1994: The World Cup comes to America
The 1994 World Cup was, simply put, the biggest event ever in American soccer. All eyes were on the US to see if they were capable of hosting a world class event, and from an organizational viewpoint, it far exceeded even the most optimistic expectations, drawing a record 3,600,000 spectators, and averaging a record 67,000 per game, almost double the average attendance for the recent 1982 World Cup. Even better, the competition provided some of the most exciting games in the series, although this was tempered somewhat by the lackluster finale, which had to be decided by penalty kicks. The USSF Training Program had paid off, with the US giving a respectable performance, which took them beyond the first round for the first time since 1930, holding #1 Brazil to a scoreless tie into the 70th minute of their Round of 16 Game. They accomplished this with a tenacious defense that held the opponents to 4 goals in 4 games. The event garnered unprecedented press coverage in the American Media, and though the naysayers vented their disparagement towards the game, many other people discovered the game for the first time, and were primed for the arrival of Major league Soccer two years down the road. The naysayers also were denied their day when their hoped for hooliganism and violence failed to materialize; in fact there was not once incident of serious violence during the entire cup. Finally, several US players became household names through their feats and performances, including Tab Ramos, Cobi Jones, Eric Wynalda, Claudio Reyna, Alexi Lalas and others. Finally, major American Soccer players were recognized in the streets and by the mainstream sports audience.
After the Cup, came the business of preparing the National team for the next step, and putting together Major League Soccer. The first step was taken by the USSF which, sensing the American offensive weaknesses, sacked Milutinovic, and hired Steve Sampson as the new head coach. Sampson was assigned to build on the defensive core that Milutinovic had built, and fortify it with a powerful, attacking offensive capability.