Soccer Nation USA logo

1994 World Cup

World Cup Fever hits Pasadena

Despite the World Cup awarded to the US greeted with massive skepticism, the event was an incredible success. More tickets were sold than in any World Cup before, and so far, since. Americans from coast to coast were seeing why soccer was the world’s most colorful and popular sporting event in the world.

Games I went to:

My first World Cup game ever. I remember the excitement of the crowd and the pageantry but not too much about the actual game.

Don’t remember much here either except the horned Viking helmets by all the Swedes who all looked like Thor, and heading up to Old Pasadena for after game fun in the local bars.

One of the most exciting games of my life when Ernie Stewart scored followed later by John Harke’s cross which led to an own goal by Colombia’s Andres Escobar. We’ll never know if this fluky goal led to his tragic murder a few weeks later. We were in the second row at the Rose Bowl and after the game during the player celebrations, I threw my US flag to Eric Wynalda who wavwd it in the air as he carried it around the stadium in their victory lap. (John Harke’s Recap)

This was my moment. Somehow I had the opportunity to have a direct call-in from inside the Rose Bowl to a local TV station to report of the game and a half-time summary of the game. Note this was before cell-phones and I had to use a pay phone…in a huge stadium,,, with 95,000 fans screaming… in 102 degree heat. Well, I never got through on the pay phone and my career in reporting came to a quick stop. I grabbed another beer instead.

Romania-Argentina (Round of 16)
This was the game of the World Cup. I was so thrilled to see Maradona play, but it was not to be as he disappointed millions around the globe as he was found guilty of drug use and was banned from the World Cup right before this game. His specter haunted the stadium as small fights and bottle throwing from the Argentine fans rose up often throughout the game. In a back and forth thrilling battle on the pitch, the Romanian’s under their leader Gheorgi Hagi, (the Maradona of the Carpathians). pulled out a stunning 3-2 victory over a demoralized Argentina.

Sweden-Romania (Quarterfinal)
This was a brilliant match game up at Stanford Stadium. Both Romania and Sweden were surprise quarterfinalists and continued a offensive run of play that thrilled the world. Tomas Brolin from Sweden scored from a cheeky free kick that kids across the world attempted for months after. During our pre-game festivities, I left my wallet in a local pub. Fortunately, after the game, my wallet was still at the bar. Good reason to get another beer.

Sweden-Brazil (Semifinal)
We sat way up high in the Rose Bowl this time and were with a bunch of Swedish fans with their helmets and horns. Fun crowd but was happy to see Brazil in the final

Brazil-Italy (Final)
The night before the final, we hung out in Old Pasadena. The streets were blocked off and the entire town was partying Samba style. Yellow jerseys was everywhere and the streets flowed with Brazilian milk, honey and beer. Italy was Brazil’s opponent in the next day’s World Cup final, but you would never know with the overwhelming support for Brazil. It was nothing that Pasadena had ever seen before. no college Rose Bowl game could come close.

The World Cup game on July 17 was a nailbiter, and although many would say it was a boring 0-0 game, for soccer enthusiasts it was a master chess match with Brazilian flair verse Italian defensive tactics. This was the first World Cup final in history to end scoreless through regular and overtime and in the back of my head, in the thundering noised of the crowd, I could already hear all the American pundits making fun of the 0-0 game and how stupid it was to end a game on random penalty kicks. And yes, that was indeed the case for the next few weeks, but penalty kicks aside, there is no more nerve-wracking sporting event in the world then taking a kick against a huge goalkeeper in front of a shrinking goal in front of 1/2 a billion eyes and the entire fate of a nation resting on your shoulders. Just ask Roberto Baggio, a world class Italian superstar who launched the ball over the cross bar and almost out of the Rose Bowl. After 2 grueling years of World Cup qualifying, in 2 seconds that seemed like a lifetime, Baggio handed the World Cup trophy to Romario, Bebeto, Branco, Jorginha. Dunga, a young Ronaldo and all the Brazilians on a silver platter. To this day, on a missed penalty kick, older fans still say: “he did a Baggio!”

The Old Pasadena victory party was super samba all night long!

Other Memories of the 1994 World Cup

USA vs Brazil on July 4th. The most important game in US Soccer history.
What could be more perfect? The US knocks off one of the favorites Colombia to make it to the round of 16.

Their opponent: Brazil. The date: July 4th, Independence Day

In fact, the only reason anyone ever knew anything about soccer in the US was because the greatest player in the world, Brazil’s Pele, came to America and played for the NY Cosmos in the late ’70s, a team of foreign superstars that came to be known around the world. In 1994, if Americans ever thought of soccer, they thought about Brazil. That was it.

So for me, it was the perfect storm for soccer to finally make it America. Even though we had no league, we had no American soccer stars, and we had no media or public following, we did have a whole bunch of kids, like me and my brother, who had grown up playing in AYSO and other youth soccer leagues across the country. Now was different, and this one game… if we could beat Brazil…there would be no turning back.

I tried to figure out how to get to Stanford for this game, but no luck getting tickets for this game, and so I had to watch at home with my family and friends. In my sheltered-little mind, the build-up was so exciting, It pre-game hype was all over the news and you could feel a buzz everywhere you went,. The game was the talk of the town. Maybe it was just the circles I hung out with, but this was going to be a game changer.

Knowing Brazil’s 4th string team was better than our 1st team, I was not naïve about our chances, but was hopeful. As soccer goes, on any given day, the ball hits the post, passes are off, shots goes astray, players slip, and maybe fate is on your side. At first, the US played with heart and you could feel the patriotic fervor in their play. Brazil played uninspired and the US played toe-to-toe with the Brazilians until halftime. Tab Ramos, our most gifted technical player had caused quite a few problems for Brazil and our defense had held strong and stayed compact and given the Brazilian stars little to work with.

But just before halftime, everything changed in one split horrendous second. Tab Ramos had the ball near the sideline against Brazil’s Leonardo who in a quick reflex, swung back recklessly with his elbow right into Ramos’ cheek. Leandro was immediately red carded and Ramos went to the hospital with a fractured skull. Eric Wynalda subbed in for Ramos, but the damage was done. What seemed liked an unbelievable opportunity for the US with a man advantage turned sour right away. In the second half, the experience, the skill, and the focus of Brazil came to life, and they ran circles around a stunned and inexperienced US team. It took 73 minutes for Bebeto to break down the US defense and score the winning goal, but it was like watching men verses boys. Looking back now, the only grace was the goal was scored by the poor defending of Alexi Lalas, who for years has been the poster child for American arrogance – all bluster and no real skill. Fortunately, over the years, American player have improved tremendously and are getting opportunities in the soccer world because of their talent, not their personality.

The final result was a major let down, and I did not look forward to the media coverage. Because of the event, there was some continued coverage of the World Cup but with the US out, the public interest would fall and the media coverage would go back to its regular jokes about US soccer. What’s funny is that my future wife, who I had not met yet and lived only 15 minutes away from the Rose Bowl, had no idea the World Cup was going on. Twenty five years later, she is screaming at the TV with me hoping Bournemouth can upset Everton in a relegation game.

The heat and humidity and water baggies

The games in Texas and especially Florida were very hot and humid and I remember Holland and the Irish were having a difficult time with the heat. I think the official allowed a water break in between halves and I also remember the introduction of plastic water baggies that the team staff would toss to the players on the field who would break the bags and swallow as much water as the could in mid-stride.

Later that summer, in a youth tournament in the 105 degree heat of Santa Clarita, I had my teams parents make a bunch of water bags to toss to our players to help with hydration. However, after a few times, the game officials said we could not do it anymore.