Clarence Goodson and Chris Wondolowski may have grown up on opposite ends of the country, but on April 6th, 1996, they were connected with one game.
Goodson is an Alexandria, VA native. The historic waterfront town is just a 22-minute drive across the Potomac River to RFK Stadium, home of D.C. United. Wondolowski is from Danville, a short drive from Spartan Stadium & the San Jose Clash.
Coincidentally, those two teams played each other in the first MLS game ever on that day, and though only Wondolowski was present at the game in San Jose, Goodson wouldn’t miss a second of the action either; he just had to watch on television.
“I watched it on TV!” said Goodson, “With D.C. United being in it and being a local guy back in Virginia, I watched all of them. It was an up-and-down, tense game.”
Wondolowski had the luxury of being close enough to attend with his family. At 12 years old, he had already developed a love for the game.
“I loved soccer before that, and I was going to love it after. It was a really cool thing to see,” Wondolowski said.
Any fan that attended that game will recall the electric atmosphere and excitement built up by the lack of a sustainable professional league in the Bay Area, and Wondolowski is no different.
“I remember sitting just above the 18, they weren’t great seats, but it was the side that they walked down from,” he recalled.” We were way up there, so we couldn’t make it down for autographs or anything because it was so crazy and hectic.”
Back in the Washington D.C. area, Goodson saw the impact of the league and his childhood team up close and personal.
“I was 13 at the time and got to go to a lot of games at RFK Stadium to watch D.C. United,” said Goodson. “I was there the first game that they had. It was just a really good atmosphere at that stadium, much like it is now with La Barra Brava. Fans were just jumping up and down.”
“I was in awe of those guys, being on the fringe of youth soccer and college soccer for those early years,” he added. “D.C. had a good year that year! It was good for us in the community to have that team and see so many good players up close and personal.”
He even played with and against the team he watched so often as he rose through the ranks of youth, college, and professional soccer on the East Coast.
“I was lucky enough to come full circle and play against a bunch of those guys in college,” said Goodson. “When I was at Maryland we scrimmaged D.C. United, and played against them as a professional. It was a really special time.”
They did not know that one day they would be the key assets of a strong San Jose Earthquakes core in the very league that they witnessed begin, but Wynalda’s goal for San Jose that day paved the road for them to meet on the pitch almost two decades later.
“It was quite a long time ago,” said Goodson. But I remember Wynalda scored a great goal. It was a bummer at the time for me, but you could see that MLS was going to be something really special. It’s been great to watch it grow and to be a part of it for so many years.”
“It was a great experience,” added Wondolowski. “It was a great thing for soccer. I remember Wynalda scoring that goal, and it’s great to see where the league has gone and hopefully it continues to grow like that. It’s important to recognize the guys who blazed the trail for us.”