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Soccer Exec’s Long Road From Massapequa

One of Major League Soccer’s top front office executives has many fond memories of growing up in the Long Island Junior Soccer League (LIJSL). Bill Manning, the President of Western Conference champion Real Salt Lake and the club’s field, Rio Tinto Stadium, played for the LIJSL Select Team from 1979 to ‘83 as well as the Massapequa Soccer Club from 1972 to ‘83.

Manning’s Massapequa teams had virtually the same players from Under-10 to Under-19, but kept changing their name depending on who their coach was. He played for the Massapequa Flying Dutchmen (coached by Kurt Knoblauch), the Massapequa Bugs (Dick Roche), the Massapequa Cosmos (Jerry Lyons) and the Massapequa Bulls (coached by his father, also named Bill Manning). The Bulls might have lost in the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association (ENYYSA) State Open Cup finals to B/W Gottschee in overtime in 1983, but his teams won the LIJSL division championship in 1974, ‘76 and ‘79 plus the Long Island Cup in 1980 and ‘83.

While Manning eventually moved on to pro soccer, one of his teammates, goalkeeper Kevin Ferrari, started volunteering with local youth soccer and is the current president of the Massapequa Soccer Club.

“My best memory of youth soccer is from our last year together with the Massapequa Bulls,” Manning said. “We travelled to the Pocono Cup in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. It was a select team tournament and we were one of only a few club teams there. We wound up beating the New Jersey state champs and then a team from Denmark in the finals to win the championship. We just had a great time together and to go out as winners with this group that had played together for so long was special.”

Manning was selected to play in the 1986 Intercollegiate Soccer Association of America East-West All-Star Game. As a sophomore at the University of Bridgeport, he helped the Purple Knights to a NCAA quarterfinal berth, and as a senior in 1986 he led his team to a Final Four appearance while earning first-team All-America honors.

He continued his playing career after college and won a US Open Cup with the Brooklyn Italians in 1991 and played professionally in the United Soccer Leagues (USL) with the Penn-Jersey Spirit (1991), Valley Golden Eagles (1993) and New York Fever (1994-95) before Major League Soccer existed.

Sports management was next for Manning; he joined the front office of the Continental Indoor Soccer League during its inaugural season in 1993. A year later, he returned to the Empire State to play with the New York Fever and do double duty in their front office as Director of Marketing and Operations. In 1996, he was hired as Vice President and General Manager of the Long Island Rough Riders and the club was honored twice by Soccer Business International as the recipient of the Marketing Excellence Award for best overall marketing in the USL.

“I moved from California to come back to New York for this opportunity to play for the Fever and work in their front office,” he said. “That set the stage for my eventual move to the Long Island Rough Riders as general manager in 1996 when I was 30 years old. The timing was right.”

During his tenure as President since 2008,

Real Salt Lake gave Utah its first major-league professional sports championship (2009) in nearly 40 years, plus he successfully sold naming rights and opened one of the country’s latest sports and entertainment venues, Rio Tinto Stadium. With Manning leading the charge, tickets sales and sponsorship revenue have more than tripled since his arrival. He was honored as the 2012 recipient of the Doug Hamilton Award as MLS’s Executive of the Year.

His brother Lawrence and sister Heather also played for the Massapequa Soccer Club as kids. Lawrence went on to play for Cortland State and the U.S. Deaf National Team and represented the red, white and blue at the Deaflympics in Copenhagen (1997), Rome (2001) and Melbourne (2005).