Nearly 17 years ago, the United States Men’s Soccer National Team gave the mighty Brazil national team all they could handle and then some during a World Cup match at Stanford Stadium on July 4, 1994.
The stars and stripes fell 1-0 to Brazil in the knockout round, but made a lasting mark on the view of the sport in the US and on the worldwide soccer landscape in general.
Several former US players from the 1994 team made the trek back to Stanford Saturday evening for the San Jose Earthquakes and New York Red Bulls Major League Soccer match.
Ex-national teamers Tab Ramos, Thomas Dooley, Marcelo Balboa, Paul Caligiuri, Fernando Clavijo, Mike Sorber, Juergen Sommer, Cobi Jones and John Harkes all spoke at a meet-and-greet with around 150 fans prior to the contest.
“I really cared about what our group was about,” Sorber said. “I knew they (Brazil) had some big name players. On that day, we did a pretty fair job against them.”
They were all a part of the United States team that fell to Brazil 1-0 in a tight second-round match at Stanford Stadium before a Bay Area soccer record crowd of 84,147 at the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
The Americans surprised many during the 1994 World Cup run. They defeated Columbia and tied Switzerland in the opening round before falling to eventual World Cup champion Brazil.
Four years earlier, the US broke a 40-year drought and qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1950. The national team’s success throughout the decade continued to grow the sport in America.
“The kids can dream big now,” Caligiuri said. “That’s the big difference from then to now. When we started playing we didn’t have anyone to look at. Our product on the field just keeps getting better. The foundation is so much stronger now for the kids coming up. That’s a great thing for US soccer.”
Lined up alongside a Stanford practice field, Harkes, an ex-US national team captain said it best.
“If someone gives us a ball right now I’ll divide us up and we’ll play right now,” Harkes said with a smile. “We love the game and respect the game itself. When you put on that jersey, you want to respect your country too. After 40 years, it was just a great sigh of relief just to qualify. We had a chip on our shoulder and a fighting spirit every time we stepped onto the field.”
The positive changes has the ground breaking group of soccer stars excited for what’s up next for American soccer. How far away is a World Cup title? Could it come on American soil in 2020?
“We’re a top 20 team in the world now,” Balboa said. “We aren’t ranked in the 90's anymore. Our expectations should always to be to get out of our group.”
Appreciative fans got autographs from the players after the sit down, then watched the Earthquakes and Red Bulls play to a 2-2 draw on a perfect summer evening in the Bay Area.
A fireworks show put a bow on the busy day after the match concluded just before 10 pm.