It wasn’t long after Mercer Island High School boys soccer head coach Steve Newman died that his family and Mercer Island friends wanted to do something in his name.
The long time coach, who died last October, was an icon on the field for the boys soccer team and was well known for his traveling in the off-season. In the spirit of soccer and traversing the world, the Steve Newman Spirit Award was created.
Each spring, one member of the high school boys team would earn the honor, getting to travel to a soccer game somewhere in the world. Last spring, senior captain Nate Umlauf earned the award and a trip of a lifetime.
His trip included visiting FC Dallas, staying with the head coach and getting a behind the scenes look at the Concacaf Golf Cup.
“When I flew into Dallas, Coach Schellas actually picked me up from the airport with his daughter, I was kind of surprised. I didn’t expect it to be him,” said Umlauf. Schellas Hyndman, the head coach of FC Dallas, opened his home to the player.
Hyndman gave Umlauf full access to the club, and the recent high school graduate sat in on meetings, training sessions and got a chance to hang out with the players.
“There were pretty much no restrictions, I was in the coaches office, I sat in on the coaches meeting and they talked about the plan for the game, the training sessions,” said Umlauf. “It was almost like a job shadow of the head coach. It was pretty interesting to see how the MLS works. It was a lot more business oriented than I thought it would be. I guess I didn’t really think about it, but it’s all about the money. They don’t have as much money as the Sounders do, so they have to get the right player for the right price. If they have to move somebody, they have to go. The coach, he was the most generous guy I’ve ever met. He let me sit in on meetings and they were talking about transferring guys.”
George John, a center back on the team in Dallas, is an old friend of current MIHS coach Colin Rigby. That friendship, plus other connections in the small world that is professional soccer, made the trip possible for Umlauf.
Many of the players in Dallas speak Spanish as their first language, making some interactions with the team tricky for Umlauf.
“I would hang out with the team in the locker room. Half of them don’t really speak English, but everyone was super nice, asking me how I was doing. They didn’t act like it was super weird, and I’m sure its not normal for a kid to be in the locker room,” he said.
While Umlauf was in Dallas, the Concacaf Gold Cup semifinals were taking place in nearby Cowboys Stadium.
The Golf Cup is the national team championship for the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) which includes 12 teams. The tournament takes place every two years. Major League Soccer has partnered with the tournament, helping to provide staff as needed in U.S. cities. As part of the trip, Umlauf attended the various teams press conferences, working with the public relations staff, handing microphones to reporters.
“It was a long day, but it was very interesting,” he said.
Because the whole trip was inspired by Umlauf’s former coach, Newman was never far from his thoughts on the trip.
“This is the first year they’ve had the Steve Newman award. Steve was all about coaching his team – when he wasn’t coaching or working, he’d find the cheapest plane ticket and just fly somewhere. He wouldn’t necessarily have a hotel or anything, just go there, eat the food, live with the locals and immerse himself in a new culture. So that was kind of the plan, and go to a soccer game, have a new experience which this definitely was,” said Umlauf. “It was pretty overwhelming when I first got it. I didn’t really know what to expect, as far as what I was going to be doing. I was really close with Steve and I played for him for three years. I think being the first year it was an honor, and its even more of an honor because I’m probably going to be the only player to get the award who knew Steve. His legacy will live on, but next year’s players won’t have ever played for Steve. I think that was definitely unique about me getting the award. It’s definitely a good way to keep his name alive.”
Umlauf graduated from MIHS this spring and will be attending the University of Southern California in the fall. He plans to major in business and join the men’s club soccer team.