The date was July 4, 1988, and things were about to change for soccer in the United States and for the U.S. Soccer Federation. FIFA had just awarded the USA the 1994 World Cup.
The skeptics laughed. The world held its breath. The day had arrived when the top national teams from around the world would sink their cleats into American soil to compete for the most coveted trophy in all of sports. Few had faith in this country’s ability to produce the enthusiastic soccer environment conducive to an event as watched and revered as the World Cup. The few prevailed.
As the host national association for the tournament, the U.S. Soccer Family basked in the glory showered on them by the 3.5 million plus fans that poured into U.S. stadiums, beating by more than one million the attendance record established in Italy in 1990. The average attendance for the 52-game tournament of 68,604 also established a new record, and the American stadia were filled to approximately 96 percent capacity during the World Cup.
The success of the U.S. team, which advanced to the round of 16 for the first time since 1930, helped boost already-high U.S. television ratings, with approximately 11 million Americans tuning in to the USA vs. Brazil round of 16 match on July 4 (an all-time high for soccer in the United States at the time). Soccer had became a national sensation, and the USA had its first American soccer icon in the red beard of Alexi Lalas.
In the final, after a scoreless regulation and overtime, Brazil defeated Italy on penalty kicks 3-2 to become the first country to win four World Cup titles.
World Cup matches were played at nine venues — the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.; Foxboro Stadium outside Boston; Soldier Field in Chicago; the Cotton Bowl in Dallas; the Pontiac Silverdome outside Detroit; Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.; the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla.; Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, Calif.; and RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
World Cup USA 1994 also left behind a legacy for soccer in the U.S. A surplus of approximately $50 million — more than double original projections — was contributed to the U.S. Soccer Foundation, the U.S. Soccer organization created to administer the World Cup surplus.
"DID YOU KNOW?" - Factoids from the World Cup USA '94
* During regulation and overtime, teams were a perfect 15-of-15 on penalty kicks in the tournament (discounting the infamous penalty-kick shootout misses from a number of different teams, including Mexico and, of course, Italy).
* The lowest attendance for a match was 44,132 spectators at the Bulgaria-Nigeria first-round game in the 100-degree heat of the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas on June 21, 1994. When the game was first scheduled, the match was seen as an unfancied pairing of unknown teams, but Bulgaria would go on to the tournament semifinals, while Nigeria would become tournament darlings with their flamboyant, attacking play.
* The average attendance of 68,991 throughout 52 games in nine venues, stands far-and-away as the best in World Cup history.
* The scoreless 1994 final, which featured some amazing end-to-end action in the late going, marked the first-time a World Cup Final was decided via penalty kicks.
FINAL 1994 WORLD CUP RANKINGS
Rank Team (W-T-L / GF, GA - Pts.)
1. Brazil (5-2-0 / 11 GF, 3 GA - 17 pts.)
2. Italy (4-2-1 / 8 GF, 5 GA - 14 pts.)
3. Sweden (3-3-1 / 15 GF, 8 GA - 12 pts.)
4. Bulgaria (3-1-3 / 10 GF, 11 GA - 10 pts.)
5. Germany (3-1-1 / 9 GF, 7 GA - 10 pts.)
6. Romania (3-1-1 / 10 GF, 9 GA - 10 pts.)
7. Netherlands (3-0-2 / 8 GF, 6 GA - 9 pts.)
8. Spain (2-2-1 / 10 GF, 6 GA - 8 pts.)
9. Nigeria (2-0-2 / 7 GF, 4 GA - 6 pts.)
10. Argentina (2-0-2 / 8 GF, 6 GA - 6 pts.)
11. Belgium (2-0-2 / 4 GF, 4 GA - 6 pts.)
12. Saudi Arabia (2-0-2 / 5 GF, 6 GA - 6 pts.)
13. Mexico (1-2-1 / 4 GF, 4 GA - 5 pts.)
14. USA (1-1-2 / 3 GF, 4 GA - 4 pts.)
15. Switzerland (1-1-2 / 5 GF, 7 GA - 4 pts.)
16. Ireland Republic (1-1-2 / 2 GF, 4 GA - 4 pts.)
17. Norway (1-1-1 / 1 GF, 1 GA - 4 pts.)
18. Russia (1-0-2 / 7 GF, 6 GA - 3 pts.)
19. Colombia (1-0-2 / 4 GF, 5 GA - 3 pts.)
20. Korea Republic (0-2-1 / 4 GF, 5 GA - 2 pts.)
21. Bolivia (0-1-2 / 1 GF, 4 GA - 1 pt.)
22. Cameroon (0-1-2 / 3 GF, 11 GA - 1 pt.)
23. Morocco (0-0-3 / 2 GF, 5 GA - 0 pts.)
24. Greece (0-0-3 / 0 GF, 10 GA - 0 pts.)
TOP FIVE COUNTDOWNS IN NEXT WEEK'S WORLD CUP WEEKLY
Next week, the World Cup Weekly will feature a definitive and unassailable list of "top fives" from the 1994 World Cup in the United States. Included in next week's rankings will be:
-- Top Five Games of the 1994 World Cup
-- Top Five Goals of the 1994 World Cup
-- Top Five Moments from the 1994 World Cup
-- Top Five U.S. Men's National Team Moments from the 1994 World Cup
If you would like to chime in on your favorites as listed above, please send your "hit list" to email@example.com. A number of "World Cup Weekly" readers' lists will be included in the recap. In addition to the "Top Five Mania", more statistics and award listings from the tournament will also be featured in next week's World Cup Weekly.