FEATURE: The stories behind Major League Soccer’s inaugural match in San Jose

Turning back the clock 3

The story of Major League Soccer’s inaugural match is well documented. The San Jose Clash defeated D.C. United 1-0 and the sell-out crowd of nearly 32,000 at Spartan Stadium went crazy thanks to Eric Wynalda’s late game-winner. However, the stories behind the story are not quite as well known. Here are a few of the best from various people involved in the match regarding MLS’ humble beginnings.


Defender John Doyle: “You look at the San Jose Earthquakes teams that have won MLS Cups – Landon Donovan and Frank Yallop and those teams – they were all training at West Valley Junior College. You’d get in your car, drive to West Valley, get out of your car in your training gear and hope that the boys’ or girls’ soccer teams weren’t on the good field or that hopefully classes ran late. Then you’d practice and worry the whole time about getting a parking ticket. Then you would finish practice, jump in your car in all your sweaty gear, drive 20 minutes back to Spartan Stadium, shower and go home. Now, if you look at Earthquakes Stadium and the practice field there, the facilities are beautiful with a gym and food. There was no idea of food or a television to watch or anything like that in our locker room. Our locker room had an old coffee machine that was tiny. It was a portable building and even then, we thought it was great because it was a start. It was better than nothing.

“I think that, facilities-wise, the feel of Earthquakes Stadium, to walk around that place is incredible. To have a practice field is incredible. For the coaches to be able to decide they want to practice at 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., 4 p.m., all those things that we take for granted now, were very different back in 1996. Teams didn’t have soccer-specific stadiums. You’d go to a stadium and you thought the field was going to be great and they had a monster truck event or a concert the night before. Soccer was an afterthought then, and now the stadiums, fields and staffing are great. We had one assistant coach and one trainer. Massages were rare because there was one masseuse that came once a week and there was a line of 10+ guys. It’s just a different world, for the better. I think it’s awesome what’s happening now.”


Goalkeeper Tom Liner: “We didn’t generally practice in Spartan Stadium. In that week before the game, we started practicing in the stadium to get used to the confines of the walls. It was so narrow, and short, compared to the Rose Bowl and some of the others that we played in. So, it was a tough stadium to play in, and we were trying to get used to it. We were doing shooting practice, and I dove for a ball to my right side, and I remember feeling this horrible pain in the right side of my buttocks. I had dove onto a sprinkler that hadn’t reset into the ground. It broke a bunch of blood vessels, and I knew right away something wasn’t right. I could instantly feel it swelling. I got through training and got into the locker room. I was really careful not to show anyone. I went into shower and one of my teammates was like, ‘Holy smokes!’ It was absolutely killing me.

“The next day it was completely black and blue. I had to get through another training session and usually the day before a game as a goalkeeper you’re not doing a lot of diving, more of a walk-through, so I was able to get through it. At the end of practice, I waited until everyone was done showering and I got in there by myself to hide the bruise. And sure enough our coach Laurie Calloway walks by and he sees me and he goes, ‘Tommy, what happened there?’ And I say, ‘Oh nothing, I’m good.’ And he says, ‘You’re not good, you can’t play on that.’ He proceeds to whack the spot with an open hand to see if he’s can get a reaction out of me. It hurt so bad, but of course I don’t flinch. And then he goes, ‘I guess you’re alright then.’ During warmups I was really careful. I was hoping I wouldn’t dive to my right side, but you’ve got to get fully ready. It was definitely in the back of my mind the whole time because it was awful, but I wasn’t going to miss the game for anything. Fortunately, I didn’t have a lot to do in the inaugural game. It was a good win for us and that was the first shutout in the history of the league. No one else can say that, so it was cool.”


Superfan Dan Hahn: “I got to know Peter Bridgwater through a coworker and eventually became his financial advisor. We would have lunch every once in a while, and he asked me to be involved in getting people excited about the start of the season. One of the things he asked of me was to help build up a supporters’ group. We used to go around to all these pubs and meet with existing groups to recruit them because we felt the more the merrier.

“One particular group was at the Edinburgh Castle Pub in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco. We had reserved a private room upstairs and their leader was a guy referred to as ‘Big John.’ They said they wanted to be the unofficial Clash supporters’ group, and not part of The Casbah. We had some calls and got to know them. They were a tough bunch, but really nice guys underneath.

“Some things happened, and that group was asked not to return, so they began to support the San Francisco Seals instead. The funny part was the following year, in 1997, San Jose played the Seals in the U.S. Open Cup at Spartan Stadium and every time San Francisco scored, the players would run right to them.”


Defender Tim Martin: “We were secluded. Coach Laurie Calloway had us stay in a hotel. There was a little more anticipation because we were away from our families. I remember it was hard because if you’re married or you have a girlfriend, you usually spend time together before a game, but this time we were by ourselves. We were basically sequestered.

“I remember reading the paper, and I’m a big sports fan, and the Mercury News is all about us. I’d been reading the sports page since I was six years old, and now it’s all about us. So, there was definitely more anticipation among the guys because we were sequestered all together. All we had to do was wait and think about the game from that moment.”


Equipment manager Brian Holmes: “I got dragged in to do the uniforms at the last minute. It was such a mess. San Jose had Nike uniforms and D.C. had adidas uniforms. I was responsible for putting names and numbers on both teams’ jerseys. However, the adidas kits didn’t show up until the day before so I was putting names and numbers on D.C.’s shirts until 4 a.m. the day of the game.

“We were so excited. I had been involved with the Earthquakes since the 70s, all the way through NASL to the Western Soccer Alliance and even the Major Indoor Soccer League. I remember back in the 80s, we would fly to our destination on game day, get picked up in two mini vans, quickly stop by McDonald’s for lunch, and get to the stadium a couple hours before kickoff. Then after the game, it was straight to the airport to fly home. I knew Major League Soccer was going to be completely different and way more successful. You had companies like adidas and Nike supplying the jerseys and these great, great players were being signed. The success of the inaugural match definitely got the league off on the right foot.”