Eric Wynalda celebrates the San Jose Clash's win over D.C. United in the inaugural MLS game on April 6, 1996.
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Q&A: Eric Wynalda shares behind-the-scenes stories about 1996 MLS Inaugural Match

"There was just a lot going on behind the scenes. For me, there was an interest from the German media, which were monitoring the build-up to the game. They had microphones in the bus, in the pre-game meeting. I was just trying my best to get as much attention to the game as possible. There was such an overwhelming interest from overseas and Europe. Our schedules were altered a lot for guys likes myself who just came back from the national team. The league was putting Tab [Ramos] Marcelo [Balboa] and John [Doyle] and myself through constant interviews. The league was nervous about everything but they just wanted this to go well so badly. My memory really was how nervous my teammates were. They were trying to hide it, but it was certainly a lot more attention than they've had to go through. It was just interesting to watch their reaction and to try and calm the nerves of the guys. Once the game started it was a good indicator that we were collectively nervous about the outcome and then it started to calm down a bit."

"It was just a message of calm down and play. Michael Emenalo who was in our midfield. He was an incredibly calming influence at halftime. It was just so easy to get fired up and nervous. We needed Michael and to a certain extent myself to be a reassuring voice and tell them 'Hey, we can do this. Let's just calm down and play. This is what we need to do, this is how we break them down.' We were able to figure out some of the frailties they had defensively and we were cognizant of that. Michael was the one who gave me an amazing pass somewhere around the 70th minute and I missed just wide. At that moment, I thought I let everyone down. That's it. I'm probably not going to get a better look than that. I probably should've put it away. [Jeff] Causey had made a really good save on a free kick just after halftime that he didn't get enough credit on. I can't believe he made that save. We needed the experienced guys to really calm the rest of the boys down so we could have just one moment where we got the goal we needed. It took a lot longer than we thought it would. We would be lying if we said it wasn't a relief because we didn't want that game to end 0-0 for so many reason."

"This actually has a story behind it. When we had our preseason down in San Diego, all of the teams were down there. We actually played D.C. United in a scrimmage in early March. There was a time where I broke in on the left side and I cut inside on Causey and I tried to take him near post and I missed. We both kind of glanced at each other and laughed. He said something along the lines of 'Don't try that on me. You're not going near post on me.' In the moment where I got passed the ball and locked up with Jeff [Agoos], I knew that Jeff was going to play me tough. He's actually one of the hardest guys to beat in a one-on-one scenario. Not just because his calves are bigger than everybody's but he has really good feet. The reason I'm so proud of the goal is because it was exactly what I was trying to do. I was trying to bate him. I was trying to meg him and I knew that as tired as I was, that was the only way to beat him was to go through him. Once the ball went through his legs, there was just a half second where everything clicks in and goes into slow motion. You rely on your training, your ability to calm your nerves and just focus on what you're trying to do. In that second though, I thought about that play in San Diego and I though he might think that for a second I would go near post on him. I dropped my left shoulder intentionally for him to think that and then I said to myself 'Pass it into the corner, he won't move.' My goal was to get him to statue, to not guess and wonder where I was going to go. I held my nerves and if I'm being totally honest, I didn't mean to put the shot that high. I really meant to put that a lot lower. There was a flash in that moment when I hit it where I said 'Oh my gosh. Stay down.' If I was younger and inexperienced and tried to put that in the upper corner, I would've put that in the stands. I remember something Paul Mariner taught me a long time ago when I was with the San Francisco Blackhawks. He said it's not about shooting, it's finishing. All you're trying to do is beat the guy with the long sleeves and this is how you do it. In that moment, I was just really proud of that goal because a lot of things came together for it to be the goal that it was. 

"This is a weird one. In the first half, I wore a shirt that had Reebok on it. If I would've scored in the first half, I was instructed to take my shirt off, take the fine so it could show Reebok. What ended up happening was the representative from Reebok as hanging over the edge of the tunnel saying 'Don't do it. Take the shirt off. Don't wear the shirt in the second half!' He was clearly scared and was realizing that the league was going to have a problem with it because it was the sponsor of the league. I don't know what his reasons were. We never even discussed it after. I took the shirt off at halftime and when I scored, I remember thinking it would've been great if I still had that shirt on. When I put the shirt over my head, the guys just ripped it off me. It was interesting because it was supposed to be a moment for Reebok and it ended up being just a guy taking his shirt off. Not a lot of people know that."

"To me it started in 1989 because we all played for the San Francisco Blackhawks. The Bay Area had become such a place that I loved so much because I had already lived there. What I remember most was that I had never walked on the field and recognized so many faces in the crowd. The other part of it was the staffing and the people who worked so hard for the inaugural game, just to see their joy was a great memory because it meant so much to so many of us. It wasn't just about having a game with a great ending, it was a great start and good feeling. I've always had that with San Jose. I always thought of it as my home. That's where my kids were born. It's always been a big part of me. It's always had a family feel. It was more than just a game. It was personal."


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