[MY VIEW] With the possible exception of Sunil Gulati, with whom he goes back to the early days of the ODP program in the Northeast, no person has had a greater impact on American soccer over the last quarter century than Chuck Blazer.
Blazer, who announced Thursday he was stepping down as general secretary of Concacaf after 21 years, has touched everything from the women's national team program -- which he launched in 1985 by finding the funding to send the national team on a trip to Italy -- to Major League Soccer, whose television landscape he changed forever by convincing FIFA to not accept a TV deal with NBC (without any MLS component) and in turn reopening the bidding for the 2010 and 2014 World Cup rights that went to MLS-friendly ESPN and Univision.
In a small way, Soccer America, too, was touched by Blazer's legendary marketing and tech savvy.
I first got to know Blazer in my early days at Soccer America in 1985. Blazer was chairman of the USSF's national teams committee, meaning he ran the national team program. This was the period between the demise of the NASL in early 1985 and before the USA was awarded in 1988 the hosting rights for the 1994 World Cup. It was very much a transition period when the national team program as we know it today took off, first under Blazer and later Gulati.
We take for granted today the popularity of the national team, but in the mid-1980s few cared. But each Tuesday morning we would receive a 2-page telefax from Eric Mortenson, a New York area free-lancer whom Blazer knew, with the latest news on the national team. There wasn't a lot of news because there weren't a lot of games, but Blazer know the importance of a consistent message and made sure to feed Mortenson with a few items each week so we filled the 500-word hole we had for national team news.
It was in the mid-1980s that the national team program took off. Almost all the American pros were playing indoors. There was no such thing as Americans abroad, so the nucleus of the national team was the first generation of young stars coming out of the college ranks, players like Paul Caligiuri, Mike Windischmann, Eric Eichmann, Bruce Murray and Brent Goulet.
And as modest as Soccer America's coverage was, it marked the first time a publication had provided continuous coverage of the national team, and it was one of the foundations upon which we developed a growing readership and national and international reputation.
Blazer didn't stay long with the USSF -- he served one term as executive vice president -- moving on to running the ASL before hooking up with Jack Warner to run Concacaf in 1990. Just as he took the time to hook up the wayward national associations of Concacaf scattered across the Caribbean, he took the time to solve our computer problems.
This was still before email or the Internet when a company our size was forced to add an IT department, and Blazer learned from our New York columnist Paul Gardner, a friend of Blazer's, we were having problems receiving Gardner's transmissions.
One day I received via Fedex a package containing a modem Blazer had purchased. He called up and walked me through the installation of our new modem.
Thanks to Blazer, our computer problems were solved.