If the United States had not hosted the 1994 World Cup, America might still be in the Stone Age, soccer-wise. With the Brazil 2014 World Cup imminent and the comprehensive ESPN presentation of the tournament that viewers in the U.S. are about to enjoy, it’s easy to forget just how much American TV soccer coverage has evolved since the pivotal 1994 World Cup.
World Cup USA ’94 was unforgettable for numerous reasons but the memory that looms largest in my mind is attending the first-ever World Cup match on home soil for the U.S. Men’s National Team, against Switzerland, at the Silverdome in Detroit, Michigan. I don’t know how my parents procured World Cup tickets for our family in that pre-widespread-Internet-era, but I’ll always be grateful they did. From our marathon road trip to Michigan, to the bus ride from our hotel to the stadium with cowbell-toting Swiss fans, to Eric Wynalda’s electric tying goal, those World Cup memories are truly special. But as meaningful as that experience was to me as a 17-year-old, I couldn’t imagine the impact it would ultimately have in reshaping the American soccer landscape.
Since this month marks the 20th anniversary of that magical World Cup month, I thought it would be fun to dig up my original VHS recording of the ’94 U.S./Switzerland match, which I haven’t watched in its entirety since I was actually sitting in the Silverdome stands nearly two decades ago. I thought correctly – boy was it ever fun to revisit…
My first impression upon starting the tape is that TV soccer coverage has come an unbelievably long way in the past 20 years. ABC didn’t have any sort of pre-game show (or if they did it wasn’t carried on my local ABC affiliate). They didn’t show the teams walk out onto the field or bother with national anthems. Just an aerial shot of the Silverdome, a brief shot of a few U.S. players filing past the camera, then a cut to host Jim McKay in the studio:
“Will it [World Cup USA ‘94] be a turning point, or just a footnote in the history of American sport?” asked McKay. He briefly explained the global bigness of the World Cup tournament before mentioning the U.S. team. “For the Americans, their first match today against Switzerland is critical to their chances to advance. They’re underdogs – maybe not quite as much as the 1980 U.S. hockey team, but pretty close.”