Sports

MLS to MBA: An interview with Seth Stammler

From Thierry Henry's teammate to Booth school student

Photo: Maroon Staff/The Chicago Maroon
Seth Stammler with recipients of last year’s Sporting Chance Foundation scholarships.

By Asher Klein

Maroon Staff

MBA student Seth Stammler is on campus today, but tomorrow he’ll suit up in New York for a 3 p.m. soccer game against a team from Salt Lake City, on the same side as two players just arrived from the best soccer club in the world—Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez. He’s been on the New York Red Bulls longer than anyone else, but he’s hanging up his boots soon: Stammler is leaving the Red Bulls at the end of the season to commit full time to business school, which he started this quarter. A finance and marketing grad of the University of Maryland, the soon-to-be former Red Bull player is busier than ever, but he took a little time out to talk on the phone with the Maroon on Wednesday about soccer, Chicago, and his philanthropic venture.

Chicago Maroon: Welcome to the U of C, Seth. How have you liked your first couple of weeks?

Seth Stammler: Definitely so far it’s lived up to the billing. The students have been great, the faculty’s been great, the professors have proven why they are the top of the industry.

CM: Is it weird getting back to the life of the mind after so long?

SS: Yeah, I mean, honestly, for the last seven years I’ve been just playing soccer. I got my undergraduate degree a number of years ago, so firing up the old brain cells has taken some getting used to, but a welcome change and one I’m really enjoying. I’ve got a lot less free time on my hands now compared to when I played soccer every day.

CM: What did your teammates say when you told them you were going to grad school?

SS: You know, some of them understood, I’ve been taking about this for a couple of years, and they all knew I had a passion for finance… Some of them were definitely caught off guard and couldn’t understand what the rush was to get going with school. But once I explained my situation they all supported me and understood where I was coming from.

CM: What do you like about finance?

SS: I’m very comfortable with numbers, I like the way that they’re very objective and they never change—and honestly, I like the markets and the fact that they fluctuate and it creates opportunities to make money both as an individual and as a company.

CM: What are you interested in doing with your M.B.A. after you graduate?

SS: Right now, I’m really here to focus on the different paths I can take once I get my degree in finance from the U of C. There’s a path that I kind of set my sights on at this point, sales and trading, probably on the sales side at one of the big banks. I’m not sure what product group I’d like to get into, but hopefully that’ll get more clear at my internship next summer.

CM: Why did you choose the University of Chicago?

SS: I’m originally from the Midwest so that’s where I started my search. There are some usual suspects that I think most people would entertain. . . I think the program speaks for itself, and just the correspondence I had from students and faculty and staff appealed to me. They’re very well accomplished but still humble, down to earth and I think there’s something to be said for that, and there’s a reason they still continue to climb up the rankings and prove that they are one of the top few schools in the world. I got my acceptance a number of months ago and I’m very excited and knew that it was going to be my next step.

CM: You’re involved in the Pepsi Refresh project, right? How did that come about?

SS: It ended a few weeks ago, but we were competing for it, along with foundations from each team in the league.

CM: What was your project?

SS: I started a foundation a few years ago called Sporting Chance Foundation. It strives to provide access to education and clean water through scholarships and wells, respectively. We started in 2007, and we’re going into our third school year right now. Last October we finished our first community water well, which provides water to Port-au-Prince. Luckily, it survived the earthquake in January so we’re excited about that. We actually just identified a new well last night and we’re going to look at that in greater depth to see if that’s a good opportunity to bring clean water to another neighborhood of Port-au-Prince.

CM: How did you get into doing all that?

SS: I went down to Haiti in 2006 with a couple of Haitian teammates and got the bug to make a difference and focus my efforts outside of the soccer field, the locker room.

CM: You’re 29 years old, which is still middle age for a soccer player. Why are you retiring now?

SS: Coming out of Maryland, I had my sights set on something in the financial world. I had a career I really enjoyed and I like to consider successful. . . After sitting down with friends and family and talking about the options, it just made sense to take that next step in life and not hang on to soccer too long. To go out on top, while I’m still playing and playing well.

CM: But you’re still playing, right?

SS: Yeah, I’m flying back periodically to train and compete in games.

CM: How are you able to handle that?

SS: I am working with our strength and conditioning coach at the New York Red Bulls. He came up with a program that I can do like 4 or 5 days a week, just to stay fit. Obviously, I’ll get back to training sessions to get touches on the ball and then hopefully that’ll continue to be enough to keep me sharp for the rest of the year.

CM: You’re going till November, right?

SS: Our last game is October 21 and the playoffs start the weekend of October 31.

CM: Are you most excited at the chance to play the Chicago Fire in the playoffs?

SS: That would be fun, maybe I can have all my teammates over to my apartment a couple of days before the game to relax for a bit but I’d definitely like to play Chicago, or Columbus, ‘cause I’m from Columbus, I get family or friends from home.

CM: What was it like to be on a team that went from notorious underachievers (5W–19L–6T) to title contenders (14–8–6, with two games to play) in just a year?

SS: It’s quite the story, we’ve gone from worst to first currently, and hopefully we can continue that trend and stay on top of the Eastern Conference. We weren’t far off from winning a number of those games that we lost last year. It’s all about the mentality of being hard to play against and taking advantage of your chances going forward. We pulled out games this year, the 1–0 games or score an away goal to go up. Whereas last year we were always the team conceding that late goal or the goal right before half time that’s kind of a back-breaker. Although last year was a terrible season for all fans, players and coaches included, I think it’s well-deserved this year that some of the bounces are going our way and we’re getting results.

CM: I’ve got to ask, what’s it been like playing with Thierry “TiTi” Henry and Rafa Marquez?

SS: It’s great. Whenever you get a player like that, there’s definitely a little hesitation to see what their demeanor’s going to be, what their mentality is coming over to the states. With both of them, so far so good. They said all the right things to the paper, they’re training every day and some of the games. MLS doesn’t get quite the credit it deserves in terms of physicality and the speed of play. It’s not always the most pretty soccer being played but it is athletic and competitive, but I think both Rafa and TiTi have shown they can handle that and that they’re not going to be on vacation for a couple of years. They’re in it to make a difference and work with this organization and hopefully bring a championship either this year or the next few years.

CM: You play a sort of similar position as Marquez. Have you learned anything from him?

SS: Most of the European players, especially those who’ve played for the top five teams in the world, there’s a lot to be said for how simple they play. It’s not about confiscating the game, like let’s let the ball do the movement and keep things simple and you’re bound to have some success and they’ve both proven the worth of that kind of motto.

CM: What are you going to miss about New York?

SS: There’s a lot to do here in Chicago. Obviously, New York’s a bigger city and there’s always something to do, regardless of what your taste is or what you’re looking for. Having said that, I love Chicago so far and believe that I’ll only grow to like it even more. There’s a great selection of restaurants and things to do at night and culturally. I haven’t had a chance to experience it all having moved here a couple of days before school starts, and hopefully over the next few years and over the two years of the program I’ll be able to take advantage of all that Chicago has to offer.

CM: What about Newark, where the Red Bulls actually play?

SS: I’m definitely not going to miss flying into the Newark airport.

CM: Speaking of Jersey, which do you think is more likely: your chugging three Red Bulls over a late night study session or Snooki from Jersey Shore coming to a game at Red Bull Stadium?

SS: I can see both happening, but knowing a couple of my teammates, I can see them bringing Snooki to one of the games here soon.

CM: Really? Which teammates?

SS: I’m not naming names.