U.S. Soccer presidential race: 1990 election in trivia

The last time U.S. Soccer held a contested presidential election in Orlando, Alan Rothenberg unseated incumbent Werner Fricker in 1990.

Few in the soccer community had heard of Rothenberg, a Los Angeles attorney whose work in soccer had dated back to his work for Jack Kent Cooke and the Los Angeles Wolves of the United Soccer Association in 1967. He had been the commissioner of soccer at the wildly popular soccer competition at the 1984 Olympics that changed FIFA's opinion about American soccer and triggered its interest in bringing the World Cup to the United States in 1994.

Rothenberg said FIFA secretary general Sepp Blatter"put a bug in my ear about running" about six months earlier though he did not announce as a candidate until weeks before the election. (No deadlines existed for the entry of candidates.)

FIFA was concerned about the readiness of the USA to host the tournament still four years away. But most particularly, FIFA's gripe with Fricker was about a business deal: It did not like the fact that Fricker had signed a television/marketing deal for U.S. Soccer with Soccer USA Partners.

Left to right: U.S. Soccer vice president Hank Des Bordes, president Alan Rothenberg, treasurer Richard Groff pose following the 1990 National Council Meeting.

Taking advantage of the unhappiness of U.S. Soccer members with Fricker's management style, Rothenberg swept into power with a comfortable victory.

1990 Presidential vote totals:
343.9 Alan Rothenberg
169.66 Werner Fricker
69.2 Paul Stiehl

It was the accumulation of a wild four-day AGM like U.S. Soccer has never seen before and never seen since. Here is some 1990 election trivia to put in context the scene in Orlando, the cast of characters who were involved, what they were saying and what transpired.

1. What bird was the symbol of the host hotel that it paraded through the lobby twice a day for delegates and other hotel guests to see?

The Peabody Hotel had five ducks walk through the lobby at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. (The hotel's restaurant butter was molded in the shape of a duck. Etiquette was that guests cut the butter in half so as to not lop off the head.)

2. Name the Concacaf official who presided over the National Council and remarked about the state of affairs at the pre-election dinner, "One does not throw stones at a barren tree. The tree is starting to bear fruit, and people will shoot stones."

Trinidadian Jack Warner, installed only months earlier as Concacaf president. In 2015, he was charged by U.S. authorities in the 2015 FIFA indictments, and he is still awaiting extradition.

3. What candidate held a -- new for a U.S. Soccer presidential election -- wine-and-dine reception for delegates and guests at which the ice sculpture that served as the center piece crashed to the floor?

The ice sculpture at Rothenberg's reception melted. Fortunately, most of the guests had already left the room. (One Fricker campaigner late remarked, "I knew we were in trouble when I asked someone about Rothenberg's reception and they said they had the best fettuccine she ever had.")

4. What future U.S. national team coach working for Rothenberg remarked, "I couldn't believe it. They bring a guy three times a day into the suite to sweep the place for bugs."?

Steve Sampson, then the head coach at Santa Clara. Other prominent soccer figures who worked on Rothenberg's campaign: Rick Davis and Werner Roth.

5. What commissioner who once said, "We don't give two s**** about outdoor soccer," swung the election when his league with one-third of the vote went 8-0 for Rothenberg?

Earl Foreman was the commissioner of the indoor Major Soccer League, which controlled the entire pro vote -- one third of the vote -- because there was no outdoor pro soccer league. Its eight delegates, who included coaching pioneers Ron Newman and Gordan Jago, were split 4-4 when they arrived in Florida. By the day of the election, they had agreed to vote as a bloc for Rothenberg and were the most vocal delegates when the vote was announced.

6. Which president candidate said he "got a call from FIFA" the morning of race to drop out of the race, remarking, "What I am trying to tell you is that we're in the process of a hostile takeover. Put it in terminology we all understand, we're under siege."

Stiehl, the U.S. Soccer treasurer, said he and Fricker, whom he had fought for almost two years, would "defend the palace" together. (The election was held as Iraq invaded Kuwait, culminating in the siege of the Dasman Palace.) It was revealed later in the day that FIFA's Guido Tognoni called Stiehl and told him to support Rothenberg. Tognoni, on vacation in Switzerland, told the New York Times he thought the call would remain confidential.

7. Which presidential candidate said after the vote was announced, "The vote today clearly indicated that the very large majority of our membership really is not interested in the sport."

Fricker said it was not a statement of criticism, just a fact of life that the election was about politics.

5 comments about "U.S. Soccer presidential race: 1990 election in trivia".
  1. Bob Ashpole, February 4, 2018 at 2:28 p.m.

    Interesting article, Mr. Kennedy. Thank you.

  2. Ric Fonseca, February 4, 2018 at 3:39 p.m.

    Wow a flash from the past!  I remember only too well the time they had a huge (AGM???) meeting in Century City (Los Angeles/Beverly Hills) at a major Hotel on  Century Blvd, and the politicking going on! There was Chuck Cale, Hank S, Scott LeTellier, and several others whose name I don't recall offhand, and even then a young guy who scurried absout and litted here and there... none other than SG.  It was a night to remember, the intrigue, the talk, and food and drinks, and even the author of the article Julie Cart (?) that she wrote and published in the Los Angeles Times.  The So Cal soccer heavies were there also, from the adult, youth (competitive and recreational) leagues, affiliated and unaffiliated, and a short time thereafter, Alan Rothenberg became the US Soccer President, and we "got" the World Cup. Mr. Fricker was a nice guy, but then again, as they say, change is inevitable and always happens!  PLAY ON!!!

  3. Kenneth Barr, February 4, 2018 at 5:16 p.m.

    Very interesting article.  1990 was a pivitol year and at that time, Rothenberg was seen as a reformer that would shake up the old guard to the benefit of the US Soccer comunity.  He certainly started US Soccer down the road of financial success but he may also have put in the heads of leadership that the bottom line should have more weight thatn the game itself.  HIs accomplishments include the highly successful 1994 Men's World Cup tournament, the founding of MLS (the trophy was once named for him) and laying the groundwork for both the 1999 WOmen's World Cup and the WUSA.  NOw, times have changed and new ideas and new priorities must be examined and implemented if the entire US Soccer program is to move forward.  Professional and amateur, adult and youth, men's and women's games need fresh ideas and leadership.  I hope the delegates take their responsibilities seriously as the election comes to pass.

  4. Roger Faulkner, February 5, 2018 at 10:51 a.m.

    Good stuff, Paul. However I thought the last contested election was in Hawaii when Richard Groff ran against Alan.

  5. Roger Faulkner replied, February 5, 2018 at 11:21 a.m.

    Ah. You were referring to Irlando specifically.

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