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Punching his ticket to the World Cup

Mike Edwards, executive vice president of the US Soccer, waits for the next championship game of the Sandia Cup tournament to start in 2006. (Travis Garner/Albuquerque Journal)

Mike Edwards, executive vice president of the US Soccer, waits for the next championship game of the Sandia Cup tournament to start in 2006. (Travis Garner/Albuquerque Journal)

From soccer oblivion in Las Vegas in 1960s, Mike Edwards has risen to vice president of U.S. Soccer and he’s headed to Brazil next week as a member of FIFA’s discipline committee

When Mike Edwards grew up in Las Vegas, N.M., in the 1960s, he wasn’t even sure there was a soccer pitch in town.

And he’s pretty certain he never knocked a soccer ball around.

“Even in P.E., I can’t even remember that we played soccer,” Edwards said. “I can’t remember playing soccer, seeing a ball or being very much aware of it.”

So to his childhood friends, the thought of Mike Edwards as a soccer guru is somewhat foreign.

“My friends from Las Vegas know as much about soccer as I did when I was growing up,” he said with a chuckle. “They cannot relate to what I am. It’s somewhat out of character for somebody who grew up Las Vegas.”

What Edwards is is the executive vice president to US Soccer’s Board of Directors, chairman of the referee committee, chairman of the Open Cup committee and a member of the FIFA disciplinary committee.

“We are the people who administer the FIFA disciplinary code for tournaments,” he said.

Tournaments like the World Cup currently under way in Brazil.

It’s in that latter role that he will travel to South America next week to watch the knock-out round games and rule on players’ misconduct.

It’s a role he also does locally; Edwards also runs the adult Albuquerque Soccer League.

“The only difference doing that in ASL and FIFA, we have to dress up and we have a better room, but generally the same type of things happen,” he said.

Edwards, who graduated from Robertson High School in 1970, and received a double major from Highlands University in 1975 before heading to Albuquerque for graduate studies, now works for PNM on issues related to federal regulatory policy.

It was at PNM that his soccer career began innocently enough by a co-worker asking him to join a company team in 1980.

“I said, ‘Soccer, sure,’ but I didn’t really know what it was,” Edwards recalled.

Soon, almost by default, he was running the Albuquerque Soccer League and the New Mexico adult soccer association. He also became involved in refereeing at both the youth and adult levels.

It was through his association with the state association that he began to come to the attention of national organizations.

In 2006, he was voted in as vice president of US Soccer behind president Sunil Gulati, although Edwards likens his role to the U.S. vice president.

“I kiss babies, shake hands,” he said. “I try to do the things that somebody from US Soccer should do but help free up the president’s time to do the things he needs to do.”

Still, Edwards has globetrotted for US Soccer and FIFA, visiting more than 10 countries. He counts among his highlights seeing South African president Nelson Mandela at the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.

And in 2012, he was there to hand the trophy to the U.S. after if won the U.S. U-21 world title in Tokyo.

“There’s nothing like being on the dais when your own team is up there,” he said.

One of the lowlights of his career was falling off a sidewalk in Azerbaijan, rupturing a tendon and having to be flown home before the tournament had concluded.

In all, he’s been to 10 different world championships of one kind or another, ranging from beach soccer to the World Cup.

And watching the growth of soccer from his own native Las Vegas, N.M., to the country as a whole has been a rewarding experience.

“I don’t see how much more it can grow, but I see it being sustained,” Edwards said. “Americans bought the most tickets for the World Cup but they’re not there just to see the U.S. play. You have to think about how many Americans want to see Brazil play, Italy play. It’s just a potpourri. It’s a funny thing in America, people certainly hope for the national team, but in America, everybody has six or eight favorite teams.”

And as for Las Vegas, the growth has been tremendous.

“There’s probably 500 kids playing youth soccer,” Edwards said. “For awhile, Highlands had a men’s team playing in the ASL. At one point, we had a parents’ league organized up there playing small-sided soccer. They’ve got some really nice fields at the university.”

And that’s a far cry from when Edwards didn’t even know what a soccer ball looked like.