Major League Soccer has had rocky times and unstable franchise situations. It has also been remarkably successful in attracting and keeping a niche audience for thirteen years. Here are my picks for the four best executives in the league history. I settled on the number four because these four have in my mind separated themselves from the rest of the pack as far as executives in MLS go.
Payne has been with DC United since the beginning of the league’s history and has made the club the most successful in the history of American club soccer. With 12 trophies in thirteen seasons, United under Payne has set a standard unmatched in the league. Payne also has been able to lure top international talent to the club most notably Macro Etcheverry, Raul Diaz Arce and Jaime Moreno. Additionally, United became a virtual feeder club for the US National Team in Bruce Arena’s early years.
Hamilton was the driving force in turning the league’s laughing stock, the Miami Fusion into the Supporters Shield winners in 2001. Hamilton completely remade the squad on the field and his marketing plan raised attendance by 30% in one season. After the Fusion were contracted in 2001, Hamilton became the GM of the LA Galaxy helping lead the club as they won two MLS Cups. Hamilton won MLS Executive of the Year three consecutive year. Hamilton died of a heart attack coming back from the CONCACAF Champions Cup in Costa Rica in early 2006.
Peter Wilt built the Chicago Fire from an expansion team to the MLS Cup Champions in one season. Wilt also maintained the excellence of the organization beyond 1998 and had better fan interaction than just about anybody in MLS. For a league whose hierarchy is often criticized for not being accessible enough to media and fans, Wilt would have been the perfect commissioner, especially considering he had the sport in his blood unlike many in the MLS. The Fire signed a stronger roster of foreign players and developed more US National Team players under Wilt’s watch than any other team in MLS other than possibly DC United. After attempting to get Milwaukee, a traditional soccer town an MLS club, he now runs the Chicago Red Stars.
Luck brought some mainstream sports credibility to MLS when he became President & General Manager of the Houston Dynamo in 2006, after the clubs move from San Jose. Luck who was a star QB with West Virginia in college and a seat warmer for Warren Moon in Houston with the Oilers has made one good personnel move after another in three seasons to keep the Dynamo atop MLS. Luck has been willing to take players discarded by other clubs and plug them into Coach Dom Kinnear’s system. The results have been not only good for the Dynamo, but for the league because Houston has performed more credibly in international competitions than the rest of the league.