Backline: Rick Davis-American Cosmo Heads AYSO

When Rick Davis was in high school, he told his father he planned to be a professional athlete.

"That's great," said his dad. "Someday you'll get a real job."

Richard Sr., a physician, was right on both counts. Rick Davis had a great career as a pro soccer player and eventually got a "real job."

Davis, 50, is National Executive Director of the American Youth Soccer Organization. AYSO, which today has nearly 600,000 players, was founded in 1964 and was in its second year when it gave 6-year-old Davis his start in the game.

"My parents signed me up and I fell in love with it right from the very beginning," says Davis.

He grew up playing every sport he could — baseball, football, basketball, tennis, golf, soccer. But when he was just 8, he noticed something special about soccer, because he got a taste of the World Cup. One of his father's patients had given him a pair of tickets to watch the 1966 World Cup final in a closed-circuit broadcast at the Los Angeles Forum.

"I thought it was amazing," he says, "because we got tickets to basically watch a TV. A giant TV as it was, but I remember thinking, 'Why couldn't I watch it on my TV in the family room?'"

Davis watched England's spectacular 4-2 win at Wembley over West Germany, whose star in midfield was a 21-year-old named Franz Beckenbauer.

Davis continued to star in various sports but his Damien High School coach, Al Mistri, believed he could go far in soccer and offered special training focusing on skill and technique.

"He's the one who created a vision and even a path of how I might get there," says Davis.

By 1977, Beckenbauer was playing in the North American Soccer League, which was stocked with the foreign players and some of the world's biggest stars. What was missing during these glory days of the NASL were American stars. In came Davis, whom the New York Cosmos signed at age 19 and lined up with superstars such as Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Giorgio Chinaglia.

Davis played with the Cosmos until the league folded in 1984 and won three league titles. He played Major Indoor Soccer League ball through 1990.

Davis was U.S. captain for many of the 36 games he played for the national team and played in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. Upon retiring, he worked as a TV commentator, which he had done while still playing. He served as general manager of the APSL's Los Angeles Salsa for more than two years.

 "I'm more intrigued by the organization of soccer than the actual coaching," he says.

Davis left the sport entirely when he worked as a healthcare consultant. But he returned to soccer when he started coaching his children and became club director of the Yorba Linda Junior United Soccer Association. As he saw the approach toward youth sports change dramatically, he was drawn back to AYSO.

"Society as a whole has changed," he says. "When I started playing sports it was nothing more than just wanting to have fun. And it was always very affordable. Youth soccer has gone the route of being highly professionalized."

AYSO remains volunteer-driven — 200,000 adults donate their time — and affordable. Davis joined AYSO as Director of Programs in 2004 and became Executive Director in 2006.

"Rick brings the same discipline, work ethic and soccer savvy to AYSO that I saw in him as a player," said Lynn Berling-Manuel, chief marketing officer of AYSO. "He's passionate about AYSO, the kids who play in it and the volunteers who make it possible."

(This article originally appeared in the July 2009 issue of
Soccer America magazine.)   


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