Lee Stern

Lee SternHello I’m Lee Stern, the former owner of the Chicago Sting, and I can’t wait to see some of my former players and friends at the NASL’s 50th anniversary event in Frisco, Tex., in October. I’ll be taking along my favorite Sting coach, Willy Roy.

Lee Stern never kicked a soccer ball — in anger or otherwise. But like so many American soccer parents, a child’s involvement and love of the game drew him in. The difference between Stern and so many of those soccer moms and dads of today is that Stern had the financial wherewithal to buy a team … and not just any team. Stern, who has been a member of the Chicago Board of Trade for 67 years (his is a senior trader to this day, at age 91), was the affable owner of the NASL’s Chicago Sting.

“I got into soccer because of my son, Kenny,” Stern said. “Before I bought the Sting, I was friendly with some Bears people: [George] Halas, [Jim] Finks and [Ed] McCaskey. I’d had a pretty good year on the commodities market and the [New Orleans] Saints were available. I was interested, but they warned me off it. At the time, Kenny was playing soccer and I was watching him play all these 0-0 games while he was in sixth grade. The NASL was looking to put a team in Chicago, so I spoke with [Commissioner] Phil Woosnam.”

Stern and another son, Jeffrey, flew to Dallas to meet with Lamar Hunt and reached agreement on a deal: $200,000 for a franchise, $100,000 up front. Soon after the Sting, named in homage to the Paul Newman/Robert Redford film of the same name wa born, beginning play in 1975. Woosnam put Stern in touch with George Fishwich, a past president of the U.S. Soccer Football Association (1963-65) and the two jetted off to England to learn about the game and hire a coach (Bill Foulkes).

“George got me started understanding the game, I had never played, and I never really liked the game,” Stern said.

Stern struck up a friendship with Sir Alex Ferguson and one evening found himself “meeting with people whose names meant absolutely nothing to me.” One of those English gents, a dinner companion, turned out to be the former president of FIFA, Stanley Rous. “On the way out, the concierge stopped me and asked me if I knew who I had just had dinner with. I had no idea,” Stern said.

No matter, Stern was savvy enough to know what he didn’t know. He struck a deal to sign a Chicago soccer star, Willy Roy, who broke his leg in a game and ended up as the club’s coach. Roy, a native of Germany who became an American citizen and played for the national team, was instrumental in constructing a Sting squad that won Soccer Bowls in 1981 and 1984 while creating an intense rivalry with the Cosmos.