Francisco Marcos, a recent recipient of the 2007 U.S. Soccer Werner Fricker Builder Award
, has been the founder and President of United Soccer Leagues since 1986. The award is the greatest recognition bestowed by U.S. Soccer upon members. It is presented annually to an individual who has worked tirelessly in furthering the interest of the sport of soccer without regard to personal recognition or advancement.
Francisco Marcos began his career in soccer playing the game in the streets of Portugal. He purchased his first pair of boots at the age of 16, as boots were nothing but a formality growing up in a soccer crazed nation.
Earning a scholarship to play at Hartwick College in northern New York State, Marcos understood very early his future lied outside the touch lines. Despite establishing himself as a midfielder on nationally-ranked teams under coaches David Haase and Al Miller, he also served as the editor of the school newspaper, started the Empire State Soccer League, and launched the magazine Soccer Monthly, which eventually became the official magazine of the U.S. Soccer Federation. Marcos immersed himself in the avenue of soccer media, immediately establishing himself as a pioneer of the game in the United States.
Following graduation in 1968, Marcos wasted no time laying the foundation for his future accomplishments. He accompanied Hartwick’s team on a European tour where he gathered a network of international soccer contacts that would serve him throughout his career marketing the game in North America.
The idea of taking American teams to Europe evolved into a full-time business for the young entrepreneur, who founded American International Sports Exchange, the first American company to develop soccer tours for teams in the United States. Through the company, Marcos met many prominent college and professional coaches. He demonstrated his ability to seek out talent and organize top-level sides. He was directly responsible for recruiting the foreign contingency that became the Philadelphia Atoms North American Soccer League Championship team of 1973, the inaugural season of the league. His nose for the game was recognized by Al Miller of the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Marcos landed in Florida rousing growth in the NASL.
Marcos’s title with Tampa Bay was Director of Public Relations and Vice President of Soccer Operations. He and the Rowdies led a Tampa edition of a nationwide movement to teach Americans soccer. The project forged by the Rowdies took off with the signing of Pele to the New York Cosmos. The Rowdies averaged 33,000 per game in small market Tampa while their late-blooming rival Cosmos sold out the largest existing venues from ‘75 through ’83 – when the two sides faced off, the foundation of soccer in the United States was being poured.
“There are moments, events, people and places throughout the history of sports that made the day,” said Marcos. “Eventually they will talk about the day the Tampa Bay Rowdies played the New York Cosmos and 63,000 people showed up. They had to delay the game 30 minutes because everything was so bottled up. The next morning Howard Cosell, was going on about soccer, calling it; ‘What will eventually become the biggest league of all.’”
Marcos shifted to the NASL’s Dallas Tornado in ‘79, where he served as Vice President of player personnel, the first person to hold such a position. In ’80 he forcefully ignited a third soccer community in the Calgary Boomers, tying himself to his third successful NASL franchise before returning to Tampa Bay in ‘81 to become Executive Vice President of the Rowdies.
The fall of the NASL encouraged Marcos greatest soccer vision – a group of national leagues blanketing the United States. His life endeavor took off in ‘86 with the berth of his now Tampa-based United Soccer Leagues. USL began as an indoor league in southwestern United States, slowly growing from an original five in Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. Through 20 years of acquisitions and development, Marcos’s USL has developed into over 115 clubs and upwards of 750 youth teams in the U.S. and Canada.
“Soccer was going to be it for me,” said Marcos. “I believed my passion for the game was enough to propel me and my league. Fortunately, that passion has not quit.”
Marcos’s passion was obviously more than enough. His Southwest Indoor Soccer League expanded every season in the ‘80’s. In ’89 the SISL modified its name to the stirring of an outdoor game revitalized by the announcement of an American World Cup. Under their new moniker, the Southwest Outdoor Soccer League blanketed the Sunbelt, changing again to the United States Interregional Soccer League in ‘92.
“When it was decided by FIFA in ’88 or ’89 that the World Cup was to going to come to the U.S. in ’94 – then I knew that something was about to happen,” said Marcos. “I knew that it was worthwhile to go through the first three or four years of absolute insanity, trying to keep this thing alive. The outdoor game was going to return.”
“If there was an absolute and ultimate goal – it was simply for soccer to be a big thing in the United Sates,” added Marcos. “I wanted soccer to become a well respected sport in America, for it to be a proper enterprise, to be something people could feel passionate about, as passionate I felt about the sport and my club back in Portugal. I wanted people in this country to feel for soccer the way they used to feel about old baseball teams - the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants.”
____________________________________ Born in Portugal, Marcos is fluent in five languages. He is a fanatical soccer fan and has the match tickets to prove it. He has attended ten consecutive World Cups since 1970 either as a fan, journalist, or part of an official delegation. In ‘94, he served as FIFA’s official team liaison for the Brazilian National Team. He was also head of delegations for U.S. National Teams at the ‘99 U20 FIFA World Championships in Nigeria, Argentina in ’01, and Holland in ‘05.
Recognized by his peers as one of the key movers and shakers in the game, he serves or has served on the board of directors of U.S. Soccer, the U.S. Soccer Foundation, the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), the U.S. Soccer Governing task force, and in ‘05 was recognized with a letter of commendation by the NSCAA. He was inducted into Hartwick College’s Hall of Fame in ‘01, and into USL’s own Hall of Fame in ‘02.
He now splits his time between the USA and Portugal, where his family -- wife Beverly, and children Julian and Amy – reside, and where he attends every possible match in the stands of his boyhood team, Sporting Club of Portugal.