More than 90,000 witnessed Roberto Baggio's iconic penalty miss.
Has it really been 20 years since the World Cup invaded U.S. soil?
It doesn’t feel that long since the Summer of Lalas, but indeed, doing the math, it’s hard to believe that two decades have passed since Romario roamed the pitch and All-4-One terrorized the charts.
A lot of people have taken the occasion of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil to commemorate that 1994 edition. Paint us no different.
As part of our record-breaking look back at World Cup history, today we focus on that 1994 tournament, which remains the holder for largest attendance at a FIFA World Cup.
In a tournament that truly ran from sea to shining sea – with venues stretching from as far east as Foxborough, Massachusetts, to as far west as the San Francisco area – 3,587,538 spectators passed through the turnstiles of the nine stadiums.
That’s the most ever for a single World Cup, and the per-game average of 68,991 remains the highest mean for a tournament, too, aided by massive venues like the Pontiac Silverdome.
Amazingly, the record has held despite the World Cup since expanding from 24 teams to 32, and the total number of games played from 52 to 64.
The residual effects of the tournament can still be seen today. America now boasts the most youth soccer players of any nation, at more than 3 million. That number doubled between 1990-2010. Major League Soccer - founded as part of the 1994 bid and debuting in 1996 - has grown from 10 teams with no dedicated stadiums to 19 clubs with four more on the way, and 14 current soccer-specific grounds.
It helped that the matches of 1994 were all played in American football stadiums, marking the first real global marriage between “football” and football. It also helped that the largest of them all, Pasadena’s famous Rose Bowl, hosted the most matches. The 91,374-seat field saw eight games decided there, including the final and one semifinal.
But the secret to the 1994 World Cup's success is that it hit America at the perfect time. The team had already participated in Italy ’90 and, despite not winning a match, afforded the American public four years of awareness to get psyched for Tony Meola, Eric Wynalda, and Cobi Jones.
As an 8-year-old that summer, I remember having never watched a soccer game in my life. They couldn’t use their hands, so what kind of silly sport could this possibly be?
But the sheer magnitude of the event, the never-ending spectacle, and the thought that the entire world had its eyes trained on my country – it felt like a month-long circus. And by the end, while I couldn’t have picked Gabriel Batistuta out of a lineup of two, I sat glued to my TV to watch Roberto Baggio sail a finals-deciding penalty into the sun-kissed California crowd.
Obviously, the rest of America joined me in this rapture.
The booming Clinton administration was off and running, and the U.S. sat primed to welcome this international curiosity to its home. With the '90s as the first decade in which the world truly started shrinking into the global village we know it as today, it only made sense to marry the planet’s favourite game with the decade's pre-eminent cultural flag-bearer as host.
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