MLSsoccer.com continues its look back at the stars, personalities and cult heroes who made Major League Soccer what it is today. Our third annual “What Ever Happened To..." series rolls on with former US national team boss and 2000 MLS Coach of the Year Bob Gansler.
Where He Was Then
It was the summer of 1990, 40 years after the US had last participated in the World Cup. A team full of mostly college kids set foot on a field in Florence, Italy, with the entire world watching, and prepared to do battle in the world’s greatest sporting event.
It had been a long, tough slog to get back to the World Cup. The NASL – and a handful of other, lesser leagues – had come and gone. There had been a series of failed qualifying campaigns. And the fact that the US were to host the 1994 tournament had raised eyebrows around the globe.
But that wasn’t on the mind of the man on the sidelines that day in Italy. Bob Gansler was tasked with guiding the upstart Yanks, and he’d gotten Job 1 done merely by qualifying. Putting in a strong showing in the second game of the group stage – a 1-0 loss to the hosts that required a Walter Zenga miracle save to preserve the win for the Azzurri – and some dynamic attacking play in transition showed that his US team were more than just a curiosity: They were the future of the sport in the US.
Fourteen of Gansler’s squad went on to play in MLS. Seven played crucial roles in further US World Cup campaigns. And as for the coach, he’s one of just three in MLS history to win the MLS Cup, the Supporters’ Shield and the US Open Cup.
The other two are Bruce Arena and Sigi Schmid. You may have heard of them.
Where He Is Now
“I do as little as possible, and hopefully, I do that well.”
Gansler is fibbing.
And he’s entitled to – at 71 years old he is, after all, the US manager emeritus. He self-identifies first and foremost as a proud grandfather, husband and father, and happily talks about the members of that 1990 US squad who’ve gone on to run clubs of their own (there has been a bunch, including San Jose GM John Doyle and Sporting KC boss Peter Vermes).
But he doesn’t do “as little as possible.” As it turns out, Gansler has just recently been in Southern California, where he was working for the US Soccer Federation running a licensing course for new coaches. He also works for the NSCAA, from whom he received the Charlotte Moran Long Term Service Award this past November. Plus he does some coaching for the Wisconsin state federation.
And when that’s not enough, there’s always the local youth club. It’s a four-and-a-half mile walk from his home in suburban Milwaukee to the practice facilities, which is just about right.
“People tell me, as of right now, that I still make a little bit of sense,” Gansler quips. “So they keep calling me back.”
The 45-minute conversation is filled with that kind of self-deprecating humor. Born in Hungary before moving to the US with his family in his youth, Gansler is the prototype of so many American players and coaches who’ve followed a similar path. He was raised with soccer, and also with baseball. He’s a student of the world’s game, but he brings a fiercely American perspective.
“Learn from everyone,” Gansler explains. “Copy from no one.”
That’s the advice he gives young coaches today, and the motto by which he ran his teams when he was on the sidelines.
“I know you young folks are very impatient,” Gansler explains. “It has to be Spain, and Barcelona-esque yesterday instead of tomorrow, but … this is an evolutionary thing. And the evolution is coming along quite well.”
Gansler has the stature to say that and make it count, thanks both to his coaching resume and his playing resume. He was capped 25 times for the US back in the 1960s, during a generation which never came within shouting distance of the World Cup proper. His great Kansas City teams of the early 2000s – they won the MLS Cup/Shield double in 2000 playing a 3-5-2, and the Open Cup in 2004 playing a 4-4-2 – played in mostly empty Arrowhead Stadium.
He’s been part of the process at every turn for half a century. He’s seen new styles formations and tactics come and go. And through good times and bad, he’s convinced that it’s all heading in the right direction.
“We got lucky [in 1990],” Gansler says. “We picked some guys who not only could play the game, but who could continue to develop themselves as players, as administrators, as coaches.”
And as the future of American soccer. Doyle and Vermes both won titles last year (a Shield for Doyle’s Quakes, a USOC for Vermes in KC). Tab Ramos is about to guide the US U-20s into World Cup qualifying. Eric Wynalda is putting his stamp on the new NASL down in Atlanta.
Those were just some of the guys Gansler built around. He was second-guessed, and then when MLS started in 1996, had to prove himself for three years in the second tier with the Milwaukee Rampage before getting his shot with KC.
It turns out he had it right all along.
What They Said
“Absolutely a great identifier of talent. If you look at the first five to 10 years of [MLS], I'll bet you Bob identified 80 percent of those guys. That’s saying a lot. And the other is that I’m a big believer that every coach has to have his personality. His personality is that he’s a very stoic guy – when he says something you listen. He’s E.F. Hutton – maybe he doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does talk, everybody is like ‘OK, I’ve got it.’”
– Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes