U.S. Soccer presidential race: 1994 election in trivia

Four years after unseating Werner Fricker for U.S. Soccer president, Alan Rothenberg ran for re-election.

The 1994 AGM in San Diego came a month after the wildly successful World Cup USA 1994 -- record attendance, heightened interest in soccer across the country and a better-than-expected U.S. finish -- whose organizing committee Rothenberg ran.

Amazingly, Rothenberg almost lost. He led treasurer Richard Groff by only two percentage points after the first ballot and only pulled away on the second ballot after vice president Hank Des Bordes pulled out. (U.S. Soccer term limits in place limited him to two four-year terms.)

Reasons for the close race are multiple. Sure, there was some intriguing resentment from old-time federation members about how the outsider Rothenberg had unseated Fricker in 1990.

Now the insider, Rothenberg was viewed with suspicion by some members. He had not been paid for his work as the head of the organizing committee but there were rumors he was in line to receive a nice bonus. (Those rumors proved to be true: $3 million plus "back pay due" of another $4 million, the Los Angeles Times later reported.)

Members worried about what Major League Soccer, which Rothenberg was pushing, would mean for the federation. (Haven't we heard that recently?)

Like the 1990 election, and the current election in some ways, the 1994 election came down to a business feud. During the World Cup, U.S. Soccer announced that Nike -- which was just starting to make a move into soccer -- would replace long-time sponsor adidas as its jersey supplier.

Adidas owner Robert Louis-Dreyfus intended to destroy the careers of those responsible for the Nike deal. (U.S. Soccer secretary general Hank Steinbrecher had a signed resignation letter ready just in case.)

Louis-Dreyfus, who later bought French club Marseille and after his death in 2009 became linked to the German World Cup bid scandal, pushed to sign up as many members as possible to adidas deals to win their support in a bid to unseat Rothenberg. And he came close.

1994 Presidential percentage vote totals:
48.9% Alan Rothenberg
46.9% Richard Groff
4.2% Hank Des Bordes

53.6% Alan Rothenberg
46.4% Richard Groff

Here is some 1994 election trivia to put in context the cast of characters who were involved and what transpired.

1. Name the official who presided over the National Council, following in the footsteps of his famous Concacaf partner in crime.

The late Chuck Blazer, the Concacaf general secretary, presided over the meeting. In 1990, Trinidadian Jack Warner was in charge of the election. In 2013, Blazer pleaded guilty to racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering and served as an FBI informant, helping build the case that in 2015 led to charges being filed by U.S. authorities against Warner and others.

At the 1990 National Council, election rules weren't codified. Blazer ordered the second ballot to commence immediately after the results of the first ballot were announced. (In Saturday's election, there will be a 10-minute break between rounds.)

2. How many times did FIFA president Joao Havelange evoke Rothenberg's name, praising him at a dinner held on the eve of the election?

Seventeen times, Havelange, speaking with his deep voice in Spanish, finished off each American soccer accomplishment with the name of the person responsible: "Y su nombre es -- Alan Rothenberg." When you added Ric Fonseca's translation, that made 34 times Rothenberg's name was mentioned. As Soccer America's Duncan Irving wrote, "Subliminal advertising is not Havelange's strength."

Why invite Havelange? "He insisted he came, so he did," said Rothenberg. And what was Rothenberg's reaction to the speech? "It was a little heavier handed than I'd have written it. I was cringing."

3. What was the name of Rothenberg's campaign slogan and what was the shape of buttons handed out?

Hundreds of buttons were passed out with the slogan "Keep Alan. He wins, we win." They were shaped in the form of a kid's sheriff badge. At the pre-dinner reception, buttons were pinned on the lapels of Mexican soccer supremo Guillermo Canedo and Havelange. Bora Milutinovic, the U.S. national team coach who came to lobby for Rothenberg, wore his Alan button upside down.

4. What happened to Milutinovic?

"I have been here on holiday," Bora said upon arriving in San Diego. "But I have come to support my president. If he goes, I go." Well, Rothenberg stayed, and Milutinovic was out as national team coach by the next March.

5. What politicians endorsed Rothenberg?

After the AGM dinner on the eve of the election, "Vote for Rothenberg" pamphlets were distributed with endorsements from former U.S. president George H. W. Bush and current vice president Al Gore.

The four-page pamphlets also included endorsements from the heads of various state associations. As SA's Irving noted, there was also a grim picture of life without Rothenberg if he didn't win. "No Hank, no Bora, no league."

6. In 1990, the pro vote -- the indoor Major Soccer League -- swung the election for Rothenberg. How did the pro vote go in 1994?

Major Soccer League ceased to exist, but there were now four pro leagues: the summer indoor Continental Indoor Soccer League, the winter indoor National Professional Soccer League, the United States Interregional Soccer League, which started out as an indoor league before moving outdoors, and the outdoor American Professional Soccer League.

The CISL and NPSL opposed Rothenberg because of their fears about what impending MLS would do to the indoor game, and the APSL, which was feuding with MLS over Division I sanctioning, also opposed Rothenberg. (Sound familiar?)

The USISL -- we called it "You-sizzle" -- was the brainchild of Francisco Marcos, whose support for Rothenberg swung the election.

All these years later, the USL, the USISL's successor league, might swing Saturday's presidential election.

7. How did Louis-Dreyfus' bid to oust Rothenberg work out?

One of the sponsorship deals adidas signed was with the Amateur Division (now known as the U.S. Adult Soccer Association). Insider estimates were that 70 percent of the amateurs -- one-third of electorate -- voted for Rothenberg.

3 comments about "U.S. Soccer presidential race: 1994 election in trivia".
  1. Wooden Ships, February 8, 2018 at 2:36 p.m.

    I never liked Nike’ inroads into soccer. Did pockets get padded? USISL, began as SISL (Southwest Indoor Soccer League). I knew our own Ric Fonseca had translated during that speech, very cool to have it mentioned here. 

  2. Ric Fonseca replied, February 8, 2018 at 2:50 p.m.

    WS:  First thanks fo SA for including my name as the J. Havelange's translator. One embarrassing moment during the translations was because he - Havelange - spoke rather fast especially during the last moments, I had to stop, turn around (he had resumed seating behind me) and had to ask him to repeat what he had just said and did so because he did not want nor like his  translators and or interpreters to keep translation notes.  Gee, I wonder why?
    As for Nike getting into soccer, it is now one of the most favored brands that players buy, but what the heck, as long as people continue buying proper soccer gear, I'd say; PLAY ON!!!

  3. humble 1, February 8, 2018 at 2:40 p.m.

    interesting stuff...we have come a long way...but some of the high level turf wars are on the same fronts...meanwhile...youth soccer landscape has been turned upside down since pivot away from HS, Colleges and ODP by having put almost all eggs in the DA/MLS basket.  Hope Solo in PA forum really does a good job of sharing how ODP worked for her and others, back in the day.  Now in my area, I understand boys talent goes to DA (and maybe now ECNL-boys).  ODP is precieved as a dry well.  Anyway - interesting look back, had not heard of U-Sizzle! Thanks!  

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