PORTLAND, Ore. (MainStreet) Just how much do owners of major U.S. sports teams know or care about the World Cup?
Quite a bit, actually.
One of the wonders of the global marketplace is the ability to influence various sports on multiple continents just by having the capital to fund them. Entrepreneur and financial services mastermind Thomas di Benedetto is a member of the Boston Red Sox ownership group. He's been an owner of Italian Serie A club A.S. Roma and, briefly, its president.
Former MBNA Chairman Randy Lerner owns Aston Villa of the English Premier League, but also had controlling interest in the Cleveland Browns. Lamar Hunt not only helped build the North American Soccer League and Major League Soccer, but did so after founding the American Football League and owning its Kansas City Chiefs. The U.S. Open Cup soccer tournament an open competition between all U.S. professional soccer leagues that has taken place since 1914 was named after him.
There are plenty of other owners in U.S. professional sports that share a love of soccer and have invested millions in owning and operating soccer clubs around the world. The following eight have not only managed to multitask, but did so while employing soccer talent that made it onto national team rosters throughout this World Cup:
U.S. team: Jacksonville Jaguars (NFL)
Soccer team: Fulham (EPL)
When he's not ripping thousands of seats out of EverBank Field, installing pools and cabanas and trying to keep is NFL franchise in one of the league's smallest markets viable, Illinois-based auto parts magnate Shahid Khan is a soccer guy.
In 2013, more than a year after buying the Jaguars, Khan bought London-based English Premier League club Fulham for an estimated $300 million to $400 million. Fulham played so poorly in the ensuing season it was relegated to the Premier League's second tier, immediately erasing much of its value.
Still, the club has been competitive in recent years, taking second place in the UEFA Europa League in 2010, and has produced such World Cup-worthy alums as England coach Roy Hodgson and U.S. captain Clint Dempsey. Even in a dreadful season that resulted in Fulham's expulsion from the EPL's top echelon, Fulham managed to field a squad that included World Cup talent midfielder Ashkan Dejagah of Iran and strikers Kostas Mitroglou of Greece and Hugo Rodallega of Colombia.
U.S. team: Seattle Seahawks (NFL)
Soccer team: Seattle Sounders (MLS)
Sure, the Microsoft co-founder and his Seahawks added a Super Bowl win to their history and a Lombardi Trophy to their case at CenturyLink Field, but Allen's soccer accomplishments are only slightly less remarkable.
The Sounders have drawn more than 40,000 fans to each match since joining Major League Soccer 2009. That's not only the best attendance in Major League Soccer, but regularly better than the crowds drawn by Major League Baseball's Seattle Mariners just across the street.
Thanks to a $9 million payment to Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur last year and $5 million a year after that until 2016, U.S. captain Clint Dempsey is now a Sounders fixture. Two of his Seattle teammates midfielder Brad Evans and defender DeAndre Yedlin also made the cut for the U.S. team and joined Dempsey in Brazil.
It was once an accepted soccer truth that U.S. players had to be culled from European squads if they were expected to be any good. The Sounders are doing their best to debunk that notion.
U.S. team: New England Patriots (NFL)
Soccer team: New England Revolution (MLS)
One of the best bits of writing a soccer fan could read going into the World Cup was the Boston Magazine piece on Bob Kraft and his perceived ambivalence about his soccer club.
As the piece mentions, there's good reason to be conflicted. Kraft was one of the few owners not named Hunt or Anschutz when MLS first began. He's one of the league's founders and has kept the Revolution alive during its darkest moments so much so that it made the MLS Cup final for four consecutive years in the mid-2000s. Kraft propped up the San Jose Earthquakes in 1999 and 2000 and has kept the Revolution stable and solvent.
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He's also kept them 40 miles from Boston in a stadium built for Patriots football that includes only the Patriot Place mall as an ancillary draw. He's passed on high-priced talent such as Dempsey or Michael Bradley and he's only discussed a soccer-specific stadium in Somerville, Mass., in ambiguous terms. In a region that includes Liverpool owner John Henry and his Fenway Sports Group with Liverpool FC, AS Roma owners Thomas DiBenedetto and Jim Pallotta and Millwall FC owner/Chestnut Hill Ventures chairman and CEO John Berylson, Kraft doesn't even rank among the better club owners.
But for all the Patriots' visible successes and Super Bowl wins, Kraft seems to prefer smaller victories for the Revs. Unless you count ESPN commentator and former Revolution player Taylor Twellman, the Revolution's greatest contribution to this year's World Cup is Honduran forward Jerry Bengston. That's it. We know they're not exactly back-page fodder for the Herald, but a team with 20 years of tradition behind it deserves more than crowds of 12,000 and only one World Cup participant.
U.S. team: Lon Angeles Lakers (NBA), Los Angeles Kings (NHL)
Soccer team: Los Angeles Galaxy and Houston Dynamo (MLS)
At one point, this man and his Anschutz Entertainment Group owned a half dozen MLS teams at the same time. The oil, land, rail and entertainment baron propped up the league for years while taking huge losses, but ended up with two of its most successful franchises.
The Galaxy and Dynamo have accounted for one-third of all MLS Cup wins and faced each other for the title twice in 2011 and 2012. The Galaxy have routinely brought in high-profile talent such as David Beckham, Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and Juan-Pablo Angel, while the Dynamo have made their presence felt in the West with lower-profile signings and sustained success.
Not surprisingly, the two Anschutz teams are loaded with World Cup talent. Though Donovan didn't make the cut, Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez joined the U.S. in Brazil. Houston midfielder Brad Davis has a spot on the U.S. squad as well, but Houston's biggest contributions are felt in Honduras. Midfielders Alexander Lopez and Oskar Boniek Garcia each cost the Dynamo six figures as high-priced "designated players," but each also plays a vital role in Honduras' World Cup run.
The Glazer family
U.S. team: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL)
Soccer team: Manchester United (EPL)
The recent death of family figurehead Malcom Glazer came at a tough time for each of the family's sports ventures.
The Buccaneers kept the majority of their home games off local television from 2010 through 2012 as the recession decimated Tampa and St. Petersburg's economy. Meanwhile, the Bucs slid from winning and respectable to a league laughingstock in recent years watching franchise quarterback Josh Freeman leave and firing heavy-handed coach Greg Schiano after just two seasons.
It was even worse in Manchester, where heavily decorated United saw legendary, long-standing manager Alex Ferguson leave last year and replacement David Moyes fare horribly in his wake before being fired this year. United finished seventh in the Premier League last season, winning the whole thing just a year earlier. It hasn't won a League Cup since 2010, which wouldn't be nearly so bad if crosstown rival Manchester City hadn't won two EPL titles, a League Cup and an FA Cup title over that span.
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But because Manchester is still the most valuable club in soccer and has its pick of global talent, it's still sending a ton of players off to the World Cup this year. England alone includes United's Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Danny Welbeck and famed striker Wayne Rooney among its ranks. Belgium took midfielders Adnan Januzaj and Marouane Fellaini, while The Netherlands already reaped the benefits of taking United strikers Robin Van Persie after his two-goal performance against Spain including a running header to open the scoring. Those goals came at the expense of United keeper David de Gea and midfielder Juan Mata who joined the Spanish team in Brazil but with this many players going, there's bound to be some overlap.
Including Mexican striker Juan "Chicharito" Hernandez, Ecuadorean midfielder Antonio Valencia, Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa, Portuguese midfielder Nani and French defender Patrice Evra, United is sending enough players to Brazil to field a team of its own. If the Glazers could just get all that talent to mesh at Old Trafford, perhaps they wouldn't be playing second fiddle to City.
Lewis N. Wolff
U.S. team: Oakland A's (MLB)
Soccer team: San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)
Your opinion of Lewis Wolff really depends on which of his teams you're rooting for.
The co-chairman of Sunstone Investors is reshaping San Jose, which naturally has folks there a little nervous. He's made a whole lot of money as a real estate investor, which has paid off for Earthquakes fans who not only got their team back in 2008 after Anschutz moved it to Houston two years earlier, but are getting a soccer-specific stadium in San Jose next year. No more playing in Stanford's building or at Santa Clara University. No more roaming from Santa Clara to San Francisco. No more nomads.
That's great, but Wolff has been somewhat less committed to the A's future. The O.Co Coliseum is a nightmare of a building, with decaying infrastructure, sewage that backs into locker rooms and a layout that doesn't lend itself well to baseball. But Wolff's plans for ballparks in San Jose and Fremont have not only angered fans but routinely ticked off the San Francisco Giants, who feel Wolff is trying to encroach on their turf.
The optimist's view is that at least he's getting the soccer part right. His Earthquakes are home to U.S. national team veteran forward Chris Wondolowski, whose presence on the bench is invaluable with starting striker Jozy Altidore injured. Meanwhile, defender Victor Berndardez booked his ticket to Brazil with the Honduran national team. If you're thinking this is an awful lot of Honduran players mentioned so far, you're not wrong. The six players MLS is sending to the World Cup via Honduras is second only to the number of players it's contributing to the U.S. squad.
U.S. team: St. Louis Rams (NFL)
Soccer team: Arsenal (EPL)/Colorado Rapids (MLS)
When he's not mugging his native St. Louis for stadium money it promised but doesn't have, Stan Kroenke is running one of the most valuable franchises in the EPL and one of the longest tenured in MLS.
Guess which one is sending way more players to the World Cup?
Arsenal has nearly a dozen players in Brazil. Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla; English midfielders Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere; French striker Oliver Giroud and defenders Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna; German defender Per Mertesacker (Arsenal), midfielder Mesut Ozil and forward Lukas Podolski; Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen; and Korean striker Park Chu-young are just a goalkeeper away from being a team unto themselves.
While it hasn't won a Premier League title since the Thierry Henry era in 2004, Arsenal just took the FA Cup this year and remains a force under manager Arsene Wenger. The Rapids, meanwhile, won the MLS Cup back in 2010 but have nobody going to the World Cup just four years later. Kroenke owns the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche as well and has established a working relationship between the Rapids and Arsenal, but his club in London is still the pride of his Kroenke Sports Enterprises. For now, it's also his only soccer holding that's making its presence known at the World Cup.
John Henry/Fenway Sports Group
U.S. team: Boston Red Sox (MLB)
Soccer team: Liverpool (EPL)
It's none too difficult to be John Henry. His Boston Red Sox have won three World Series in the past decade under his stewardship, while Liverpool just missed a Premier League title this year. He owns two of the most hallowed ground in sports Fenway Park and Anfield and he employs some of the biggest names in both sports.
For each David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, there's English captain and Kop favorite Steven Gerrard and Uruguay striker Luis Suarez. They're among more than a dozen Liverpool players in the World Cup this year, joined by Uruguay defender Sebastian Coates; Ivory Coast defender Kolo Toure; English defender Glen Johnson, striker Daniel Sturridge and midfielders Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling; French defender Mamadou Sakho, Nigerian striker Victor Moses; and Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Of all the U.S. owners in the EPL, Henry regularly seems most at ease with the soccer side of his operations. When you can't lose on either side of the pond, it's pretty easy to come away happy, especially when some of those winning hires make it to Brazil for the world to see.