MATHEW WAGNER - Thursday, May 17, 2012
During the summer of 1990 in Pisa, Italy, John Stollmeyer had a bone to pick with his father-in-law.
Years beforehand, he told Stollmeyer that he should move on from soccer because he would not be able to make money by playing and would lose valuable time in the business world.
Stollmeyer did not heed his father-in-law's advice then and eventually represented the United States in 1990 World Cup in Italy. Sitting in a café drinking espressos and cappuccinos with 10-12 family members near the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, Stollmeyer brought up that discussion.
"I reminded him sitting there, ‘Did you ever think that you would be sitting at the foot of the Leaning Tower of Pisa drinking cappuccino or an espresso with me when you told me years ago that maybe I shouldn't be (playing soccer)?'" Stollmeyer said. "We kind of laughed about it."
Stollmeyer's selection to the World Cup capped off a 10-year career representing the U.S. in soccer, starting from the 1981 Youth World Championships in Australia and going through the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, before playing in Italy.
Despite playing in every World Championship besides the World Indoor Soccer Championships, Stollmeyer gathered 31 caps over that time span. He was also the only player from the 1981 FIFA Youth Championship team to still be on the senior team in 1990.
Along with his national team experience, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, native was one of the best American players over that decade. In 1981, Stollmeyer won the National Amateur Soccer Athlete of the Year award before heading to Indiana University, where he won the NCAA Championship in 1982 and 1983.
He collected the NCAA Defender of the Year award in 1982 and was named a second team All-American in 1982 and 1985 and a third team All-American in 1984.
"One of the things that I tell people all along that I wasn't best player," he said. "A lot of guys were better than me, but you couldn't beat me. I never quit- I worked hard and that's why I made it to where I did."
Stollmeyer played an important part in qualification for the World Cup, starting in central midfield for the U.S. in all of the qualifying matches except the last one against Trinidad and Tobago. Paul Caligiuri, who scored the game-winning goal that sent the U.S. team to its first World Cup in 40 years, replaced Stollmeyer in the starting lineup.
That match had particular importance to Stollmeyer, whose father originated from the tiny island nation. An estate on one of the islands, called Stollmeyer Castle, belonged to his ancestors, and some of his family members were at the game.
Although he was not on the field when Caligiuri scored, the former Hoosier played later in the match and said it was one of the happiest times he experienced while playing the game.
"I remember going into the locker room, and we were just in there singing," he said. "All of us were completely exhausted, even though it was so hot down there- so humid. You're trying to drink water in as well as celebrate with champagne and beer.
"It was just pure elation in that aspect of it."
Despite having played in so many tournaments for the U.S., Stollmeyer was unable to make it out of the group stages of a single tournament. The 1990 World Cup was no better.
Heading into the tournament, Stollmeyer said the team didn't have a "deer-in-headlights" mentality, but perhaps should have played a different style. The U.S. lost 5-1 to Czechoslovakia, 1-0 to Italy and 2-1 to Austria, crashing out of the group stages.
"I remember walking out of the tunnel, and we looked left and almost to a man, we looked up," Stollmeyer said of stepping out onto the field against Czechoslovakia. "These guys were big. Big, strong, fast- they'd been playing at high levels.
"I remember that at that point, anybody who thought that we were going to be bigger or maybe be able to fight with them- I always thought that that thought process wasn't right."
The 1990 World Cup marked the end of Stollmeyer's playing career.
He had a disease called osteonecrosis, in which the bones lose their blood supply. This causes the bones to die and eventually collapse. Stollmeyer had four surgeries on his left ankle up to that point.
Unlike many other former players, Stollmeyer did not go into coaching or management.
Stollmeyer spent a short time as an assistant coach at Notre Dame but eventually quit because his wife was finishing medical school and would not be able to follow him through career moves as easily.
Thus, he was left to coach his son through high school and also do private training. He has applied for some coaching jobs but was turned down.
He still watches the national team play and said he considers himself different from the "average fan."
"The one thing that I think I'm different from the average fan that watches, I don't care if we win ugly because I have been in enough games where we have lost because somebody won on an ugly goal," Stollmeyer said.
"When you go into another country and you pull out a win, whether it's El Salvador or Honduras or those kinds (of teams), I'm like, ‘Perfect- way to go,' because I know how hard it is to go into those environments and play."
Now, Stollmeyer is the vice president of investments for Raymond James in Indianapolis. He has been working for Raymond James for two years after 16 years at another financial firm, Smith Barney.
Stollmeyer said the most rewarding aspect of his job comes in helping people get through the markets today, allowing them to retire or to live more comfortably than they may have thought possible.
He also said his times playing for the U.S. has helped him on the job.
"There were lessons I learned of keeping composure in some of those countries," Stollmeyer said. "In some of those environments that when the market is tanking or you have a stock that you bought and it's getting killed, you got to keep composure and get people through it. I used those lessons in real life."
Different from the financial markets, Stollmeyer said U.S. soccer has nowhere to go but up, especially since the 1990 team that qualified for the World Cup.
"The one thing that I always believed about the game is that the progress of US soccer is on a constant rise," he said. "You can't stop that growth. I think that will always be there."