Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 24
 
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
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INTERNATIONAL KNOWLEDGE: Princeton University athletic trainer Russ Steves applied the experience he has gained from being around the world of international soccer last month when the U.S. men’s national team held a pre-World Cup training camp on the PU campus. Steves, who has been at Princeton for 24 years, has worked as medical liaison for U.S. visits by such soccer titans as Chelsea, Manchester United, AC Milan, and Inter Milan.

Having Worked With International Soccer Clubs, PU Trainer Steves Relished U.S. Training Camp

Bill Alden

It would be understandable if Russ Steves had some mixed feelings last Saturday when he watched the U.S. men’s soccer team battle England to a 1-1 draw in the World Cup.

While Pennsylvania native Steves is a staunch U.S. supporter, the Princeton University soccer trainer has developed a bond with some of the leading lights of the English Premier League (EPL) through working with Chelsea and Manchester United (Man U) on the clubs’ U.S. tours.

Steves’ behind-the-scenes access has left him with some unforgettable experiences.

He has gone to a U2 concert at Wembley Stadium with Chelsea and England midfielder Frank Lampard and watched Chelsea’s opening match this past season in the director’s box after having lunch with Sir Richard Attenborough at the stadium.

Steves has viewed an EPL match in the family room at Old Trafford with Man U manager Sir Alex Ferguson and has shared a bottle of wine after a game with Ferguson and an opposing manager.

Surprisingly, Steves didn’t grow up as a soccer nut. “I was raised in western Pennsylvania by a football and wrestling coach,” said Steves, a 1983 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh who subsequently earned a master’s in education from the University of Virginia. “I fell asleep watching the World Cup final in 1982.”

Steves woke up to the virtues of the beautiful game when he started serving as the trainer for the men’s soccer team in 1987.

“I came to Princeton in ’85 and was assigned to work with the University’s soccer team two years later,” recalled Steves, who also serves as Princeton’s Director of Physical Therapy.

“The head coach at that time was Bob Bradley (current U.S men’s team head coach) and his assistant was Manfred Schellscheidt (current Seton Hall men’s soccer head coach). Our Princeton team wasn’t very good that year and they got lots of soccer lectures after practices and games. Soccer seeped into my consciousness by osmosis. That was still the best soccer understanding a person could ever get. I learned about the game from two of the most influential soccer people in the U.S.”

Early this century, Steves’ involvement with the game took on international flavor as he got involved with some of the titans of Europe.

“Seven or eight years ago when Manchester United was making their first pre-season tour of the U.S., I pitched the idea to former Princeton soccer player and coach Charlie Stillitano and his Champions World company the idea that they needed someone to be the medical liaison for their visit,” said Steves, who has worked with Manchester United (twice), Chelsea (three times), AC Milan and Inter Milan (once each).

“He bought the idea and then sent me out to Portland, Oregon to make things ready for their arrival. It turns out that I’m pretty good at organizing things and have some experience knowing what teams need on their travels. They liked what I did and Charlie decided that each time a team came over to the U.S. for a tour, he’d put me in charge of many of their logistics.”

While Steves may have been around world famous clubs, the work wasn’t glamorous.

“I handle a lot of things from making sure all the team’s gear gets on and off the airplane safely, to arranging transportation for wherever they need to go, to getting a locker room and practice field all in order, to getting what the team wants at the hotel in terms of meals and rooms,” explained Steves.

“It’s a lot like a traveling secretary’s job. Each of the teams have someone in that position and I try to make his job easier as they come to this country.”

Steves’ international soccer experience came in handy when Bradley decided to bring his U.S. squad to Princeton for a pre-World Cup training camp.

“I think we started in March; most of the early work was hammering out a contract between Princeton and U.S. Soccer,” said Steves.

“We needed to learn what they wanted from us and then we figured out what we could do. Princeton University still had lots of activities going on and so we needed to determine what wouldn’t interfere with those activities. Then it became just organizing volunteer workers, visitors to training, and making sure the field and stadium were set up the way U.S. Soccer wanted.”

The camp, which took place from May 15-23 turned out to be a grueling experience for Steves.

“My day started usually around 7 a.m. with people calling or texting me with requests to attend training. I arrived at Myslik Field around 8:30 with the team cruising in about 9:45. I left the field usually around 2 p.m., then sorted through e-mail requests until about 8 p.m. I’m really happy that they were here only a week. I needed some rest.”

Steves, though, didn’t tire of being around Bradley again. “I see or talk to Bob every few months, but haven’t seen him since the fall when our Princeton soccer team went to play in San Diego and he and his wife (Lindsay) drove down to meet us,” said Steves.

“Listening to him interact with his team and staff made me miss having him around. I thought maybe others at U.S. Soccer weren’t sure if a training camp at Princeton was a great idea. We don’t have much experience doing this kind of thing. With all the pressures a coach is under leading up to the World Cup, I wanted to make sure this was a great experience for all concerned. I hoped that success with this would reflect well on Bob.”

In Steves’ view, the U.S. players ended up having a great experience at the Princeton camp.

They are used to coming to these types of camps and pretty much having no public interaction,” said Steves.

“They’re not used to people clapping as they jog by during warm-ups. Like everyone, it’s nice to have people interested in what you’re doing but this wasn’t an unmanageable number of people. They had time and a pleasant manner for each person. I think they felt that this was one of the best training camps they’ve ever had; great facilities, beautiful location, and lots of wonderful support.”

For Steves, there were no mixed feelings about his latest foray into the world of international soccer.

“I had a very good time; it was fantastic to be even a very small part of the U.S. participation in the World Cup,” asserted Steves. “I get these unbelievable soccer opportunities a lot more than most people. That makes me really lucky.”

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