An administrator who was the leading figure in American soccer during the 1990s, serving as president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, chairman and CEO of the organization that ran the 1994 World Cup and chairman of the board of Major League Soccer. Rothenberg sometimes aroused opposition by his wearing of several hats at the same time, but he did preside over an unprecedented series of successful years and successful events for American soccer.
Rothenberg, a leading Los Angeles attorney who had been involved in earlier years with the ownership of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers and the NASL’s Los Angeles Aztecs, served as commissioner of the soccer competition at the 1984 Olympics. That made FIFA familiar with him, which resulted in his being FIFA’s last-minute choice to oppose Werner Fricker for the USSF presidency in August 1990. He defeated Fricker, 343.9 votes to 169.66.
Although Fricker had been the man who got the 1994 World Cup for the United States, it was Rothenberg who made an unquestioned success of running it, giving it the sort of leadership that FIFA wanted, the sort that had made a success of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The tournament set attendance records, was acclaimed for the quality of competition and produced a large surplus that was later used to finance various soccer-related projects.
Before the World Cup had began, Rothenberg had started turning his attention toward the establishment of a pro league in the United States. Major League Soccer, Rothenberg’s group, had won the USSF’s approval for the first-division designation late in 1993, but its start was delayed until the spring of 1996.
Rothenberg stepped down as USSF president at the end of his second term in 1998, and as chairman of Major League Soccer the same year. A bid to purchase MLS’s San Jose Clash fell through, but Rothenberg stayed involved in the sport as a vice president of CONCACAF, chairman of the FIFA panel inspecting sites for the 2006 World Cup and a member of the MLS Board of Governors.
Inducted in 2007.