How appropriate that the 1994 FIFA World Cup Draw was held in Las Vegas – the gambling, glitz, glamour and betting capital of the world.
One of the more promising side stories was the press conference two days before the draw that introduced the formation of a new, 12-team professional league – Major League Soccer, the first national professional first division in the United States since the original North American Soccer League went out of business after the 1984 season.
“We believe the time has never been more right for a professional league to succeed,” former U.S. Soccer president Alan Rothenberg said. “The level of participation in soccer in this country has been growing by leaps and bounds. We have proved in organizing the World Cup that we can convert participants into spectators. I have no doubt a league like this will be successful.”
The new league also got the approval of FIFA, which had been urging U.S. Soccer to form a league since it awarded the World Cup to the USA in 1988.
“FIFA was very pleased to receive the excellent report from Major League Soccer,” current FIFA president Sepp Blatter said. “We are optimistic about the future of soccer in the United States.”
After singer James Brown provided the musical entertainment, the proceedings began.
Comedian Robin Williams did his best singlehandedly – literally – to liven up the event. He put a white surgical glove on his right hand before he picked a ball out of a bowl.
Williams commented on the huge, colorful electronic board that listed the six groups and the 24 teams. “Look! The world’s largest Keno board,” he said.
Through a taped message, President Clinton welcomed the world and an international TV audience estimated at 500 million. Then an array of celebrities and athletes – actor Jeff Bridges, women’s soccer legend Michelle Akers, actress/model Carol Alt, pop artist Peter Max, race car driver Mario Andretti and Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton helped put the World Cup schedule together.
By the time the dust settled, the U.S was scheduled to play Switzerland on June 18 at the Pontiac Silverdome in the first World Cup match to be held indoors; Colombia, considered to be one of the best teams on the planet at the time, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on June 22; and Romania in the same venue on June 26.
“Colombia has beaten the United States twice, 1-0 and 2-1,” said then-U.S. head coach Bora Milutinovic. “It’s time for the United States to beat Colombia.”
Added team captain and goalkeeper Tony Meola at the time: “I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t move on. We’ll have to fight, but we would have to fight in any group.”
But the U.S. Soccer officials were more than a little concerned. Colombia at the time was considered one of the best teams in the world. Up to then, no host team had failed to reach the second round.
“A draw’s a draw,” said longtime U.S. Soccer Secretary General Hank Steinbrecher. “At any rate, Blatter says that the draw really doesn’t matter and you’ve got to play the best teams anyway. We predicted we would lose to Colombia, tie Switzerland and beat Romania. That was the thinking at the time. What happens? We beat Colombia, lose to Romania and tie Switzerland. So the lesson I learned from that? Blatter may be right. The draw really doesn’t matter. What matters is what’s going to happen on the field.”
- Michael Lewis