The overlapping Werner Fricker

An important difference between the administration of the U.S. Soccer Federation in the last 20 years and its administration in earlier years has been the backgrounds of the people running the show. In the last two decades, they have largely been people with substantial backgrounds in business and other professions. For much of the earlier decades, those roles were filled by people, frequently with backgrounds on the ethnic side of American soccer, who brought lots of enthusiasm to the task but often not the business experience of their successors.

There was a bridge between those two groups. His name was Werner Fricker, he had a foot in each of those camps, and he was president of the USSF from 1984 to 1990.

Fricker definitely had the background in ethnic soccer. He was born in Yugoslavia in 1935, emigrated to the United States in 1952 and played for the United German-Hungarians team of Oakford, Pa., from 1954 to 1969. He captained that team to victory in the National Amateur Cup tournament in 1965, and played for the United States in Olympic qualifying.

Fricker also was a solid businessman. He started as a carpenter in the 1950s, and over the subsequent decades, he built his company, the Fricker Corp., into one of the leading real-estate development firms in the Philadelphia area, a significant builder of both houses and office buildings.

He similarly rose through the ranks of soccer administrators, serving as president of his club, of the league that it played in, and of the Eastern Pennsylvania state association. In 1983, when he was a vice president of the USSF, Fricker was one of the leaders of the United States bid to become host of the 1986 World Cup after Colombia withdrew as host. That bid lost, but the work Fricker did on it caught the attention of NASL leaders and their support helped to propel Fricker to election as the USSF president in 1984.

Fricker's business acumen helped to make a significant improvement in the USSF's financial situation, but the most visible highlight of Fricker's six years as USSF president was the successful bid for the 1994 World Cup. The FIFA vote, in which the United States defeated Brazil and Morocco, came on July 4, 1988. The following year, the greatest turning point in American soccer history, the clinching of a first World Cup berth in 40 years and the goal by Paul Caligiuri that made it possible, took place on Fricker's watch.

Although Fricker was instrumental in getting the 1994 World Cup for the United States, he didn't preside over it. In 1990, FIFA decided that the job of running that World Cup called for a bigger businessman than Fricker, specifically a high-powered Los Angeles lawyer named Alan Rothenberg, and supported Rothenberg's bid to be elected president of the USSF. Rothenberg won (and did a very good job of running a successful World Cup), and Fricker faded out of the picture. Fricker's legacy remains, however, not just as the man who brought the World Cup to the United States for the first time, but as an important bridge between eras in American soccer.