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The Passion for Soccer Grows

1991 Gold Cup

For non-soccer fans, the shot heard around the world by Paul Caliguiri in 1989 and the 1990 World Cup were a blip on the sporting world. In 1991, a tournament called the Gold Cup was held in Los Angeles. Although the US Soccer team was still a relatively unknown soccer team, the tournament was a great success as fans rooting for Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, and other CONCACAF countries were filling up football stadiums across Southern California. For those 99.99% of the world who doesn’t know, CONCACAF stands for Confederation of North, Central America and the Caribbean American Federation. Mexico was the usual tournament favorite, but the young United States team surprised the overconfident Mexican team in the semi-final. At the time, the US had a record of 2 wins and 19 losses to Mexico. With the 2-0 victory, this became one of the first times the US beat Mexico in an official game and started a string of “dos a cero” score lines that surrounded one of the greatest soccer rivalries in the world.

The US, inspired by the controversial choice of Serbian Bora Milutinovic, ended up playing Honduras in the final at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, home of the 1932 and 1984 Olympics. Like the game against Mexico, the US was out-fanned 10-1. The Honduran fans were out in mass and our small group of US fans were definitely in the minority. The game was sloppy and ended up 0-0 with a penalty kick shoot-out to decide the winner. We had Tony Meola who reminded me of Sylvester Stallone in the goofy WWII movie, Victory. Meola was full of confidence and loved penalty kicks. He kept his end of the deal and gained the tournament MVP as led the team to a sudden death victory. As we left the stadium happy, we screamed and waved out American flag from our car at our passionate opponents, but quickly realized that since we were some of the few people cheering, and it was probably in our best interests to be bit more humble in our celebrations. We ended up at an Acapulca restaurant and enjoyed our night with a few tasty margheritas.

The 1993 US Cup

Since the US had no official league, the USSF created the US Cup tournament and invited some of the stronger teams in the world to scrimmage the young US team. For the opposing teams, summer in the US was a vacation, but for the US team, playing teams like Ireland, Portugal and Italy was the beginning games for important preparation for the 1994 World Cup. Like most Americans, I did not take much notice of the 1992 US Cup, but in the summer of 1993, I traveled back east to watch matches between the US, Brazil, Germany and England, playing in the US Cup, which was a tournament set up to help prepare for the World Cup the following year. On June 9, the US played England. The night before, the US team held an open “practice” at a local college. It was a wet night and after their run-around, I talked to US National team player John Harkes for a minute. He was one of the first Americans to play soccer in Europe. He had an odd Jersey/English accent, and I told him my mom was from England and I wished him good luck. He laughed as he said, “well, then we’ll win this for your mum, ai?”

Earlier in the day before the game, I traveled west and toured Lexington and Concord to relive the beginning of our independence from England. The skies were menacing and it was easy to imagine the scrappy colonists fighting for their lives against the professional soldiers of the British Empire. The entire day could not have been more perfect. As I approached Foxboro stadium for the game between my country and my mom’s country, the rains started and did not stop. The game was one of those special moments in US history. The English were the founders of the modern game of soccer, and we were that country that plays…baseball. Even if the English did not have their strongest squad, to beat them would be amazing. The game was fast from the start and was extremely exciting as both teams pushed for a goal with some near misses. It was Tom Dooley, a German-born American, who scored the first goal, and upstart Alexi Lalas who scored the second goal. Appropriately, both were from headers. The final 20 minutes were frantic as England attacked wave after wave, but the young Americans held on, for an historic 2-0 victory. Soaked to the bone, it was quite a night and well-worth losing my voice on that cold damp night. The next morning, I flew up to RFK Stadium in DC to watch Germany take on Brazil. It was a highly entertaining match, as who else but Jürgen Klinsmann scored two goals to preserve a 3-3 tie with the boys from Brazil.

Players always ask why we juggle, as it doesn’t happen in a game. Well, in this a game it did. No idea which Brazilian it was…could have been any of them, but the left mid trapped the ball with his chest, and effortlessly juggled it about 15 yards down the left sideline with a German player helplessly running at his side. The Brazilians last juggle was a cheeky chip over the German’s head, followed by a cross and a spectacular volley for a goal. Outside the entertaining game, what I recall most was overhearing a beer vendor complain about soccer fans, as he sighed that, during the game, soccer fans rarely leave the inside of the stadium during the game. He didn’t realize that if you leave for a snack, you may miss the only goal in the entire game. For the following year’s World Cup, it was clear that a lack of commercial breaks was a problem the American businesses were overly concerned about, yet something most American sport fans were already accustomed to. Many naysayers said American sports fans could not live without ads and were uncomfortable with the non-stop action in soccer that was so different than the other American sports. The 1994 World Cup would prove all the doom and gloom pundits very wrong.