It is only fitting that on the day after Real Salt Lake’s historic victory in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, Major League Soccer celebrates a milestone anniversary. Fifteen years ago today, the very first MLS game took place.
Just as fans across the US and Canada are celebrating RSL’s win and advancement to the CCL final, back on April 6, 1996, soccer fans across the continent tuned in to watch the San Jose Clash-D.C. United match. More than 31,000 fans packed Spartan Stadium for the event.
And thanks to one magical moment from Clash striker and US national team legend Eric Wynalda, they were not disappointed.
WATCH: The Best Goals of 1996
For 88 minutes, however, things didn’t look very good. We all watched our TVs with a hint of nervousness, almost embarrassment. After all, we had spent so much energy telling people how great our game was, how exciting, how creative, and yet, the very first game of our brand-new league was going to end in a 0-0 draw?
It seemed so, well, deflating.
And that’s when Waldo, one of the US’ 1994 World Cup heroes, came to the rescue. He picked up the ball on the left side and dribbled into the United area. He danced around a defender and curled a shot into the far netting.
Goal! Goal! GOAL!!!
The soccer nation erupted in that moment. Many of us also breathed a sigh of relief.
PHOTOS: MLS' Inaugural Year
Because we knew that that goal meant more than just a victory for San Jose. It meant that this was all real. It meant that this league, this game, our game, meant something.
And for many of us who had felt left out in the cold by the larger soccer world—back then, it was nearly impossible for American players to break into teams in Europe or South America—MLS was a kind of salvation. It promised us a place to play, in front of friends and family and countrymen.
So that inaugural MLS match was huge. But we knew it could be only the beginning. Things still had a long, long way to go.
A familiar refrain back in 1996 was that if the league could last 10 years, it would last forever. Well, it has now lasted 15 years, and it is healthier than ever, with new teams, big-name players and growing crowds.
And now, it has a team in the CONCACAF Champions League finals, just two games from a chance to take on the world.