Here Come Ze German(American)s: An Interview With Rob Oldfield of Vereinigung Erzgebirge
Welcome back to the Pyramid faithful readers. Today, I have a very special, and you could even say, unusual interview.
During my wanderings online, I stumbled across a league in Pennsylvania. And in that league I found Vereinigung Erzgebirge. I got connected with Rob Oldfield, and I have to say, what these guys are doing sounds absolutely awesome. We talk about some German regions, the Pennsylvania soccer scene, and a country club for soccer. Check it out.
American Pyramid: Welcome to the Pyramid Rob. Let's start simple for everyone. Tell me a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you're from, what your role is with Vereinigung Erzgebirge Soccer.
Rob Oldfield: I'm the Head Coach and Technical Director of the Majors Program, 1999-Present. I'm also very involved with a number of the youth teams. I'm the camp director and my guys and I run spring clinics for our younger players. I run a summer league. I feel like the list keeps growing.
I grew up in Warminster and played travel ball for the township team, I came to the VE club full time as a player in 1991 and have had a lot of success. I was part of a u19 team that went 11-0-1 on a tour of Germany in 1992. We were the fist US team into the former East Germany and the first from VE to return to Talhiem. I played at Rider University. During college and immediately after I returned to the Majors program and was part of the 1996 Championship majors team and the team that made the National Final four in Portland Or. 1997. After taking over the team as a player coach I lead the team to USASA Open Cup Nationals Finals in 2002. We lost in that final. We also qualified for Lamar Hunt that season and its always been a goal to get back. Currently we are the USL Majors Champions 2015 and the three time defending EPSA State Champion USASA Amateur Cup 12,13,14. We plan on winning Sunday and making it to the final on December 20th.
When did you first get interested in soccer in general and helping run a soccer team in particular? Was there a certain event that got you into the sport, or have you always been into soccer?
I've played since I was 5. I have always been into soccer. My bother and sister played too. Coaching, I broke my collar bone skiing in high school and was forced to sit out some of the spring season with a local select team. The coach got me involved with coaching one of the younger select teams. My brother who played at Penn State was on that team a few other guys that went on to captain Division I programs and I've been coaching, running sessions and running teams ever since.
Can you recap the history of Vereinigung Erzgebirge Soccer for me? Basically, what's the teams 'origin story?'
VE - The club was founded in 1931 by a number of family's who immigrated from Talheim (East Germany) The club formed a team that competed with other area clubs Once the United League got up an running in the 50's the top flight was called the Majors division and VE has always fielded a Majors team. Later Junior and youth teams were added. I know you like Pyramids so we are a pyramid up club. The Majors sit at the top of that as the flagship team of the soccer program. Under them we field a reserve team in the Inter county League as well an Over 30 team, Over 40 team and A Sr. Women's team who like the Majors all won their respected leagues last season.
We have boys and girls team in almost every age group from U-19 to U-8 and we have about 150 Mighty Mites 4-7 yr olds who play at the club on Friday nights in the fall. For the most part we don't use pd coaches. One of the things we do better then almost anyone is tie our adult programs back to our youth programs. The youth coaching ranks are filled with former players. After their playing days they have returned to coach their kids and stay active at the club. It makes one big happy VE family.
Would you mind explaining what the name of the team means for my readers? It's no often one encounters German in the US anymore.
Erzgebirge is a region in the eastern most portion of Germany that almost borders the Chech Republic. This area is massive woodlands and part of the ore mountains. The name basically means home among these mountains. Home among Erzgebirge. To make it easy for your readers tell them to this is where Nutcrackers come from. If you flip one over this holiday season and it says made in Erzgebirge then its worth something.
Now the team is a branch of a larger socail and sport club correct? How exactly does that work? It sounds a lot more, while, European, then most teams here in America. Exactly. This is a European model. It's much more then just a soccer club. To play here most of the family's are asked to become members, Not all members are soccer though. The club itself sits on 69 acres of woodlands. There is Club house, Soccer fields, swim club and Beer Gardens all carved into those woods. After games you can find the teams in the "Ratskeller". German for underground bar, and we have a massive one where players eat drink and unwind after games with family and friends. It was originally formed as a social club for Germans from that region, so we host German classes, their is a choir and an active indoor sports league (darts, pinochle leagues, shuffleboard and horseshoes in the summer) The club banquet facilities host events like weeding's, reunions and other parties. The club has dinners on Wednesday and Sunday's for the members. Our season always opens with a massive Oktoberfest party that brings thousands of people to the grounds the weekend after Labor day. I think this year was the 85th Oktoberfest. It's a great place to play.
Where exactly is your team located in Pennsylvania? I've spent quite a bit of time around Huntington, Altoona and State College, but that's about it so far.
We are in southeastern Pennsylvania. VE is in a town called Warminster, PA. We are just North of Philadelphia in Bucks County. We actually sit on the border of Bucks and Montgomery counties.
How has your local soccer community responded to the team?
Very well. The local soccer community knows this is one of the top amateur teams in the country. These guys know they are role models and he hold them to a very high standard on and off the field. Not uncommon for our youth teams to bring their opponents over to watch a majors match if they are at the club that day. Our players come from local college programs like Drexel, Temple, LaSalle, Penn State, Rider, Lafayette, Lock Haven, Franklin & Marshall, Scranton, Pitt, and we have guys that played at Duke, West Virginia, Colgate, Syracuse, Monmouth.
Tell me a little bit about the league you're in, the USLPA. What kind of advantages does it have over other leagues that team could play in?
The United Soccer League of Pa was formed over 50 years ago when a number of these big German clubs got together and formed a league for their top teams to play in. The League has always had a very ethnic taste. Some of the other founding clubs still compete in the league, United German Hungarians, Oakford, PA Phoenix S.C. Feasterville, PA, Danubia, Philadelphia, PA and we have added other massive clubs like The Ukrainian Nationals, Horsham, PA. Over the years there have been other clubs with rich history like Lighthouse, and other ethnic clubs. Italian clubs,, English and Irish clubs, Portuguese clubs, Polish clubs, South American clubs and African clubs In the last 10 years West Chester has joined the league and they are the current Open Cup National Champions. It's the top league in the state. We are playing the best soccer around week in and week out. Here's a History Link - http://uslofpa.leagueapps.com/pages/founding
Does the USLPA have a long term vision for their league and your teams role in that future?
USL is one of USASA National Elite leagues. These are the tops teams in PA. We are always looking at new teams interested in joining. Moving forward we plan to keep this a desirable place to play for kids coming back from college or back from the pro teams. There is still a place in the US soccer pyramid for these competitive amateur teams.
It's changed over the years with the introduction of MLS and other leagues. At one point in time this was the league to watch. I remember paying $2 as a kid to watch the majors play. I also watched my cross town rival UGH Majors play the US National team in their last warm up before WC 90. US won 2-1 on that day. The teams from out league are always apart of the regional tournaments.
Can you describe the soccer scene in Pennsylvania for me? Seems to be growing a bit more each year, doesn't it?
The history is here. Philadelphia is the perfect melting pot so you have so many different style that have been blended together. This area is a real hotbed. The youth soccer movement is huge. Aside from the clubs every township has a program. Local bars have the games on TV and supporter groups can be found in the area for almost any team you support.
Why should the average soccer fan, both in Pennsylvania and across the US, care about Vereinigung Erzgebirge?
These clubs are special. When people come to VE for the first time they are blown away. Most of the time they had no idea something like this existed in the US. A Country club for soccer instead of Golf is the way they often see it. There are fewer and fewer of them around owning and controlling these huge grounds are expensive. They were at the core of US soccer history. On any given Sunday you can come over grab a beer, walk outside and take in a game. How many places can you do that. Township clubs are great but after the game everyone leaves the park or school and goes home. They don't have that built in soccer community we have.
Cast a vision for me: Where do you see Vereinigung Erzgebirge in 5 years?
We will continue to be a destination for top players coming back from college. We will continue to develop our youth teams. We will continue to grow as a club. I don't know if we would create a PDL team or operate in a different space but you never know.
Bonus Questions: Who's your pick to win the MLS Cup this year?
Columbus at home. (Interview done pre-MLS Cup)
What's your favorite book, regardless of genre?
Black Hawk Down
Who's your favorite current soccer player?
Lothar Matthaus, Currently Bastian Schweinsteiger and or Rooney
Do you have a favorite soccer book, movie or podcast?
I'm reading SAF new book now and just heard him speak in Phila.
What's your favorite league and/or team to watch?
I watch the premier League, Manchester United. I've been over plenty of times. I've caught about 20 games up and down England.
Where can people find out more about yourself and the team?
Here are the club and league sites.
What would you like to say to the people reading this article about why they should get out and support the lower level teams and leagues of American soccer?
It's easy to get behind MLS teams now that we have them. I'm glad we got one here in Philadelphia, but ywe can't forget our roots. Not every player makes the MLS. There are plenty of great players that finish college and take jobs or go on to grad school and these guys can still play.
There are guys that still want to be apart of something like what we can offer. I bring them in and ask them to give a little back to the club and everyone benifits. When we win the rest of the club shares in our success and its an exciting thing to be apart of.
Rob, thanks for taking some of your time to do this interview. Now, as always, don't forget to go like and follow Vereinigung Erzgebirge on Twitter and Facebook. Also, as a reminder, if you're really wanting to keep up to date with what's going on here at the Pyramid, give us a Follow over on Twitter, or a Like on Facebook. That way you'll know even faster when new content like Interviews and Op-eds are being released. And don't forget to comment with questions you'd like to see answered in these interviews. You comment, and you just might read it. Until next time.