This time last year, a break from work for Seth Stammler meant walking to the side of a field and picking up a water bottle as he tried to catch his breath in the midst of a tough practice.
Now, however, a time out for Stammler involves taking a study break to go to Potbelly’s for a sandwich, then returning to the library about half an hour later to hit the books hard again. It is finals after all.
Stammler, the former versatile midfielder and defender for the Red Bulls who spent seven years with the club, retired from professional soccer last fall to enroll in the University of Chicago Booth School of Business to study analytical finance.
Now set to turn 30 years old this September, Stammler will be honored this Friday night at Red Bull Arena for his more than 140 appearances for the club. A pregame ceremony will honor a player for whom the supporters section still sings a song called “One Shoe.”
“It was some game early in my career and my shoe fell off and I had to play a minute or something like that with just the one shoe till I could put the other one back on,” Stammler told MLSsoccer.com. “A couple weeks after that, some fans reached out to me and asked if they could print T-shirts about it. Then, the next home game, I heard the fans singing the song, holding up their shoes in the air. It made me laugh in the game.”
Stammler has plenty of memories during his time with the club. When he retired last year, he was the longest tenured player with the Red Bulls, and the decision to call it quits when he was just 28 was a difficult one. He was still playing at a high level and contributing to a team that last year was having its best season in a decade.
On paper and for many fans, it was a head-scratching decision by Stammler to leave the club just weeks before New York were set to enter the playoffs. But after conversations with former teammate Jordan Cila — himself in finance — and others in the business world, Stammler knew it was his time to leave the game and get back to school.
“If I could have my cake and eat it too, go back to school and continue to live my childhood dream of playing soccer, I would have done it,” Stammler said. “But the reality of the situation was that I couldn’t do that, it just wouldn’t make sense. It wasn’t an easy decision.”
Part of the reason why Stammler remains an icon to many fans was that he was always the one player who’d make every public appearance, sign each game-day program thrust in his face by a young player, pose for every picture. And through his Sporting Chance Foundation — which he started after a humanitarian trip to Haiti with then teammates Jozy Altidore, Jerrod Laventure and music star Wyclef Jean — Stammler continues to make a difference.
“We’re still going strong and still having fundraisers to raise money to help the people in Haiti,” Stammler said. “I recently went down to Haiti on another trip and one of the things I did was a clinic through Challenge Athletes for amputees. It was very rewarding.”
And Friday night, Stammler will get his reward in front of the fans who love him so much.
“I was fortunate to play my full seven years here in New York — it was great,” Stammler said. “Obviously, it was a difficult decision to pull the plug on my last year there, but I have many wonderful memories.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer