Fittingly, Bob Gansler was lecturing at a coaching clinic in Florida when he heard the news on Tuesday.
Gansler, who coached the Kansas City Wizards (now known as Sporting Kansas City) to their only two MLS Cup appearances — winning the championship 2000 — was elected Tuesday to the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
Gansler spent 1989-91 as coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team, including guiding the 1990 side to its first World Cup final since 1950. He was selected MLS Coach of the Year in 2000 and led the Wizards to MLS Cup in 2004 and to the Lamar Hunt Open championship in 2004.
Gansler was joined in the Hall of Fame Class of 2011 by players Cobi Jones, Earnie Stewart, Eddie Pope and Bruce Murray.
“It’s always satisfying when folks think you held up your end of the bargain,” said Gansler, 69. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities to be of help, and I would think I sometimes have succeeded.
“As with most jobs, after they’re done, people like to say, ‘Did I leave it a little better than when I started?’ and if the answer is yes then you feel OK, and most situations, I came out that way.”
Gansler took over the Wizards in 1999 and posted an 86-85-51 regular-season record and 9-8-3 in the post season. He’s the second member of the Wizards teams to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in as many years, following Preki, who was enshrined in 2010.
“Those were eight of the best years of my life in terms of coaching the game and we set a decent standard,” said Gansler, who had been passed over by the original 10 MLS teams when the league was formed in 1996.
He became a championship coach for Milwaukee in the A league before he replaced Ron Newman in Kansas City.
“I want to give a thank you to Doug Newman, he was a key there on behalf of the Hunt family that gave me a chance in Kansas City,” Gansler said of the former Wizards general manager.
Gansler was as proud of the 2004 Wizards as he was the 2000 champions. In 2004, Preki was lost for the season after suffering a gruesome broken leg in the preseason, but Kansas City still went on to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as well as reach the MLS Final, losing to D.C. United 3-2.
“We had to redo everything it in the spring from what we had in mind,” Gansler said. “You build things around Preki who is as gifted an individual who has played in the league. But we got there. We could have walked away with the MLS Cup that year ”
Kansas City was 6-10-2 in 2006 when the club made a coaching change, eventually hiring Curt Onalfo.
“When we’re asked to coach a professional team, you’re hired to get fired,” Gansler said, “and it’s going to happen, but an eight-year stay says we did OK. There were no days I said, I wish I were doing something else.”
Current Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes played for Gansler on both the 1990 World Cup team as well as the 2000 MLS champions.
“I can’t say enough about what Bob has done for U.S. soccer,” said Vermes. “So much of the success that has happened on the field and in the game for 30-some-odd years is in large part to Bob.
“If you look at the players who entered Major League Soccer in 1996, I would bet Bob identified about 80 percent of them. The other 20 percent was made up of foreign players “
At the time Gansler was coaching the national team, he was selling a sport against great odds in a country that had no major professional outdoor soccer league and offered little financial backing compared to the rest of the world.
“I’m not going to sit here and pull out my violin and start playing sad songs because that’s the way it was at that time,” Gansler said. “You do the best you can under the circumstances. You don’t bemoan the fact you don’t have everything. You say, this is what we’ve got, and how can we improve on things ”
Though that 1990 team, made up of mostly young college players, lost all three of its matches in the World Cup, it threw a scare into host Italy, losing 1-0, and paved the way for the United States’ hosting the 1994 World Cup as well as the start of Major League Soccer.
“It’s not easy building a team and getting it to play the way you want it to and having success,” Vermes said of Gansler. “He did it a couple of times in different ways.
“His teams were always organized and defended well, and the thing he exuded to the team was he was very calm. He was never too high or never tool low. He always kept an even keel. That resonated within his teams.
“He was a true winner, a gentleman, an excellent Xs and Os guy and great identifier of talent. I’m lucky I played for him for as long as I did.”