On Tuesday, crowds gathered across campus to huddle around TVs to watch the United States battle Belgium in the FIFA World Cup. And despite the heartbreaking loss, the U.S. and Stanford have much to be proud of, given how far the country has come in the soccer world over the past two decades.
“To understand how the 1994 World Cup changed soccer in America, you must consider what soccer was like in America,” wrote DAVID KIEFER, assistant media relations director in Stanford Athletics.
“Most young American soccer players had never seen a professional match – on TV or in person. Virtually the only soccer programming came on Spanish-language channels, and often only with the help of rabbit-ear antennas draped with tin foil.
“There was no true outdoor soccer league in the country in 1994. The mercenaries who tried to make a living at the game in the United States played indoor soccer, on turf-covered ice rinks. The indoor league was more stable than the top outdoor circuit, the American Professional Soccer League (ASPL), which lived up to the adage that if you need to have ‘professional’ in your name, you probably aren’t.
“The APSL averaged ‘crowds’ of barely more than 2,000 and hardly was the launching pad the American game required to increase its popularity and stature. At the time, American players were not really accepted in Europe, and the best players had barely any club options at all …
“Much of the mainstream media only begrudgingly embraced soccer, and only because they understood that the World Cup was a big deal. Soccer, however, was not, at least in their eyes. Most newspaper sports editors did not grow up with the sport, were unfamiliar with it, and were eager to belittle it.
“But the 1994 World Cup, which included six matches at Stanford, changed all that. And Stanford’s role in that transformation was a great one.
“When the U.S. was awarded the World Cup by FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, in 1988, the U.S. hadn’t qualified for a World Cup since 1950. The concern internationally was whether the tournament would be a source of embarrassment for the U.S. on the field and in the stands, and for FIFA, for taking the chance on the U.S. in the first place.
“Stanford played a role in earning the trust of FIFA because of its success in hosting matches during the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Nine were played at Stanford, drawing crowds of 83,642 for an Italy-Brazil semifinal, 78,000 for a first-round match between the U.S. and Costa Rica, and 75,000 for West Germany-Brazil.
“In the years that followed, Stanford became a regular stop for the U.S. national team, playing five exhibitions from 1990-93, against the USSR and Russia, Argentina, China, and Germany. The 1998 World Cup cycle included two qualifying matches at Stanford, against Costa Rica and Canada.
“The South Bay’s rich soccer history, featuring the original San Jose Earthquakes of the old North American Soccer League, and the massive size of Stanford Stadium made Stanford an ideal choice as one of the 1994 Cup’s nine host venues.
“It got even better – the Stanford venue would become the home base for Brazil, the three-time world champion and the masters of ‘the beautiful game,’ in which style is just as important as results in the soccer-mad nation.
“The Brazilian fans descended upon the team’s tournament headquarters at the now-closed Villa Felice lodge in Los Gatos and the team’s training grounds at Santa Clara University’s Buck Shaw Stadium. Training would be joined by chanting and singing fans, who at night would shift to Los Gatos’ Town Plaza Park for samba, soccer and one big continuous party.
“The Brazilians taught Americans how to be soccer fans and their influence remains in evidence today with the singing, chanting and drum-beating supporter groups that now proliferate the American soccer scene.”
Kiefer noted that the average attendance at the six matches that were held at Stanford in 1994 was 81,736.
“But, even more important,” he added, “was the respect the U.S. gained as a soccer nation. “Not only did America prove to the world that it could appreciate and support the game at its highest levels, but the quality of play by the U.S. was proof of inclusion into the realm of soccer’s elite.”
Read Kiefer’s full story on gostanford.com