weekend?
Steinbrecher: There's a little Italian restaurant in [Glen Ellyn], Marinella Italian Restaurant, Joe Marinella's place. They're having a World Cup viewing party and that's where I'll be.
Funny story, I was in Germany [for the World Cup in 2006] and I had tickets for the final. I called up Joe and I said, 'Joe, I've got tickets for the final, I'll take care of you.' He told me he was having a viewing party at the restaurant and couldn't come. I sold my tickets and came home and went to the viewing party.
Rossi: What was your role in bringing the Women's World Cup to the U.S.?
Steinbrecher: I would say I was a small ball bearing in a very big wheel. To bring the World Cup here, from organizing and the bid process, it required a lot of work from a lot of people. I think we had a head start with the women's team because of Title IX and the gender equality we had in this country.
Rossi: What's been keeping you busy these days?
Steinbrecher: I established my own business, Touchline Consulting, and I do sports consulting. It started out being only soccer [consulting], but I've really become more of a consultant to CEOs. Skycam, I've been consulting with them for eight years
About Hank Steinbrecher
• Glen Ellyn resident, 1985 to present
• Secretary General of U.S. Soccer, 1990 to 2000
• National Soccer Hall of Fame, 2005
• U.S. Soccer Werner Fricker Builder Award, 2006