This Week In MLS History: The Inaugural Season

Posted In Features - By Chris Ballard On Friday, May 20th, 2011 With 1 Comment

By the spring of 1996, the World Cup in the United States was becoming a somewhat blurred memory - Brazil had left the Rose Bowl after winning the famous trophy on penalties, and Roberto Baggio’s face after missing the deciding shot has since become an iconic image.

One of the conditions of FIFA awarding the competition to the United States was that a professional soccer league be established to replace the lost NASL, and Major League Soccer was founded in 1993 to keep that pledge, and ten teams were divided into two conferences:

Western Eastern
Los Angeles Galaxy NY/NJ Metrostars
San Jose Clash Tampa Bay Mutiny
Dallas Burn D.C. United
Kansas City Wiz Columbus Crew
Colorado Rapids New England Revolution

[sidenote – fans of the San Jose were upset that the original name of the team had been ignored; this was apparently at the behest of Nike, who demanded that the franchise be named “Clash”. The team was moved to Houston in 2005 to become the Dynamo, but San Jose returned to MLS in 2008 as the Earthquakes – their original name]

On April 6th 1996 the inaugural season kicked off with a nationally-televised match between San Jose Clash and D.C. United drew 31,000 fans. That game was settled by a late Eric Wynalda goal that prevented the game from entering a shoot-out.

Attendances were much higher than anticipated, especially within in the first two weeks. That large crowd for the first game was soon topped by a 69,000 crown at Los Angeles, and although attendances did tail off after the initial excitement, the average attendance at the end of the season was 17,406 - significantly higher than the anticipated 8,000-10,000.

In truth the regular season was little more than ceremonial as only 2 teams did not make it to the post-season (New England Revolution in the East, and Colorado Rapids in the West). The playoffs – excluding the final – were decided in a best-of-three series, with the team that had the best record through the regular to host the deciding match, if there was one. The final, which took place at Foxboro’s Gillette Stadium on October 20, 1996, attracted a crowd of 34,643, despite horrendous weather which drenched the pitch. Those who die make it were able witness the first ever MLS Cup go to DC United – 3-2 winners over L.A. Galaxy. DC came from two goals behind to send the tie into extra time, and after 94 minutes US national team defender Eddie Pope scored from a Marco Etcheverry corner to score the winner.

It was a good start for the fledgling league, and only one of the original 10 teams is no longer around; Tampa Bay were victims of the decision for MLS to pull out of Florida in 2001.

Finally, here are the Top 10 Goals from the inaugural MLS season, including (spoiler alert!) Wynalda’s goal at #1.

Top 10 Goals of 1996 from mlsinsider on Vimeo.

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  1. dj voter says:

    how awesome is that clash shirt!!! still better than most in mls now.

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