In 2003 Hamburg Ambassador J. Christoph Lichtenfeld contacted Stephan Hildebrandt, director of the HSV Nachwuchsleistungszentrum in Norderstedt. Mr. Lichtenfeld suggested that a HSV youth team visit Chicago for 10 days to play against Chicago teams, a direct invitation for Mr. Hildebrandt was also extended. Mr. Hildebrandt accepted the invitation and visited Chicago in May of 2003.
During his time in Chicago a full schedule with soccer related activities was planned. He was introduced to various soccer organizations, soccer people and soccer events, including the US Soccer Federation, the Illinois Youth Soccer Association, the Chicago Magic Soccer Club, the Chicago Socker Club and the Illinois State Final Tournament. Meetings were held, games and practices watched, contact with many soccer people established.
The meeting with Tom King, Director of Administration of the US Soccer Federation, was the fi rst contact which Mr. Tom King had with a Hamburg soccer representative. This may have been the first step and may have facilitated the choice of Hamburg as a host city for the US national team during the World Cup in 2006. After the first meeting several more meetings were held with Tom King prior to 2006 to promote Hamburg as host city.
Mr. Hildebrandt was intrigued by the unclear structure of the US soccer scene. Unlike the DFB in Germany, there are hundreds of organiwelcome zations responsible for soccer in the US. They are not connected, they make their own rules, it is a totally different and confusing setup. In the U.S., it is not transparent where and who the talented youth soccer players are. One has an idea within a soccer region, but it is unclear from region to region. Mr. Hildebrandt decided to bring a team (U-15) in 2004. Since´04, a HSV team has visited Chicago and participated in the Chicago annually International Cup. This year, The International Cup included teams from Nigeria, Mexico and Germany, and elite teams including regional (Olympic Development) and national US teams (the US national team for this age group). The HSV placed second in this year´s tournament, losing to the Nigerian team and tying the Illinois regional ODP team, and winning against the US national team and the Chicago Soccers FC.
The HSV team, 20 players, and staff (including coaches, trainer, scouting personnel, photographer) are hosted by Chicago´s Beverly host families. Beverly is a residential neighborhood on the southwest side of Chicago. Living in American homes is an important part of the visit, it is the cultural exchange aspect and is a brief introduction to every day American life. The Chicago program includes a boat ride on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, sight seeing, shopping at an „outlet center“ and on Michigan Ave., beach visits, Sears Tower, a organiwelcome party and a good-bye party and community service.
The activities and hosting are planned and organized by Mr. Lichtenfeld and his wife, Char. As noted, the program includes participation in Chicago´s inner city soccer projects to help with disadvantaged Chicago kids (6 to 10 years old) who are learning to play soccer. It has been a lot of fun for both the Chicago children and the HSV players, and a motivational experience. This participation was Mr. Hildebrandt´s idea as he thought that the HSV visitors needed to „give something back“. This day is now called the „Hamburg Day“. HSV mascot, Herrman, the dinosaur, entertained the children and even met Chicago´s mayor Daley during one of these inner city projects.
The Chicago – Hamburg soccer connection developed an awareness of the US soccer scene. HSV personnel started scouting activities and developed professional and commercial soccer contacts. In 2006, it lead to an invitation to the Brother Rice HS by the City of Hamburg for a 2 week stay in Hamburg for a „world cup“ youth tournament during the World Cup. This year, the same school went back to Hamburg for a 2,5 week soccer camp, organized and supervised by HSV coaches. HSV youth coaches have been invited to participate in the Illinois Youth Soccer Association (IYSA is one of the largest soccer associations with 86000 members) expo for the last four years. They provided demonstration practice sessions to coaches, parents and players, spoke at meetings and presentations about German youth soccer development, and made available information handouts and at a HSV – Hamburg booth.
Mr. Hildebrandt spoke at several IYSA award ceremonies for youth soccer players, focusing on the difference between US and German soccer and the HSV and its organization. The personal connection between Chicago and Hamburg made it possible for a Hamburg student to become an exchange student in Chicago for the 2008/2009 school year. Hamburg Ambassador J. Christoph Lichtenfeld is pleased about how an idea or vision changes into a reality, and that the additional activities were initially not even dreamed about. The idea of a simple Chicago soccer visit has branched out to other related fields.