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Tommy Soehn has seen it all

07/18/2013, 7:15pm CDT
By Ryan Lund

The collective soccer experience of the minds behind this year’s Schwan’s USA CUP is understandably vast.  From sporting officials and marketing professionals, to FIFA-caliber referees and Minnesota soccer aficionados, it takes a small army of experienced personnel to keep America’s largest youth soccer tournament running.

But one of those show-runners, MLS veteran Tom Soehn, has a bit more soccer experience than most.  

Tommy Soehn has come a long way from his days playing with the Wichita Wings to being appointed the NSC's Director of Soccer Development

Soehn serves as the National Sports Center’s Director of Soccer Development, a title that he took on after two decades spent playing and coaching at American soccer’s highest levels.

And following a career that spanned nearly a dozen professional leagues, four MLS franchises and a number of league and national titles, Tom Soehn just couldn’t stay away.

Born in Chicago in the late 1960’s Soehn got his soccer start with the Chicago Kicks early on, advancing through the organization throughout his youth soccer career.

“I was probably one of the few kids who played through one club his whole childhood,” he says. “I’m still part of that club, as a director of soccer, although my brother has kind of taken that over.”

From Chicago, Soehn moved to Kansas, where he embarked on the first leg of his 24-year professional career, as a member of the Indoor Major Soccer League’s Wichita Wings.

“It was a great learning experience and a great place to start as a rookie,” he said. “Wichita was just a great memory.”

It was during this time that Soehn found his way to his second professional soccer destination, the Ottawa Intrepid of the Canadian Soccer League.

The move to the CSL signaled the start of Soehn’s journeyman run through the United States’ constantly shifting professional soccer landscape, as leagues would fold, and new leagues sprung up to take their place.

Soehn has fond memories of his years in the pros, noting that all eight of the leagues in which he played shared one common trait.

“First I folded MISL, and then they changed and went to MSL; that folded,” he says with a laugh. “I folded the CISL, the CSL, the A League, the APSL, the NPSL; I folded eight leagues.”

Nine however, would prove to be Soehn’s magic number.

After a stint with the CISL’s Las Vegas Dust Devils , Soehn’s career finally intersected with U.S. Soccer’s long-gestating pet project: a Division 1 professional league known as Major League Soccer.

MLS held its inaugural player draft in 1996, where he was drafted thirteenth overall by the Dallas Burn.

“It was a time where soccer was struggling to find a footprint, so leagues came and went,” he said. “And there were a lot of guys who at least kept the idea of pro soccer alive by playing in those leagues, and I was one of them.”

But while his stints in those original eight leagues never lasted more than a few years, Tom Soehn and MLS were in it for the long haul.

After an ACL tear forced him to miss most of MLS’ inaugural season, Soehn returned to Dallas in 1997, before a change of scenery brought the former journeyman home to stay.

Dallas had traded Soehn to his hometown team, the Chicago Fire, and he couldn’t have been happier.

“It was great getting traded back home to finish my career there,” he said.  “To my knowledge it’s the only expansion franchise to win a league championship in its first year.  We won the MLS Cup and we won the US Open Cup.”

Soehn and the Fire would follow those initial titles with another Open Cup in 2000, before the Chicago-native finally decided to call it quits, ending his career on his home turf, in a match at historic Soldier Field.

Retirement was hardly the end for Soehn however, who immediately caught on as an assistant coach with Chicago, before moving to DC United in 2003 as head coach Piotr Nowak’s top assistant before taking over for Nowak in 2007.

Three Supporters’ Shields and one U.S. Open Cup later during his time as an assistant and head coach in Washington, Soehn made his way to Vancouver to become the Whitecaps’ Director of Soccer Operations, eventually taking the reins following the dismissal of embattled head coach Tietur Thordarson in 2011.

Finally, after nearly three decades of professional soccer, Soehn’s desire to settle down finally brought an end to his professional career in 2012.

“I wanted to give the kids somewhere to call home,” he said. “It was time after 24 years of pro sports”

The insecurity, the constant movement, made a life outside of professional sports particularly attractive, an end that Blaine and the National Sports Center helped to fulfill.

“We thought that living by soccer fields would be a good thing,” he said, referring to his 4 children.

And just as his kids became involved in the Blaine soccer scene, Soehn became active as well.

Soehn’s experience made him a perfect candidate to continue developing the NSC’s youth soccer programs.

“It’s different, it’s definitely not as stressful,” Soehn says of his new profession.  “Although this week might qualify.”

“This week” refers to his involvement in Schwan’s USA CUP, where the MLS veteran has been actively involved in shaping both the Super Elite and Kick Cancer programs.

Despite his rookie status, Soehn has already developed a fondness for the tournament.

“It’s definitely less stressful,” he said.  “I wouldn’t say that it’s stress working USA CUP, but with so many moving pieces, it definitely feels like my old job.”

Of particular interest to Soehn has been the development of U.S. youth soccer, an expansion that USA CUP serves to showcase.

“There are so many things that have rebounded from that time,” he says of his early days spent bouncing from league to league. “After hosting the World Cup [in 1994] lots of resources went into youth development, to put youth soccer on a pedestal, and it’s just taken off from there.”

His most memorable USA CUP moment however, remains his involvement with Kick Cancer representative Kyle O’Connor and NSSA Phoenix, known as “the Pink Team” across campus.

“Dealing with Kyle and the Pink Team was pretty amazing.  You have chilling moments, well seeing him light the torch and what it meant to him, I don’t know how anybody couldn’t feel that when it happened,” he said.  “And standing right there, seeing how it affected him and his coach and his teammates, it was just a moment you don’t forget.”

And while Soehn has left his professional soccer past behind as his focus has shifted to his family, he still recalls his pro years fondly.  Soehn has even taken the time during USA CUP to check out a familiar squad, the Wichita Warriors, a happy reminder of his rookie season with the Wings.

He also remains deeply connected to youth soccer, both through his children, and through his youth club, the Chicago Kicks.

Soehn built a new facility for the club during his Chicago Fire days, and sees its development as part of his duty as a player who has enjoyed so much success in the sport.

“That was my start with youth soccer, so having a strong youth connection in the United States is really important to me,” he said.  “Because it gave me the opportunity to do something that I love as my career. So giving back makes sense.”

Tom Soehn’s pro days may be behind him, but his commitment to youth soccer, to USA CUP, and to the game, is stronger than ever.

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Tag(s): July 18, 2013