Soccer-Coronavirus infects happy memories of first MLS matchReuters | Updated: 07-04-2020 05:51 IST | Created: 07-04-2020 05:51 IST
Major League Soccer played its first game 25 years ago on Monday and Eric Wynalda found that even happy memories can be infected by the novel coronavirus as he reflected on his 88th minute goal that earned San Jose Clash a 1-0 win over DC United in that historic match.
Recalling the contest played in front of a sellout crowd of over 31,000, that included then FIFA president Joao Havelange at San Jose's Spartan Stadium, Wynalda's initial thoughts were on more current events and the coronavirus offering a service announcement about the epidemic that has killed more than 10,000 Americans and shut down global sport. "If I could hug you, I would, but we're not allowed to hug right now," said Wynalda opening a conference call. "Usually we're the great unifier in times like these but we still have that opportunity to do the right thing and to stay home for now and make sure that we take care of ourselves because by doing so, we end up taking care of all of us.
"I can't believe it is 25 years ago." One of the most significant moments in MLS history played out quietly on Monday, with a replay of the match on YouTube with social distancing limiting post and pre-game celebrations to social media.
There were no reunions, no hugs and certainly no nostalgic visit back to the San Jose restaurant where they had a pre-game meal 25 years ago and several members of the team threw up not because the food was bad but because of the nerves. "We ate at the little Il Fornaio that's right down the street, downtown San Jose, and I remember they thought that the food was bad because four of our guys threw up after lunch, and it had nothing to do with the food," recalled Wynalda, who also played on three U.S. World Cup teams. "It was just nervousness.
"It was guys that had never played in a professional game or were just starting to feel the magnitude of what was about to happen; that we were going to be playing a game that the world was going to be watching." The league opened its 25th season to great fanfare last month welcoming two new franchises in Nashville and Miami, where David Beckham made his long-awaited return to the MLS as an owner.
But 25 years ago, the MLS very nearly got off on the wrong foot until Wynalda came to the rescue in the 88th minute scoring a goal that allowed the league to narrowly avoid the "boring" cliche criticisms the sport had been desperate to put behind it. Even DC defender Jeff Agoos, who helped lead United to the first MLS Cup, conceded the goal was the best thing that could have happened to the fledgling league.
"Everybody had complained about soccer is boring; and that what Eric did and what the team did, what the Clash was able to pull off, the fans; they wanted to come back," said Agoos. "They wanted to see another game and we really created a lot of momentum."