Our Game. Our Stories.
The essence of soccer is captured in the fact that it connects a wide variety of people in a dynamic way. As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, we are profiling 20 individuals who have made a significant impact on the game of soccer or who have been impacted by soccer in a positive way. Here, we will show you the diversity of the beautiful game and how it connects everyone as one universal team...Together, We Are Soccer.
This is our game and these are our stories. Be sure to visit our site every week to see who we feature next!
Marla Messing began her career in soccer as the Executive Vice President of the 1994 FIFA World Cup. Following the first-ever U.S. World Cup, Messing served as Senior Vice President of Major League Soccer, where she worked on the successful launch of the league and oversaw the opening game in San Jose, CA in 1996. In 1997, she became President & CEO of the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup - the largest women's sporting event in history and one of the most defining moments in U.S. Soccer. Previously, Messing worked as a lawyer for Latham & Watkins in Los Angeles, where she worked with Alan Rothenberg, the former president of the U.S. Soccer Federation and Founder of the U.S. Soccer Foundation.
Messing has served on the Board of Directors of the U.S. Soccer Foundation and the Executive Committee and Board of Directors of the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games.
How did you get involved in soccer? Did you play as a kid?
I did not play as a kid. Unfortunately, I am a little old to have seen the real impact of Title IX. I got involved in soccer when I was working as a corporate attorney. Alan Rothenberg, then President of US Soccer and CEO of the 1994 World Cup, was also a partner at the law firm, and he worked down the hall from me. He was looking for someone to join him at the World Cup Organizing Committee, to work as his assistant on special projects for the World Cup. Although I didn’t know much about soccer or the World Cup, Alan knew I had a strong work ethic and I was really excited about the position. He hired me, and I began working for the World Cup in March of 1992. I thought the World Cup position would be a temporary break from a career as a corporate attorney. But, the World Cup led to the start of Major League Soccer, which led to my taking the position of President/CEO of the 1999 Women’s World Cup. In all, I ended up spending 10 years working in professional soccer.
At the Foundation, we believe soccer is a powerful tool for social change and youth development. How have you seen the game make a positive impact on your own children or in your own community?
All three of my children have played AYSO Soccer since they were 5 years old. In our community, and in communities like it around the country, AYSO soccer is as much a part of growing up as Little League Baseball used to be. ALL the kids do it, but in the case of soccer, all kids – both male and female – do it. It’s such a part of the community, and it helps kids cross pollinate with kids from other schools. In our community, it is the way kids meet each other outside of their school friends. Further, my two oldest daughters, Natalie (17), and Samantha (15) have played club soccer since they were 10 years old. This is another community to which we belong. In addition to meeting another cross section of kids, they have met really talented players and coaches, and they have learned the real benefits of playing on a team. They have learned how to win and lose, how to adjust their game when they had to, how to create opportunities when they are being shut down by a strong defender. They have learned so many life lessons. I know the game will have a lasting impact on their lives. Moreover, many of their teammates have gone on to play in college. This is another impact of the game. It has created collegiate opportunities for girls that may not otherwise exist. We owe a huge debt to the sport of soccer. It’s a big part of our family.
Through Soccer for Success, the Foundation’s free, afterschool soccer program, we teach kids about proper nutrition and the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle. What are some of your favorite ways to stay active and healthy?
Personally, I am an avid runner and have been since I was 15 years old. I still run 3-4 times/week, usually 4-5 miles per run. I also work out in a gym, lifting weights and doing agility exercises. And, finally, I do pilates. Notwithstanding all of the above, I have to say that it does get harder to stay in shape as I get older. Sigh.
The final match of the 1999 Women’s World Cup is arguably the most defining moment in U.S. Women’s Soccer history. What is your favorite memory from that day in Pasadena?
There are so many great memories from that day: two great teams, fighting like warriors; Michele Akers leaving everything on the field; Kristine Lilly’s header off the post; Mia Hamm’s many shots on goal; Brianna Scurry defending penalty kicks; and the five girls on the US Team that took PKs, culminating in Brandi Chastain’s left-footed winner. All of those things resonate with me from that day. As the organizer of the event, one of the most satisfying parts was knowing that we played a part in inspiring 94,000 people to show up to the stadium that day to bear witness to all of those tremendous athletic achievements.
You’ve seen the game grow and change dramatically over the course of your career. How do you envision the state of soccer in America in another 20 years? How can we continue to grow the game?
The game has grown tremendously in the last 20 years. When we were organizing the World Cup, nobody (save for Alan Rothenberg) thought we were going to fill NFL stadiums with fans. Nobody thought anyone would watch on TV. In general, people did not care about soccer. Today, there is a thriving men’s professional league, a bourgeoning women’s league, millions of children playing the game, and tremendous interest in international soccer. If the US hosted the World Cup today, tickets would be sold out in hours. I have friends who now travel around the world to see their favorite teams – Barcelona, AC Milan, Manchester United. This wasn’t happening 20 years ago. In another 20 years, I can only assume it will all be even bigger. More kids playing, if that’s possible. Better TV ratings for MLS. US rights for the World Cup in the billions of dollars. It will look a lot more like Major League Baseball or the National Football League. But, it will be even bigger because those sports will never have the international penetration or interest that already exists with soccer. As they say, the sky is the limit.
If you could only pick one word to describe soccer, it would be …