“Soccer is sneaking up on baseball,” he said. “Give it another five years, 10 years, my feeling is soccer is going to overtake baseball.”
So says Wolfgang “Wolfie” Woischke, and the St. Lucie West resident’s thoughts on the popularity of soccer carry a lot of weight.
Four soccer halls of fame, including the Connecticut and New England Soccer Hall of Fame, have inducted Woischke. He played semi-professionally and professionally in the U.S. and Germany, including playing for the U.S. Army team.
These days the 70-year-old conducts some private soccer lessons for youngsters, but mostly he plays tennis to stay fit.
Woischke said he’s seen some promising young soccer players on the Treasure Coast and figures some will overtake him in soccer honors.
Woischke was born in Germany and moved to New York with his family.
“I was playing (soccer) in sand lots and wherever there was a field,” he said.
At the time there wasn’t a lot of soccer to be had. The game had fallen out of favor in the United States.
“Once I came over here, I learned the other sports,” Woischke said. “Soccer just stuck with me.”
Fortunately for him, his high school had a soccer team, so Woischke got in on it. He’d go on to play soccer at Mitchell College in New London, Conn. Then he got in a couple years of playing pro.
“I played for the Connecticut Yankees,” Woischke said.
That team was part of the defunct American Soccer League. A few organizations have used the Yankees name. One started up in the early 1920s. At the time soccer was, according to some sports historians, the second most popular sport in America.
The league collapsed during the early years of the Great Depression. A second took the name not long afterwards. It lasted about 50 years. Another took the name about five years ago.
Woischke enjoyed playing professional soccer, but said he felt a bit guilty he wasn’t using his college degree. Plus, he had a future to think of.
“In those days, playing professional soccer, the salaries were ridiculously low,” Woischke said.
Turned out that a food brokerage company needed a representative in Germany, so Woischke took the job.
“I became the European manager for this company and held the position for quite a long time,” he said.
While back in Germany, he played semi-professional soccer. That led to a career opportunity.
“I was hired as one of the managing directors for selling the tickets for the World Cup,” Woischke said.
That was the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which was in Germany that year. Woischke was responsible for helping generate about $500 million in ticket sales. “I wouldn’t do it again in my lifetime,” he said.
As Major League Soccer kicks off its 23rd season in the United States next Saturday, Woischke said there are games worth watching.
“We have a very good soccer league in the United States,” he said. “They’re doing well and are financially stable.”
Still, he said the nation exports a lot of talent.
“If a player is really, really good, his tendency is to go to Europe,” Woischke said.
However, he thinks as soccer increases in attendance and there’s more money to be made in the States, top players will start staying on this side of the Atlantic.
Woischke played in jersey number 7. “I played forward line,” he said. “The older I got, I was moved to mid-field. I never played goalie. Too short for that.”