So, not only did the U.S.lose out on hosting the World Cup or even qualify for it. First, the struggling NASL went belly up after the 1984 season. Ironically, the Americans were eliminated from the qualifying competition exactly a year to the day to the start of Mexico '86 in a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica in Torrance, Calif. on May 31, 1985 -- before the final CONCACAF round.
But the seeds that the great Pele planted had started to sprout hundreds of thousands of children playing soccer in the most unlikely of places -- suburbia. Finally, a substantial base was being established from which to build. But as organizers discovered the hard way, players did not necessarily mean fannies in the seats, but there was an audience from which to build that was not associated with its traditional ethnic roots (the number broke one million in 1984, and went to 2.2 million). However, it would take some time for those roots, despite how plentiful they were, to take hold.
In 1984 the U.S. hosted the Summer Olympics, which included soccer. And in perhaps the most ironic twist of Orwellian irony, soccer's version of Big Brother -- FIFA -- was watching, and walked away rather pleased, not just with the quality of play, but rather the numbers.
Soccer, of all sports, led everyone in attendance as 1,421,627 fans -- an average of 44,426 per match -- showed up for 32 games. Track and field was next at 1,129,463. Total attendance was 5,797,923,
Because the tournament was so encompassing -- 16 teams -- for one stadium or area, even the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. could not hold all of the teams and matches. So, the tournament branched out -- to Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif., Harvard Stadium in Cambridge, Mass. and to the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Md. under the auspices of the soccer commissioner -- Los Angeles attorney Alan I. Rothenberg.
While the crowds did not break any records on the east -- they were at or close to capacity level -- an amazing story unfolded some 3,000 miles to the west. The tone was set early. In its July 29 opener at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, the U.S. won its first Olympic match in 60 years, defeating Costa Rica, 3-0, as 78,265 curious souls watched. The tone was set early. A crowd of 63,624 watched the U.S. drop a 1-0 decision to Italy at the Rose Bowl on July 31. A day later, Brazil edged West Germany, 2-1, before 75,249 at Stanford.
The U.S. did not get out of the opening round, yet attendance continued to rise or be impressive. For instance, in the semifinals, France defeated Yugoslavia, 4-2, before 97,451 at the Rose Bowl on Aug. 6, two days before Brazil downed Italy, 2-1, before "only" 83,642 at Stanford.
There still was room for growth. On Aug. 10, a consolation match -- a rather meaningless affair in soccer history, although a bronze medal was at stake -- attracted an incredible 100,374 at the Rose Bowl as Yugoslavia edged Italy, 2-1. That was a hard act to follow, but France and Brazil topped that in a 2-0 gold-medal triumph for the French as 101,799 jammed into the Rose Bowl for that encounter.
Perhaps it was the Olympics or the international lure. The bottom line was that people watched the matches, and FIFA took notice.
"FIFA and the world of sports were equally surprised: The Olympic Football Tournament surpassed the keenest hopes," Blatter wrote in his organization's official report of the Summer Games.
He was not alone. "All in all, Pasadena was a tremendous success for FIFA, of which they can be justifiably proud, and certainly augurs well for the future of association football in the United States," International Olympic Committee member Dr. Kevin O'Flanagan reported in the same publication. "One evening well into the competition, I saw president Havelange standing alone . . . with a satisfied smile on his face. It seemed to me he was glowing with inward pride at the success he saw all around him."
Suddenly, the U.S.'s stock as an international organizer of soccer events was on the rise. So were it's World Cup aspirations. Because the 1990 cup was scheduled to return to Europe in 1990, hosting that tourney was out of the question, but 1994 was certainly a viable possibility.
In one sense, the U.S.'s chances did not look very promising. There was no true coast-to-coast pro league. On the international level, the U.S. continued to struggle against the medium powers; forget about the superpowers.
Buoyed by optimism, the U.S., along with Brazil, Chile and Morocco threw its hat into the World Cup ring for a chance to stage the 1994 showcase. The Americans learned from their mistakes. World Cup USA 1994, a non-profit subsidiary of the U.S. Soccer Federation, was formed to prepare the bid, and eventually organize the cup.
Instead of a frivolous application, World Cup USA 1994 handed in a 381-page document that cost $500,000 to compile to FIFA -- "phone books" -- Fricker, who then was now federation president, liked to say.
Those phone books encompassed a tremendous amount of documents of federal government guarantees, including the government allowing players, coaches and representatives of hostile countries such as Iran and Iraq to obtain visas for the tournament, a selection of 18 stadiums, transportation system (road, train and plane routes and naps), tickets and media and marketing.
"There is a strong desire by FIFA and most people to have the World Cup come to the United States," Fricker said after the application was completed. "A lot of people see the United States as a white spot on the map of soccer in the world . . . They [FIFA] would very much like to see development in soccer in the United States and to see it grow in a very big way."