Monday, December 27, 2010 |
Remember World Cup '94?
Ever if you were young, or hadn't quite taken to the sport yet, you surely remember the tournament that spawned nearly everything that American soccer is today. The tournament itself was a massive (though very warm) success, setting a ticket sales record that has still yet to be broken. Americans actually seemed to care about soccer for a brief window of time. The plucky US National Team made it into the second round with inspiring heart and desire augmented by a bit of luck. Brazil defeated Italy in front of a Rose Bowl crowd of 94,000+ to win their 4th title. Diana Ross became an enduring part of soccer history for all the wrong reasons.
Yes, I'm sure you remember World Cup '94. It really wasn't that long ago, just 16 years give or take a few months. That's a blink of an eye in terms of developing a serious soccer culture. Soccer in America has been on a stop-start but consistently upward trajectory ever since. It's not clichéd to say the Summer of '94 was the most important single period in the history of modern American soccer.
Know who doesn't remember World Cup '94? Several newly-signed MLS players, that's who. Between players who were too young to remember or simply hadn't been born, the league spawned by that World Cup now has a small collection of talent that falls into a generation who only know of our time on the world stage through dated footage and yapping ex-players turned pundits. It's enough to make the rest of us feel rather old.
By my best reckoning, Revolution academy signing Diego Fagundez and Union signing Zach Pfeffer are the first contracted MLS players born after World Cup '94.
Of course, it's just another milestone along the way, signifying nothing more than that we've managed to keep things going since getting a fresh start back in the 90's. In a sense, not remembering '94 or a time when there was no MLS could be an advantage for the PS94 (post-Summer of '94) generation (I'm up for suggestions on this label - that one feels weak). Without having experienced American soccer's darker days, when the professional domestic game consisted of only disjointed lower-level leagues and indoor soccer, young players aren't burdened with the same expectations that their predecessors were. The way they're entering the professional ranks, via academies the likes of which seemed like high fantasy in the mid-90's, makes them more like their peers abroad than American players have ever been before.
They have likely never considered giving up the game to play another sport because of peer pressure or something else. They didn't have to wonder if their choice of college would hurt their draft prospects or if there was going to be a scholarship coming to help pay for school. They didn't have to conjure some fantastic dream of making it in Europe in order to turn playing a game into a job. They had role models and heroes right here in this country every moment of their soccer-playing youths. Now that they've turned pro, they've barely had time to realize that, in a way, they're the latest in a long line of American soccer trailblazers, adding new branches to a path that was first tread in this country in a meaningful manner way back in 1994.
1994. The distant past, the long long ago, when the clubs these players just signed with were nothing more than concepts in the minds of a few rich men (perhaps foolishly) willing to throw down some cash in the hopes that the success of the World Cup could be rolled into a professional soccer league (in the case of Pfeffer, his club was not even a hint of a whisper of an echo of an idea). 1994, when an American soccer league with 18 teams and a glut of purpose-built stadiums was the wildest dream of the mad fanatic and the hopelessly optimist. It was long enough ago that a player the same age as Fagundez and Pfeffer are now would still have been six or seven years away from his professional soccer debut. It bears mentioning that he might have feared back then that the American league he hoped to play in wouldn't be around when he finally emerged from college.
1994. A long time ago.
And yet, it wasn't that long ago, really. It's all a matter of perception, a function of how worn and wide the path was when you joined it. If you weren't even born in 1994, it's a matter of ancient history.
Seems momentous, somehow, that we have players for whom the American World Cup is beyond the scope of their lifespans, let alone their awareness.
Next up, and very soon, players born after the start of the inaugural MLS season.