The world at large is slowly starting to wake from its self-imposed slumber. Nations, states, cities, and towns everywhere are beginning their attempts at resuming life – whatever that may look like in a pre-vaccine COVID-19 world. For sports leagues around the globe, plans are already in place or currently being hammered out to resume competition. While details are still being discussed, negotiations are still being had, and logistical challenges are being addressed, we at The Turf are continuing our “Filling the Void” series. Since mid-March, we’ve been looking back on remarkable, historic, inspiring and noteworthy sports stories of days gone by.
Come with us to Foxboro, Massachusetts. No, we’re not here to see the New England Patriots. Instead, we’re witnessing the culmination of years of groundwork laid for nearly a decade. The year is 1996 – and the occasion is the first awarding of the MLS Cup.
Today: 1996 MLS Cup – Los Angeles Galaxy vs. D.C. United
I’ll be honest – it’s a challenge to sit through this one. The pitch is in absolutely terrible shape thanks to a nor’easter that had passed through New England. League officials contemplated canceling the match, but the lack of lightning enabled them to forge ahead.
Paving the Way
Despite the sloppy weather and 1990’s broadcast technology – I think this game is worth watching because of what it represented.
Soccer is not one of the “big 4” in the United States. The American sports landscape is dominated by American football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. Over the course of my childhood, I played the game along with many of my friends. I used to joke that soccer was the sport everyone played before deciding which other sport to really commit to. Sure, there were leagues around the country, and even in Canada – but the sport never really garnered national attention the way the others had. There was the North American Soccer League. That was about it. The New York Cosmos had a guy named Pelé headlining a team with a handful of international stars. By 1984 the league, encountering numerous difficulties for a few years, had to fold up shop. That was essentially it – there was no longer a professional outdoor men’s soccer league in the United States. Until now.
Let’s Try This Again
In 1988 FIFA made the announcement that the United States would be the hosts for the 1994 World Cup – arguably the biggest sporting event in the world. There was international skepticism because, as noted earlier, soccer in the US was non-existent. Our National Team hadn’t been a factor on the world stage in decades, having not qualified for a World Cup since 1950. That, combined with our lack of a professional league, left many international soccer powerhouses scratching their heads. Regardless, the commitment was made to establish a league.
Fast forward to 1996. The United States has actually started talking about soccer on a larger scale. The Men’s National Team qualified for the 1990 World Cup in Italy (thank you Paul Caligiuri et. al.), and the 1994 tournament was, at the time, the most financially successful tournament in history. All of this momentum culminated with the official formation of Major League Soccer in February of 1995. Today’s game closed out that inaugural season. Who’d have thought that 25 years later MLS would still be “kicking around”. Not only that, but the league has grown exponentially as the game continues to win more and more American fans.
See You Tomorrow. Stay Safe. Stay Smart. Wash Your Hands.
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