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With the long awaited and surprisingly successful debut of Major League Soccer, plus the US Women’s triumph at the Olympics, 1996 was a banner year for American soccer. Major League Soccer got off to a much better start than even the most optimistic forecasts had predicted, and the Women’s National Team triumphed, at the Olympics, winning the gold for the first ever women’s soccer competition. Meanwhile, the USL began its drive for Division 2 recognition by establishing the Select League, and the Men’s National Team started training in earnest for the 1998 World Cup. With the return of Division 1 soccer to the United States, a local domestic league was in place to give American players an unprecedented opportunity to not only gain top level playing experience, but to do so for hometown crowds. No longer would US players have to settle for Division II competition if they weren’t good enough to be one of the few players able to secure overseas positions in Europe.
Major League Soccer (Division 1)
Major League Soccer made its long awaited debut this year. As stated above, the season was widely successful, better than most predictions. The success was most profound at the gate; league officials had hoped to draw 8,000-10,000 fans per game and build up from there, but based on the huge crowds in the first weeks, the league averaged over 17,000. Weak spots showed up early and would prove to be major concerns as the year passed.
Competitively, the league showed how much was left to be accomplished, but the quality of play improved steadily as the season wore on and the teams gelled and players became familiar with each other and the coaches settled on playing styles. Pundits generally described the teams as fitting in somewhere around the middle of the 2nd division of the Spanish and English leagues. Attendance-wide, the US was ahead of all but the traditional four powerhouses in Europe, England, Germany, Italy and Spain, and comparable to the French 1st division. The US surprised everyone with the number of National Team members signed (the bulk of the player pool), but concerns were raised about whether the transfer of top players to MLS would hurt National team competitiveness. Which way to go? Give them competition overseas, or build up the MLS and allow them to get that experience at home? Only time would tell.
The major tasks at hand for MLS at the start of 1996 were to finalize the player pool for the inaugural draft. They kicked off by filling the final three coaching vacancies, hiring Eddie Firmani to coach the MetroStars on January 3, followed later by Bruce Arena at D. C. United, and Frank Stapleton with the New England Revolution. Carlos Valderrama was assigned to Tampa Bay Mutiny. Fifteen more players were added to the player pool, including National Team star Leonel Alvarez of Colombia. On January 5, the Player Combine was held in Irvine, CA, with all 250 non-allocated player in the player pool showing their stuff to the coaches for ten days. During the combine, Roy Lassiter was allocated to Tampa Bay Mutiny, and Eric Wynalda went to the Dallas Burn.
During the rest of January, several other player allocations were made, including Marco Etchevarry to D. C. United, Brian Bliss to the Columbus Crew, Digital Takawira to the Kansas City Wiz, and Uruguayan Adrian Paz to Columbus. On February 5, just one day before the player draft, MLS scored a coup in signing Marcelo Balboa, the US Team Captain and all-time appearance leader, as well as World Cup Italian Star Roberto Donadoni. Balboa went to the Colorado Rapids, and Donadoni to the MetroStars. Ten more players were allocated, and on February 6, with the signing of Shaun Barlett, all 40 allocated positions had been filled. The draft occurred February 6-7, with 160 players selected. This was followed in early March with the college draft (40 players) and a Supplemental draft of free agents (another 40 players). This number would be brought down during training camps to a roster limit of 18 players per team (+ discovery players).
The initial roster of MLS players was a varied group, coming from a variety of sources. Many players were from the A-League and USISL, with a liberal sprinkling of faces from the indoor National Professional Soccer League and Continental Indoor Soccer League. A number were fresh out of college (and would have a challenging time adjusting to the pro game), and a number came from foreign teams, US amateur clubs, and some were free agents. English and European team players were well represented, with such names as Ian Butterworth (Norwich, England), Brian McBride (Wolfsbger, Germany), Roy Wegerle (Coventry City), Adrian Paz (Ipswich Town), Paul Caligiuri (St. Pauli)Washington Ridriguez (Liverpool), John Harkes (Derby County), Frank Klopas (Apollon Athens), Nyanforth Peters (FC Locarno, Switz.), Preki (Portsmouth, Engl.), Brad Wilson (Saarbrucken), Donadoni (A. C. Milan), Ben Iroha (Vitesse Arnhem, Holland), Mike Burns (Viborg, Denmark), Peter Woodring (SV Wegen, Germany), Michael Emenlo (Notts County, Engl.), Alexi Lalas (Padova, Italy), Steve Pittman (Partick Thistle, Scotland). A substantial number of players came from prominent Latin American clubs, including Boca Jr.’s, UNAM (Mexico), America of Brazil and UANL of Mexico. Sixty four players were current or former members of various national teams, and twenty two of those had World Cup experience, and better than 2/3 of the US National Team player pool was now with MLS. This bode well for the league’s debut.
Another major concern for many soccer fans was what rules would be implemented. MLS was known to be very interested in many of the rule changes and experiments being used by the USISL, including bonus points, shootout tie breakers with the player wall, blue cards, kick ins, 60 minute clocks with time stoppage, corner kick variations, and even wider goals had been discussed along with the USISL’s 6-4-2-0+3 scoring system. Thankfully once the final rules were released, most of these experiments and “innovations” were passed over. The only changes to survive media scrutiny were a shootout (one on one) for tiebreakers, and a clock counting down.
The scoring system was established as 3 points for a win, 1 for a shootout win and 0 for a loss. Soccer purists breathed a huge sigh of relief but there was grumbling about the MLS attitude that the game needed to be modified to suit US tastes, rather than the idea that soccer should be played the way the world plays it. This attitude would not change until Don Garber became commissioner of the league in 1999. Another hopeful sign was the MLS’s operational decision to keep music and PA announcements to a very modest level, with no announcers or music during play, common annoyances during A-League, USISL and indoor games.
Finally, shortly before the season MLS reached an agreement with the USISL to establish a developmental agreement, in effect establishing two farm clubs for each MLS team in which MLS players would be placed on USISL rosters for development and call-up. This system, similar to that with Major League Baseball in effect established the USISL as a minor league for MLS, and was a key development in establishing peace between the soccer leagues. MLS also reached an agreement with the indoor NPSL where players could play for both leagues, with the understanding that NPSL players would not join the MLS until after their indoor seasons were over. The same would apply in reverse at the playoff season of MLS. A less formal arrangement was made with the A-League (which became stronger the following seasonm when the A-League was absorbed by the USISL). They would not be actively competing for players. The CISL was also actively cooperating with the other leagues and USSF, although they did not participate in a formal players agreement with MLS because they also played in the summer during the MLS season.
MLS made its debut on April 6, 1996 before a sold out crowd of 31,000+ at San Jose’s Spartan Stadium via nationwide broadcast on ESPN. The game showed quickly the typical rough edges of a new league with players still learning their positions on the team. What could have been a disastrous debut was saved in the final seconds by an Eric Wynalda goal, as the San Jose Clash defeated D. C. United. The most notable element of the first two weeks were the surprisingly large crowds for team home openers, topped by 69,000 at Los Angeles. Although this tapered off rapidly, the crowds remained higher than expected, and the 1,000,000th fan passed the turnstiles on June 1.
D. C. United’s Steve Rammel scored the first MLS Hat trick on May 15 in a 5-2 victory over Columbus. Marco Etcheverry scored the first Assists “hat trick” in that same game. On June 16, the LA/Tampa Bay game was paired with the USA/Mexico USA Cup championship game to provide a record crowd of 92,216. Mexico won the Cup on a 2-2 draw, and the Galaxy defeated Tampa 3-2 in a shootout. The All-Star game on July 14 in East Rutherford New Jersey pitted East and West squads against each other in doubleheader with a FIFA charity event pitting the FIFA All-Stars against Brazil. This event, which established a Giants Stadium attendance record of 78,416, saw the East defeat the West, while Brazil defeated the All-Stars 2-1.
Parity ruled in the league, at least in the Eastern Conference, as Tampa Bay pulled out a close divisional title over D. C. United, with the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, Columbus and New England tied at the bottom, with shootout victories making the difference. Los Angeles won the West fairly easily, with the only team truly out of the running being the hapless Rapids. They and New England were the only teams out of the playoffs. Roy Lassiter won the scoring title with 27 goals and 58 points, followed by Eduardo Hurtado and Preki, and Raul Diaz Arce. One particularly gratifying result of this first season was the strong performance of the American players against the foreign allocations. Unlike the NASL, where the league was overrun by foreign stars and journeymen, with the Americans relegated mostly to the bench (despite the minimum American player limit). This time the Americans were guaranteed a majority of the starting positions.
Of the top 20 scorers, ten were Americans. Goalkeeping, always an American strength was even more impressive, with nine of the top ten positions held by Americans. Los Angeles averaged an amazing 28,000 fans per game. TV ratings came in about what was planned for by ABC and ESPN, at about 1.5 per game. The MLS attendance surpassed even the most optimistic predictions, averaging 17,406 fans per game in the regular season for a total of 2,785,001. This far surpassed the best ever NASL seasons (1980) which averaged just under 15,000 fans per game. It should be noted however, that the NASL included twenty four teams, many poor performers during those years. Had the top ten teams been averaged (compared to the ten MLS teams), their average would have been just over 20,000 per game. An impressive result nevertheless, especially considering how many more major world stars and media hoopla the NASL enjoyed.
The playoffs saw Tampa Bay, D. C. United, Kansas City and Los Angeles advance to the semifinals, where D. C. United began to show their dominance by dispatching Tampa Bay 4-1 and 2-1, while Los Angeles in a much closer series defeated Kansas City 2-1, 2-2 (3-1 shootout). The championship game, the first MLS Cup, was a memorable affair, not only as an exciting see-saw match with a very high level of play, but also because of the crowd. Foxboro Stadium had been pummeled by a tremendous downpour for over twelve hours, reeling under ten inches of pouring rain. Very little rain fell vertically, as the winds came close to gale force, and the temperature was only a few degrees above freezing. Despite the horrendous conditions, over 34,000 fans (out of 46,000 tickets sold) braved the weather and stuck it out through an exciting game.
Eduardo Hurtado got the first goal in the 5th minute, and celebrated with a giant diving slide clear through one of the large puddles swamping the field. Chris Armas extended the score later, and it looked as if the game might be over. But D. C. United roared back as Tony Sanneh headed in a long Etcheverry free kick in the 73rd minute, followed by another Etcheverry free kick in the 82nd. The game went into overtime and Eddie Pope headed in the game winner off an Etcheverry corner kick. Many fans were already heading back to their cars by this time to avoid hypothermia, and heard the cheers, but had to get back to their car radios to find out who had won. D. C. United Captain John Harkes was awarded the newly-named Rothenberg Cup, while Etcheverry was named MVP.
Many of the Sam’s Army members who were active on the internet, formed their own mailing lists and supporters clubs for the various MLS teams. These supporters clubs worked with team management to secure their own sections in the stadium where they would stand and form loud and enthusiastic contingents, and stand, cheer, bang drums, sign, and try and get the rest of the crowds otherwise involved. They attracted considerable attention and added greatly to the stadium atmosphere, showing the powers that be that there are better ways than canned music to get the fans motivated. True to their collegial nature, the various supporters groups collaborated on “The mother of all tailgates”, a grand tailgate party at Foxboro before the game in which supporters of all MLS teams joined together in a big good natured party to celebrate the successful birth of the league. Shortly after the end of the season, Kansas City mercifully changed their nickname to the Wizards.
Final 1996 MLS Standings GP W WS LS L GF GA Pts Eastern Conference Tampa Bay Mutiny 32 19 1 3 9 66 51 58 DC United 32 15 1 3 13 62 56 46 NY/NJ MetroStars 32 12 3 2 15 45 47 39 Columbus Crew 32 11 4 5 12 59 60 37 New England Revolution 32 9 6 2 15 43 56 33 Western Conference Los Angeles Galaxy 32 15 4 4 9 59 49 49 Dallas Burn 32 12 5 3 12 50 48 41 Kansas City Wiz 32 12 5 2 13 61 63 41 San Jose Clash 32 12 3 6 11 50 50 39 Colorado Rapids 32 9 2 4 17 44 59 29 Quarterfinals: DC United defeated MetroStars, 2-3 (SO), 1-0, 2-1 Tampa Bay defeated Columbus, 2-0, 1-2, 4-1 Kansas City defeated Dallas, 3-2, 1-2, 3-2 (SO) Los Angeles defeated San Jose, 0-1, 2-0, 2-0 Semifinals: DC United defeated Tampa Bay, 4-1, 2-1 Los Angeles defeated Kansas City 2-1, 3-2 (SO) MLS CUP '96: DC United defeated Los Angeles 3-2(OT) LEADING SCORERS NAME GP G A Pts Roy Lassiter, Tampa Bay Mutiny 30 27 4 58 Eduardo Hurtado, Los Angeles Galaxy 26 21 7 49 Preki, Kansas City Wiz 32 18 13 49 Raul Diaz Arce, D. C. United 28 23 2 48 Brian McBride, Columbus Crew 28 17 3 37 Eric Wynalda, San Jose Clash 27 10 13 33 Vitalis Takawira, Kansas City Wiz 28 13 7 33 Steve Rammel, D. C. United 26 14 3 31 Paul Bravo, San Jose Clash 31 13 5 31 Jason Kreis, Dallas Burn 31 13 5 31 Giovanni Savarese, NY/NJ MetroStars 26 13 1 27 Marco Etcheverry, D. C. United 26 4 19 27 Jean Harbor, Columbus Crew 29 11 4 26 Pete Marino, Columbus Crew 29 11 4 26 Carlos Valderrama, Tampa Bay Mutiny 23 4 17 25 Missael Espinoza, San Jose Clash 26 10 5 25 Mark Chung, Kansas city Wiz 32 8 9 25 Joe-Max Moore, New England Revolution14 11 1 23 Shaun Bartlett, Columbus Crew 26 8 7 23 Giuseppe Galderisi, Tampa Bay Mutiny 21 7 8 22 GOALKEEPING LEADERS (Minimum 1,000 minutes) NAME TEAM(S) GP MIN SHTS SVS C/P GA GAA W L SO Jorge Campos, L. A. 24 2025 133 100 77 27 1.20 13 8 4 Dave Salzwedel, San Jose 14 1168 80 53 51 17 1.31 9 4 4 Tony Meola, MetroStars 29 2610 191 142 99 38 1.31 14 15 9 Mark Dodd, Dallas 31 2776 235 160 163 45 1.46 17 14 6 Mark Simpson, D. C. United 15 1260 70 46 56 21 1.50 7 6 3 Mark Dougherty, Tampa Bay 28 2520 187 123 88 47 1.68 17 11 3 Aidan Heaney, New England 19 1534 130 93 48 29 1.70 8 9 4 Tom Liner, San Jose 20 1712 119 75 63 33 1.73 7 12 3 Garth Lagerwey, KansasCity 23 1959 134 83 68 38 1.75 12 10 3 Jim St. Andre, New England 15 1346 91 57 44 27 1.81 6 9 2 Chris Woods, Columbus 23 2070 149 96 36 43 1.87 8 15 2 Jeff Causey, D. C. United 19 1620 116 70 71 35 1.94 9 10 0 Bo Oshoniyi, Columbus 13 1170 102 64 62 33 2.54 3 10 2 Honda Most Valuable Player: Carlos Valderrama, Tampa Bay Budweiser Scoring Champion: Roy Lassiter, Tampa Bay MasterCard Goal of the Year: Eric Wynalda, San Jose MLS Coach of the Year: Thomas Rongen, Tampa Bay Pepsi Goalkeeper of the Year: Mark Dodd, Dallas BIC Tough Defender of the Year: John Doyle, San Jose Bandai Rookie of the Year: Steve Ralston, Tampa Bay MLS Cup '96 Most Valuable Player: Marco Etcheverry, D.C. United AT&T Best 11: G - Mark Dodd, Dallas D - Robin Fraser, Los Angeles D - John Doyle, San Jose D - Leonel Alvarez, Dallas M - Marco Etcheverry, D.C. United M - Preki, Kansas City M - Mauricio Cienfuegos, Los Angeles M - Roberto Donadoni, MetroStars M - Carlos Valderrama, Tampa Bay F - Eduardo Hurtado, Los Angeles F - Roy Lassiter, Tampa Bay
The A-League (Division 2)
The A-League added their most successful franchise ever, the Rochester Ragin’ Rhinos. Rochester was an immediate hit with the fans, drawing over 9,000 fans per game, nearly as good as some of the MLS teams. The league continued with seven teams, including the revitalized Vancouver 86ers who nearly folded, being saved at the last minute through new financing. Although small, the league boasted some powerful teams, despite the loss of many top players to Major League Soccer. The Montreal Impact dominated the A-League this season, with 55 points to easily win the regular season title.
The league had followed MLS’s example, establishing a 3-1-0 scoring system with one-on one shootout tiebreakers, ending much of the confusion in last year’s standings. Colorado Foxes came in a strong second, holding up well while in competition with the MLS Rapids. Rochester came in 4th, but outdrew the rest of the league by a wide margin, leading to movement for the Rhinos to apply for MLS membership in the near future. Only the New York Fever and the hapless Atlanta Ruckus seemed hopeless on the field. In the playoffs, Rochester defeated Montreal 3-2, 0-3 and 2-1, while Seattle defeated Colorado 1-0, 0-2 and 3-0. The Championship game was a showdown between an established club and an upstart, as Seattle defeated Rochester 2-0 to claim the crown. But Rochester added to their triumphal debut by making it to the US Open Cup final, defeating several MLS opponents, before losing to the Open Cup champion D. C. United. The A-League drew 464,934 fans during the regular season, averaging 4,946 fans per game.
After the season, the A-League added Toronto Lynx and the Hershey Wildcats, but with competition looming on the horizon in the form of the USISL’s Select League applying for Division 2 status, it appeared this move was a risky one. Recognizing the futility of unnecessary competition and salary wars, A-League Commissioner Richard Groff and USISL Commissioner Francisco Marcos put aside their differences and agreed to merge. What actually happened was that the A-League folded, and six of the seven teams (all except New York) joined the Select League, which was renamed the A-League, and with a few other franchise shifts was re-established as a 24 team league with official USSF sanctioning as a Division 2 league. Better yet, with franchises in the three largest Canadian cities, it was recognized as the official Division 1 league for Canada.
The A-League continued its sponsorship with Umbro (the major sponsor of the USISL), and continued the television contract with Prime, for a 20 game slate. Although the talent was somewhat diluted by the large increase in teams, the league was much more viable now, and provided a critical link in the establishment of a true multi-divisional structure for the USA.
Final A-League Standings, 1996 Rochester Raging Rhinos were added. New York Centaurs absorbed the New York Fever of the USISL and were renamed the Fever. GP W L SW GF GA Pts Montreal Impact 27 17 6 4 40 18 55 Colorado Foxes 27 14 11 2 55 33 44 Seattle Sounders 27 12 11 4 35 25 40 Rochester Rhinos 27 11 13 3 44 42 36 Vancouver 86ers 27 10 14 3 38 38 33 New York Fever 27 6 18 3 30 40 21 Atlanta Ruckus 22 3 19 0 14 60 9 Semi-finals: Rochester defeated Montreal, 3-2, 0-3, 2-1 Seattle defeated Colorado, 1-0, 0-2, 3-0 CHAMPIONSHIP: Seattle defeated Rochester, 2-0. Toronto and Hershey, PA were added after the end of the season before the merger with the USISL. Leading Scorers: G A Pts Wolde Harris, Colorado 17 8 42 Doug Miller, Rochester 18 2 38 Domenic Mobilio, Vancouver 14 4 32 Lenin Steenkamp, Atlanta 9 5 23 Carsten Siersback, Colorado 7 8 22 Eddy Berdusco, Montreal 8 3 19 Lloyd Barker, Montreal 6 7 19 Jason Farrell, Seattle 6 5 17 Mauro Biello, Montreal 6 3 15 Walter Boyd, Colorado 5 5 17 Anthony McCreath, Colorado 5 5 15 Hector Marinaro, Rochester 4 7 15 Chance Fry, Seattle 6 2 14 Jorge Acosta, New York 5 4 14 Goalkeeping Leaders: (Min 700 minutes) Min GAA GAA Paolo Ceccarelli, Montreal 2340 17 0.65 Marcus Hahnemann, Seattle 2378 24 0.91 Trey Harrington, Colorado 2422 33 1.23 Paul Dolan, Vancouver 2119 30 1.27 Khalil Azmi, New York 720 11 1.38 Bill Andracki, Rochester 2410 40 1.49 Peter Zaratin, New York 1710 29 1.53 Most Valuable Player: Wolde Harris, Colorado Top Goal Scorer: Doug Miller, Rochester Coach of the Year: Lorne Donaldson, Colorado Rookie of the Year: Wolde Harris, Colorado Defender of the Year: John Kimniatis, Montreal Official of the Year: Kevin Skinner All A-League Team: G - Paolo Ceccarelli, Montreal D - John Limniatis, Montreal D - Wade Webber, Seattle D - Carlos Llamosa, New York D - Rene Rivas, Rochester M - Nick DeSantis, Montreal M - Martin Nash, Vancouver M - Anthony McReath, Colorado F - Wolde Harris, Colorado F - Domenic Mobilio, Vancouver F - Doug Miller, Rochester
United Systems of Independent Soccer Leagues
Not content with their amazing growth last season, the USISL pushed its boundaries further, establishing the new Select League, consisting of the strongest twenty teams from the Pro and Premier leagues. The league was also re-named the United Systems of Independent Soccer Leagues. Teams spanned the nation and were selected primarily on their financial and off the field performance. The aim was to gain FIFA sanctioning at the 2nd division level. In addition, the USISL established a working relationship with MLS, with each MLS club being assigned two Select League clubs as farm clubs, in effect making the USISL a “minor League” system.
This first year, 31 players were called up to MLS, with 28 being loaned down. This was the next step in the USISL’s vision of developing soccer from the ground up, and forestalling competition from the A-League. Although this originally could have sparked a destructive salary war, the A-league and USISL reached a merger agreement (see above) following the 1996 season. This finally brought all of the outdoor leagues together in a single cooperative system, establishing the first truly complete divisional soccer structure in the United States, in line with common practice through the rest of the world. Overall, 84 players from the USISL and A-League had been drafted by MLS teams when they initially stocked their teams.
Meanwhile, the Pro League and Premier league saw considerable reshuffling as the USISL clarified the performance standards for the different levels. Firm revenue and salary guidelines were established, and many weaker teams were moved to the Premier (amateur) league, with other financially troubled teams folding outright, and a score of new teams added, mostly to the Premier League.
When the dust settled, the Premier league had 44 teams, the Pro League had 27 and the Select League had 20. The divisional structures were simplified, and the playoffs were revamped, although still retaining the “select six”, “sizzling six”, and “premier six” round robins. Meanwhile, the Women’s W-League, coming off their successful debut season, added a number of teams, mostly in the east and Midwest. To mesh more closely with MLS, the USISL dropped most of their rules modifications and experiments, adopting the MLS and A-League 3-1-0 scoring system with shootout tiebreakers. Most importantly, these modifications were applied uniformly to all the USISL outdoor leagues, ending the confusion that had plagued the US scene for several years.
USISL Select League (Division 3)
The Select League had a successful debut season. With the strongest teams concentrated together in a single circuit, the competitive level improved greatly, leading to a stronger forum for player development, as well as providing some exciting games. The league did well in attendance, drawing 509,785 fans, averaging 1,782 per game. The Long Island Rough Riders won the North Atlantic Division in a close race with ever strong Richmond Kickers, but in the South Atlantic, the Carolina Dynamo cruised to an easy title. In the Central Division, Milwaukee and Minnesota built up a heated rivalry, fighting it out to the end with Milwaukee coming on top by a mere 3 points. The California Jaguars took the Pacific ahead of Sacramento.
After two rounds of playoffs, Richmond, California, Charleston, Hampton Roads, Long Island, and Minnesota advanced to the “Select Six. This time, the teams were divided into two groups. In Group A, Richmond defeated Charleston 6-1, and lost to California 1-0, while California defeated Charleston 3-1. In Group B, Minnesota defeated Hampton Roads 3-2, while losing 0-1 to Long Island, who defeated Hampton Roads 3-2. Another innovation: Four teams advanced out of the round robins to the semifinals, where California defeated Minnesota 4-2, and Richmond defeated Long Island 1-0. The Championship saw California draw Richmond 1-1, and then win in the shootout 3-2. There were 2,800 fans at Richmond Stadium, and California Goalkeeper Kevin Eueda was the star of the day with three critical saves, as he preserved the tie.
Final 1996 USISL Select League Standings and Playoff Results Before the season, New York/New Jersey, South Carolina, and Sacramento were added. Greensboro became Carolina. Columbus became Ohio. Monterey Bay became California. GP W L SW GF GA PTS EASTERN CONFERENCE North Atlantic Division Long Island Rough Riders 18 11 7 0 39 31 33 Richmond Kickers 18 10 8 0 34 24 28 Connecticut Wolves 18 11 7 4 37 31 25 Delaware Wizards 18 6 12 1 20 29 16 Cape Cod Crusaders 18 5 13 1 13 24 9 New York/New Jersey Stallions 18 2 16 0 19 52 6 South Atlantic Division Carolina Dynamo 18 15 3 1 37 15 43 South Carolina Shamrocks 18 12 6 1 42 31 34 Hampton Roads Mariners 18 13 5 4 32 15 31 Tampa Bay Cyclones 18 10 8 1 40 32 28 Raleigh Flyers 18 7 11 0 25 26 21 WESTERN CONFERENCE Central Division Milwaukee Rampage 18 13 5 3 36 19 33 Minnesota Thunder 18 10 8 0 31 16 30 New Orleans Riverboat Gamblers 18 9 9 2 31 36 23 Ohio Xoggz 18 6 12 1 26 34 16 Chicago Stingers 18 5 13 1 29 41 13 Pacific Division California Jaguars 18 12 6 1 30 21 34 Sacramento Scorpions 18 11 7 2 23 22 29 El Paso Patriots 18 10 8 1 30 23 28 New Mexico Chiles 18 9 9 0 24 24 27 Reno Rattlers 18 6 12 5 13 33 8 1st Round: Delaware defeated Connecticut 3-2 Hampton Roads defeated South Carolina 3-2 (SO) Minnesota defeated New Orleans 5-1 Sacramento defeated El Paso 2-1 (OT) 2nd Round: Minnesota defeated Milwaukee 3-1, 0-2, 1-0 Hampton Roads defeated Carolina 1-0 (OT), 0-4, 1-0 California defeated Sacramento 2-0, 2-1 Carolina defeated Hampton Roads 4-0, 1-0(MG) Long Island defeated Delaware 2-0 SELECT SIX TOURNAMENT: Group A: Richmond defeated Charleston 6-1 California defeated Charleston 3-1 California defeated Richmond 1-0 Group B: Minnesota defeated Hampton Roads 3-2 Long Island defeated Minnesota 1-0 Long Island defeated Hampton Roads 3-2 Semifinals: California defeated Minnesota 4-2 Richmond defeated Long Island 1-0 CHAMPIONSHIP: California defeated Richmond 2-1 (SO) After the season, New Mexico folded. Leading scorers: G A Pt Dan Stebbins, Milwaukee 21 8 50 Jamie Wellington, N. Orl. 18 6 42 Luis Murillo, Tampa Bay 16 5 37 Michael Gailey, Carolina 11 10 32 Ron Murphy, Cape Cod 13 6 32 Yari Allnut, Carolina 14 3 31 Mike Saunders, Connecticut 15 1 31 Chugger Adair, Carolina 13 4 30 Chad Carrithers, Sacramento 13 3 29 Leading Goalkeepers: (Min 810 minutes) Min G GAA Scott Garlick, Carolina 1446 12 0.75 Carmine Isacco, Milwaukee 1969 7 0.78 Matthew Olsen, Hampton R. 1825 17 0.84 John Swallen, Minnesota 1495 14 0.84 Scott Hileman, Sacramento 1702 19 1.00 Celso Castro, El Paso 1689 22 1.17 Most Valuable Player: Dan Stebbins, Milwaukee Rampage Top Scorer: Dan Stebbins, Milwaukee Rampage Top Goalkeeper: Scott Garlick, Carolina Dynamo Coach of the Year: Alan Dicks, Carolina Dynamo Defender of the Year: Ezra Hendrickzon, New Orleans Riverboat Gamblers Rookie of the Year: Luis Marillo, Tampa Bay Cyclones Organization of the Year: Minnesota Thunder Select All-League Team: G - Carmine Isacco, Milwaukee D - Ezra Hendrickson, New Orleans D - Derick Crownell, California D - Stuart Fitzsimmons, Richmond M - Amos Magee, Minnesota M - Travis Rinker, Long Island M - Oswaldo Ortiz, Tampa Bay M - Yari Allnutt, Carolina F - Dan Stebbins, Milwaukee F - John Jones, Sacramento F - Paul Young, South Carolina All-Star Game: Select League All-Stars 6, Pro/Premier League All-Stars 1
USISL Professional League
The Pro League streamlined themselves into a simpler circuit this year with four regional divisions encompassing the southeast, northeast, southwest and Pacific regions. With the loss of teams to the new Select league, other teams had an opportunity to rise to the top, chief among them Central Jersey, Charlotte eagles, Dallas/Ft Worth, and Everett, who won their respective divisions. The Pro League drew 246,424 fans per game, averaging 790 per game, reflecting the loss of the strongest clubs to the Select League. The Western Conference had an exciting three way tie between Everett, Valley and Yakima. A series of conference semifinals and finals reduced the playoff pool to six teams who, like in the Select League, split into two groups for the “sizzling six” tournament. In Group A, Charleston defeated Dallas/Ft. Worth 2-1, and lost in overtime to Chico 1-2. Chico then lost to Charleston 1-2. In Group B, Wilmington defeated North Jersey 3-0, and lost to Charlotte 0-1. Charlotte then defeated North Jersey 6-2.
As with the Select league, the top four teams advanced to the semifinals, those being Charlotte, Wilmington, Charleston and Chico. In the semifinals, Charlotte defeated Chico 1-0 and Charleston defeated Wilmington 2-0. The Championship game was a nailbiter, being tied most of the way. Scoring started off of a Chris Dias goal in the 28th minute, but Charlotte tied it up with 70 seconds to go before halftime when Josh Farrar pounced on a loose ball in the penalty area and landed it in the net. Charleston scored again in the 52nd minute on an excellent corner kick conversion, as Stephen Winters headed the corner to Alvaro Betancur, who backheeled it past the goalie. Charleston pulled ahead in the 74th minute as Jeremy Sorzano kicked in a loose ball from Jon Payne. But Charleston’s goalkeeper Pigford dug in,, and the Battery scored again to lead the game into a shootout where the Charleston Battery prevailed on scores by Olafere and Winters. As a result, Charleston advanced to the Select Six round robin tournament of the Select League. This award marked the first form of promotion in the history of American Soccer, and even if it was only for the one tournament, that was a start.
Top Scorers: G A Pts Philbert Jones, Charlotte 18 20 46 Patrick Olalere, Charleston 20 5 45 Craig Beeson, Everett 17 2 36 Jon Payne, Charlotte 14 8 36 Carlos Rocha, Rhode Island 15 3 33 Robert DeLuca, North Jersey 14 3 31 Pat O'Kelly, Central Jersy 12 6 30 Leading Goalkeepers: (min 720 minutes) Min GA GAA Chris Carmiento, Hawaii 930 8 0.77 Roman Melin, S. F. Valley 1536 17 1.00 David Walther, Rockford 930 12 1.16 Randy Dedini, Chicago 1581 21 1.20 Boguslaw Kowalski, Cent. Jers. 1602 23 1.29 Todd Strobeck, Everett 1624 24 1.33 Most Valuable Player: Craig Beeson, Everett Bigfoot Top Scorer: Patrick Olalre, Charleston Battery Top Goalkeeper: Chris Carmiento, Hawaii Tsumani Coach of the Year: Nuno Pitiera, Charleston Battery Defender of the Year: Guy Norcott, Charleston Battery Rookie of the Year: Juan Sastoque, Dallas/Ft. Worth Toros Organization of the Year: Reading Rage
USISL Premier League
With the major reorganization of the USISL, the Premier League expanded as a number of teams decided wisely to take the amateur route and give their finances a break. Being the bottom level of the USISL, and an amateur league, the Premier League was unique in that it included college players who were able to get full-year experience by playing Premier League soccer in the spring and summer, while returning to their colleges for the fall. This gave them an advantage in their endeavor to develop to the point where they could go pro, and not have to face the traditional handicaps suffered by college players due to lack of adequate playing experience. The league drew 206,794 fans, averaging 586 per game. Playoff victories included San Luis Obispo defeating Mid-Michigan 3-0, Jackson defeated Cocoa 1-0, San Luis Obispo defeated Jackson 2-1, San Francisco defeated Mid-Michigan 4-0 and Cocoa defeated Omaha 4-1. The two top teams advanced to the championship game where San Luis Obispo defeated San Francisco 1-0.
Most Valuable Player: Pasi Kinturi, Nashville Metros Top Scorer: Pasi Kinturi, Nashville Metros (19 goals, 46 points) Goalkeeper of the Year (Eduardo Yoldi Memorial Award): Mike LeBerge, Colorado Springs Stampede (1,388 min, 11 GA, 0.71 GAA) Coach of the Year: Dan Tobias, Central Coast Roadrunners Defender of the Year: Dwayne Demmin, Jackson Chargers Rookie of the Year: Eduardo Yoldi, San Francisco All-Blacks Organization of the Year: Central Coast Roadrunners
Nike “W” League (USWISL)
The W-League built on their first successful year by adding ten teams and strengthening their Midwest and west coast contingents. Several professional players returned from overseas stints to join the League and the USISL worked with the National Team to encourage some members to join as well. A working relationship would be established for the following season to formalize this plan.
The league remained amateur, meaning college stars were also able to take part. The W-League drew 24,547 fans, averaging 203 per game, but these numbers would grow rapidly in subsequent seasons as several teams were launched than even outperformed their male counterparts. This growth reflected the tremendous growth in women’s soccer in general that was to occur through the rest of the 1990’s. The Denver Diamonds, Dallas Lightning and newly renamed Maryland Pride were the respective division winners, with Denver and Dallas both fighting intensive regular season races for the divisional honors.
As in the Men’s leagues, two rounds of playoffs yielded six winners who entered the final “Swizzling Six” tournament, featuring the Denver Diamonds, Columbus Ziggx, Maryland Pride, Chicago Cobras, Dallas Lightning and Rockford ‘Dactyls. Only Maryland emerged with two wins, dispatching Chicago 1-0 and Rockford 4-0. Dallas also advanced based on tournament points earned in previous games (The loss to Columbus coming off of a shootout after a scoreless tie). Coincidentally, both victors had entered as the top two seeds in the tournament based on regular season records, but Dallas had gotten the #1 spot based on more goals scored.
The most exciting game was Denver’s 3-1 victory over Columbus. The Ziggx had gone ahead on a Jodi Stranges goal, but Denver roared back with three 2nd half goals by Kari Uppinghouse, Nicole Crepeau and Kelly Walbert. The next day, Laura Kerrigan landed a hat trick. The Championship game was held on August 11 in Love Park, IL. The Maryland Pride gained control of the game in the first half with a 36th minute goal by Emily Pickering. Betsy Anderson scored at the end of the 2nd half, and Cindy Harkes scored in the 2nd, as the defense held Dallas scoreless on the way to a 3-0 shutout for the crown.
Leading Scorers: G A Pts Marci Miller, Chicago 12 1 25 Kristen Kurzyneowski, Philadelphia 11 0 22 Cheri Skipski, Chicago 8 5 21 Mindy Bassett, Maryland 9 1 19 Heather Maler, Rockford 7 4 18 Kara Reynolds, Dallas 8 1 17 Kelly Walbert, Denver 7 2 16 Crystal Harper, Hampton Roads 8 0 16 Lori Hokerson, Southern California 8 0 16 Leading Goalkeepers: (Min. 450 minutes) Min G GAA Kim Clark, Dallas 460 3 0.59 Kim Wyant, Long Island 610 4 0.59 Merit Elzey, Chicago 591 5 0.76 Vida Donahue, Rochester 460 4 0.78 Karen Cook, San Francisco 565 5 0.80 Kerry Dzchczkanierei, Maryland 540 5 0.83 Most Valuable Player Kristen Kurzyneowski, Philadelphia Frenzy Leading Goalie: Kim Wyant, Long Island Lady Riders Coach of the Year: Carolyn Rice, Maryland Pride Swizzlin' Six MVP: Laura Kerrigan, Maryland Pride
USISL Indoor Season
The indoor season continued to shrink, at least as a full-season activity, with only nine teams participating, supplemented by nine teams playing limited schedules. The Atlanta Magic again shone as they won the regular season Southeast title, along with the Dallas Lightning in the Central. There were no divisional races to speak of as these two really dominated. The “Sizzlin’ five” playoffs were another round robin of five games which yielded two winners, the Baltimore Bays and Atlanta Magic. This time the Magic ran out, as Baltimore defeated Atlanta 10-6 for the indoor title.
Scoring Leaders: (as of January 12, 1996) Player G A PTS Juha Miettnen, KNO 21 5 47 Chris Hellenkamp, ATL 12 21 45 Virgil Stevems, TUL 18(1) 8 44 Shane Schwab, TUL 16 10 42 Aaron Gordon, DAL 17 7 41 Kyle Owen, MES 16 7 39 Keiran Breslin, COC 15 7 37 Richard Richmond, ATL 15 7 37 Dennison Cabral, BAL 12 8 32 Colin Rocke, DAL 11 10 32 Goalkeeping Leaders: (as of January 12, 1996) Player Min GA GAA Matt Stewart, OKL 180 10 3.33 Richard Northcutt, ATL 598 44 4.41 Mathias Peltz, DFW 60 5 5.00 Matt St. Jean, BAL 199 18 5.43 Shawn Ray, DAL 536 51 5.71 Peter Moore, ORL 356 35 5.73 Sonny Dalesandro, TUL 308 35 6.82 Brent Jameson, OKL 308 35 6.82 Deacon Dorcas, BRA 90 11 7.33 Chris Butler, TUL 355 44 7.44
National Professional Soccer League
This was a year of stability and growing career legends for the NPSL. Tampa Bay joined the circuit with Philadelphia promised for next season. Dayton Dynamos, a long-standing franchise moved to Cincinnati. The NPSL averaged over 5,500 fans per game, and did not worry too much about competition from the impending Major League Soccer. As fortune had it, most of the major stars were bypassed by the MLS draft. A score of players were drafted, but an agreement with MLS allowed players to participate in both seasons, with those teams in playoffs having first dibs.
Meanwhile, as one looks back over the 12 years of history, several players were establishing impressive long-term stats as perennial leaders: Hector Marinaro at forward and Victor Noguiera in goal in particular were two of the best in the history of the indoor game, and were still in the prime of their careers. They held all the significant records, and the end was nowhere in sight. The St. Louis Ambush set a regular season average attendance mark of 9,102 fans per game, echoing the St. Louis Steamer’s attendance feats in the old MISL. The league attendance totaled over 1,500,000 for the 4th consecutive season.
The Cleveland Crunch easily won the American Division, while Kansas City Attack won a close race with the Milwaukee Wave for the National Division as a new healthy rivalry continued to develop. In the divisional finals, the top four teams advanced to the second round easily with one notable exception. Second place Milwaukee was upset by the St. Louis Ambush and headed home early, with several players going off to their MLS debuts. In the semifinals, Cleveland beat Baltimore 15-11, 16-14 (OT), 14-23, 13-12. In a see-saw battle, Kansas City defeated St. Louis 18-16, 14-25, 4-1, 10-30, and 20-9. The Championship returned to Cleveland on the strength of leading goal-scorer Hector Marinaro as they roared back from a two game deficit to defeat Kansas City 18-28, 17-22, 24-12, 19-9, 20-16, and 16-12.
Final NPSL League Standings, 1995-1996 Before the season, Tampa Bay was added, and Dayton moved to Cincinnati. G W L % GB GF GA American Division Cleveland Crunch 40 31 9 .775 -- 775 553 Baltimore Spirit 40 25 15 .625 6 604 492 Harrisburg Heat 40 24 16 .600 7 604 516 Buffalo Blizzard 40 21 19 .525 10 562 586 Cinci. Silverbacks 40 14 26 .350 17 496 579 Tampa Bay Terror 40 14 26 .350 17 544 621 Canton Invaders 40 5 35 .125 26 425 706 National Division Kansas City Attack 40 32 8 .800 -- 599 430 Milwaukee Wave 40 30 10 .750 2 610 438 St. Louis Ambush 40 24 16 .600 8 676 560 Wichita Wings 40 20 20 .500 12 547 531 Detroit Rockers 40 14 26 .350 18 485 607 Chicago Power 40 6 34 .150 26 381 689 Div. Semifinals: Cleveland defeated Buffalo 25-15, 17-20, 17-11 Baltimore defeated Harrisburg 16-11, 7-6 Kansas City defeated Wichita 10-9, 11-9 St. Louis defeated Milwaukee 9-10, 12-10, 14-12 Div. Finals: Cleveland beat Baltimore 15-11, 16-14 (OT), 14-23, 13-12 Kansas City defeated St. Louis 18-16, 14-25, 4-1, 10-30,20-9 FINALS: Cleveland defeated Kansas City 18-28,17-22,24-12,19-9, 20-16,16-12 All-Star Game: 2/11/1995, at Wichita, Kansas. American Division 16, National Division 15. Ted Eck scored 5 goals, and was MVP. National ESPN broadcast. Leading scorers: TEAM GP 3PG 2PG 1PG AST POINTS Marinaro, Hector CLE 33 14 65 17 58 247 Karic, Zoran CLE 27 13 35 14 61 184 McIntosh, Franklin BAL 36 14 24 10 77 177 Reiniger, Joe STL 39 9 42 14 45 170 Medved, Shawn CIN 40 6 38 17 53 164 Moser, Mark STL 35 2 53 18 29 159 Brose, Dennis DET 32 6 47 6 33 151 King, Michael MIL 35 5 48 6 31 148 Vuckovic, Bojan TAM 35 3 50 10 23 142 Sloan, Kevin BAL 40 5 41 17 28 142 Kelly, Danny HAR 33 10 28 20 34 140 Miller, Doug CLE 38 1 51 11 20 136 Mobilio, Domenic HAR 36 1 40 21 29 133 Koetters, Kevin KCY 39 5 36 7 38 132 Carrera, Marcelo BUF 41 5 30 7 43 125 Hunjak, Goran KCY 39 0 39 8 38 124 Knowles, Matt MIL 35 8 24 15 36 123 Dougherty, Paul BUF 37 5 30 15 32 122 Leading Goalkeepers: (min. 1410 minutes) TEAM GPI MIN SF SV 3PG 2PG 1PG PTS W L AVG Nogueira, Victor MIL 40 2242:44 753 551 20 141 41 383 30 10 10.25 Stanisic, Scoop HAR 36 1869:41 674 481 15 136 42 359 22 10 11.52 Peat, Kris WCH 39 2295:25 698 454 17 196 31 474 20 19 12.39 Orf, Otto CLE 38 2093:39 861 618 24 182 37 473 29 9 13.56 Swanner, Jamie STL 34 1756:30 806 597 14 161 34 398 17 13 13.60 Pena, Carlos CIN 28 1655:00 570 380 18 150 22 376 9 18 13.63 Harrington, Pat BUF 32 1829:36 676 464 19 166 27 416 18 11 13.64 Finnerty, Bryan DET 40 2292:21 1023 730 26 210 57 555 14 26 14.53 Andracki, Bill TAM 29 1562:39 607 400 20 155 32 402 9 18 15.44 Most Valuable Player: Hector Marinaro, Cleveland Crunch; Victor Noguiera, Milwaukee Wave Goalkeeper of the Year: Victor Noguiera, Milwaukee Wave Coach of the Year: Keith Tizer, Milwaukee Wave Defender of the Year: Matt Knowles, Milwaukee Wave Rookie of the Year: Jason Willan, Detroit Rockers First All-NPSL Team: G - Victor Noguiera, Milwaukee D - Matt Knowles, Milwaukee D - Daryl Dolan, St. Louis F - Hector Marinaro, Cleveland F - Zoran Karic, Cleveland F - Joe Reininger, St. Louis
Continental Indoor Soccer League
The CISL lost a couple teams from 1995, and finally gave up on the Carolina franchise, but added a new market, with the Indianapolis Twisters. The league was finally starting to enjoy some stability in franchise lineups, and the product on the field was the best ever under the new two division format. Dallas’s Tatu scored his 716th career goal on August 9, becoming the leading scorer in indoor history, passing legendary Steve Zungul. A week later he also become the all-time point leader. This left only the Assist record, which he broke on August 31. In a further sign of prosperity, the CISL signed a three year television agreement with Fox Sports at the end of the season.
The CISL fared quite well during the launch of its summer competition, Major League Soccer. Only a scattering of players were lost to the MLS, none of them being major scorers or goalies. This would be an indication of the substantial differences in the outdoor and indoor games. Players well adjusted to the tight confines of the rink and those who can strategize and endure in the wide open spaces of the field truly are a different breed, and many of the best were simply in the arena that suits them best. One source of pride for the CISL was when they actually beat the NPSL for average regular season game attendance, averaging 5,936 per game, although due to the league’s smaller size, total attendance was a more modest 914,121.
The regular season saw an exciting race in the east as Monterrey and Houston fought their way through the entire season to finish as co-champs. In the west, the San Diego Sockers, who trace their history back to the halcyon days of the NASL, return to top form again as they win the West, just two games ahead of Anaheim who win a last-minute battle for 2nd place against Sacramento Knights. In the Quarterfinals, San Diego, Houston, Monterrey and Dallas advance in quick series. In the semifinals, Houston knocked off San Diego, ending their comeback hopes, 9-7, 4-8, 10-5, although the Sockers didn’t give up easily, in what would turn out to be their last games ever. Monterrey defeated Dallas 10-4, and 5-3, setting up the 4th CISL Championship, where Monterrey defeated Houston 10-6 and 6-5, to become the first repeating champion in CISL history.
Final CISL League Standings, 1996 Before the season, Indianapolis was added. Arizona sat out the season. GP W L Pct. GB GF GA Eastern Division Monterrey La Raza 28 18 10 .643 --- 196 159 Houston Hotshots 28 18 10 .643 --- 186 167 Dallas Sidekicks 28 16 12 .571 2 212 181 Washington Warthogs 28 13 15 .464 5 151 170 Detroit Neon 28 13 15 .464 5 173 197 Indianapolis Twisters 28 10 18 .357 8 160 188 Western Division San Diego Sockers 28 17 11 .607 --- 173 156 Anaheim Splash 28 15 13 .536 2 180 169 Sacramento Knights 28 14 14 .500 3 143 153 Seattle SeaDogs 28 11 17 .393 6 144 147 Portland Pride 28 10 18 .357 7.5 156 185 Quarterfinals: San Diego defeated Washington 11-2, 6-11, 4-2. Houston defeated Sacramento 2-1, 6-10, 8-5. Monterrey defeated Detroit 13-5, 4-9, 12-3 Dallas defeated Anaheim 6-5, 5-4. Semifinals: Houston defeated San Diego 9-7, 4-8, 10-5 Monterrey defeated Dallas 10-4, 5-3. CHAMPIONSHIP: Monterrey defeated Houston, 10-6, 6-5. Scoring Leaders: GP G A Pts Tatu, Dallas 24 45 44 89 David Doyle, Dallas 28 47 25 72 Paul Dougherty, Houston 27 36 34 70 Dale Ervine, Anahiem 26 45 24 69 Mariano Bolella, Indianapolis 27 28 38 66 Marco Lopez, Monterrey 28 23 36 59 Jon parry, Sacramento 26 37 18 55 Nebo Bandovic, Houston 27 31 23 54 Eric McLellan, Washington 28 34 19 53 Chris Scotti, Portland 28 35 17 52 Danny Barber, Anahiem 28 21 30 51 Andy Chapman, Detroit 28 31 20 51 Giampaulo Pedroso, Houston 26 32 18 50 Jeff Betts, Portland 27 24 24 48 Genoni Martinez, Monterrey 28 24 24 48 Braeden Cloutier, San Diego 28 27 21 48 Goalkeeping Leaders: (Min 840 minutes) Min Svs GA GAA Juan De La O 890:51 219 73 4.92 Dan Madsen, Sacramento 1251:13 319 111 5.32 Brett Phillips, Washington 1359:38 353 122 5.38 Antonio Cortes, San Diego 1425:58 627 327 5.39 Raul Salas, Monterrey 1244:55 553 248 5.78 Rob Warnell, Portland 1220:41 674 321 5.80 Most Valuable Player: Tatu, Dallas Sidekicks Goalkeeper of the Year: Juan de la O, Seattle SeaDogs Coach of the Year: Trevor Dawkins, Houston Hotshots Defender of the Year: Troy Snyder, Washington Warthogs Rookie of the Year: Carlos Farias, San Diego Sockers Playoff MVP: Raul Salas, Monterrey la Raza All-CISL First Team: G - Brett Phillips, Washington D - Genoni Martinez, Monterrey D - Danny Pena, Sacramento M - Paul Dougherty, Houston F - Tatu, Dallas F - David Doyle, Dallas
1996 Olympic Games
The Olympic Games returned to the United States, and provided the USA national Soccer teams a major opportunity to showcase themselves to the world. This was a particularly good opportunity for the women, as the Olympics had just added women’s soccer. The women hoped to make up for their disappointing finish in the 1995 World Championships, and had improved greatly in the ensuing months. The men also hoped for a much better finish to demonstrate their vast improvements since the last US Olympics when the National Team was little more than a sidelight in American Soccer. The hometown crowds would provide an advantage, even though the soccer games were not being held in Atlanta like the rest of the Olympic tournament. The USOC had gone all out to ensure that these games would be a major affair. To expose the competition to a broad audience, summer games were played in Miami, Washington, Birmingham and Athens, GA. The finals would be played in 84,000 seat Sanford Stadium in Athens, and the women pool games would be doubleheaders with the men’s games to ensure maximum exposure. Although total attendance was not as high as for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles (1,421,627, average 44,426), they were still impressive, drawing more fans than for any other Olympic event, with 1,364,142 (average 40,122). This is more than the combined total for the Seoul 1988 games (728,712 average 22,772) and Barcelona 1992 (466,300 average 14,572) combined.
Olympic Men’s Competition
The eligibility rules had changed for the 1996 games. The competition was again limited to the U-23 teams, but this time, each team was allowed to add three over-23 players to the roster. This was important for the US as their U-23 team was not of the same caliber as the full national team. The Olympic team was coached by Virginia and D. C. United coach Bruce Arena. Despite a challenging schedule of friendlies, the US began the pool play with a disappointing 3-1 loss to Argentina. They played well, but Argentina, a powerhouse, included several division 1 players on their roster. The US had scored in the first minute and dominated for awhile, but Argentina gradually took over and eventually pulled away for the victory. The good news was the crowd of 83,810 at Legion Field in Birmingham, the largest crowd ever to see a soccer game in Alabama.
Two days later, the US bounced back with a good 2-0 win over Tunisia off of goals by Jovan Kirovski and Brian Maisonneuve. By then, the US was tied for third with Argentina and Portugal with 3 points. But because of the other teams’ performances, the US was in a tight position. Unless the US beat Portugal and Argentina was upset by Tunisia, they were out of luck. In the USA-Portugal game, the US fell behind early, but tied it in the 75th after a Maisonneuve goal, but could do no more, and ended with a draw, making Tunisia’s surprising draw with Argentina an academic matter. Once again, the US was out.
The tournament was only picking up steam by now. Games continued apace in Birmingham, Washington, Miami and Orlando, with a high level of excitement and competition reminiscent of the recently completed European championships. The eight teams to emerge from pool play were Argentina, Portugal, France, Brazil, Mexico, Ghana and Spain. Brazil, which featured Bebeto and Ronaldo, was particularly eager to win their first Olympic championship, defeating Ghana convincingly after falling behind 2-1. Argentina whomped Spain 4-0, while Portugal got past France 2-1 and Nigeria downed Mexico 2-0.
The semifinal against Nigeria was a nail biter for Brazil, as Nigeria fought back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game in the 90th minute, sending the match to overtime. In a climactic showdown, Nigeria’s Nwankwu Kanu scored the game-winner in the 93rd minute, dashing Brazil’s hopes once again. This was particularly painful for the blue and yellow, because for once, they were really taking the Olympics seriously and had pinned their hopes on a gold medal. Meanwhile Argentina easily beat Portugal 2-0, setting up a cross-continent final for Sanford Stadium. This game, played before a massive crowd of 86,117, was the biggest day ever for African Soccer. And the game lived up to the hype. Nigeria fell behind twice before Daniel Amokachi tied the game in the 75th minute, and Emmanuel Amunike scored the game winner with less than 1 minute left in the match. Nigeria took the gold, Argentina took the silver and Brazil took the bronze. Despite the US’s performance, the competition itself was one of the best Olympic tournaments ever.
Olympic Women’s Competition
Unlike the men’s competition, the women fielded their full teams. Originally, the IOC had declined to add women’s soccer, but bowed to a relentless international media campaign. The field was smaller, only 8 teams, and pool play was paired with men’s games to ensure exposure. By the time of the knockout competition, the point had been made, and the remaining women’s games drew perfectly well by themselves; by the time the games were over, the top thirteen crowds in US history for women’s games had just been set, including an amazing 76,489 for the final. As much as the competition itself, this clearly showed that Women’s soccer had arrived, and portended great things for the upcoming 1999 Women’s World Cup, also to be held in the United States.
The US team played up to the hopes and hype, completing a magnificent performance that brought them the gold medal, and also reflecting the improved quality of the players, both US and foreign. Women’s soccer was developing by leaps and bounds by now. The competition began with a solid 3-0 victory by US over Denmark, one of the stronger European teams. Tisha Venturini broke a scoreless tie in the 37th minute by half-volleying a throw-in from Brandi Chastain, which the goalkeeper pushed right into the net. Mia Hamm and Tiffeny Milbrett scored the other two. Two days later, The US beat powerhouse Sweden 2-1 off a Venturini goal in the 15th minute, and a second half goal by Shannon MacMillan. By now, the US and China were already qualified for the later rounds. This rendered the final Pool game between the US and China meaningless except to determine next round opponents. Despite that, 43,525 filled the Orange Bowl for the contest which ended in a scoreless tie.
The semifinals saw China pitted against Brazil while the US lined up to face their perennial rival Norway and this was another tense game, as the US fell behind Norway in the first half, and equalized on a Michelle Akers penalty shot in the 76th. Norway lost a player to a red card, and Shannon MacMillan scored the winner in overtime, giving the US some much desired revenge against their world-leading rival. China also scored a come from behind victory over Brazil. China was a familiar opponent for the Americans, having played them in the US Cup final just two months before. This game was close to the wire, with the US winning 2-1 on goals by MacMillan and Fawcett. Thus was completed the most significant event yet for women’s soccer, and a great triumph for the American team.
Two major changes were made for this competition: The games were moved to January from the summer, and Brazil was invite to the tournament, in a reciprocal agreement with COMNEBOL who had invited two CONCACAF teams to the Copa America. Brazil, with strength to spare sent their Olympic team to gain more experience, but still won the cup anyway. The competition was held in southern California, and the US was eager to bring back the North American championship, but it was not to be this time. The US performance was still impressive nonetheless, as they beat Trinidad 3-2 off of two Eric Wynalda goals, and El Salvador 2-0.
In the semifinals, the US faced Brazil in a rematch of their Copa American matchup, and the score was the same, with the US losing 0-1. The US had control of the field most of the time, but a Salvio shot deflected off of Marcelo Balboa’s leg for the score. The US bounced back to defeat Guatemala 3-0 in the 3rd place game with goals by Wynalda, Jeff Agoos, and Jovan Kirovski. The final, played before 88,155 at the Los Angeles Coliseum was an exciting game as Mexico defeated the young Brazilians 3-2 to keep the Cup. Overall, the US performance was a good omen, considering the US’s strong performances against future World Cup qualifying opponents.
Men’s National Team
The Men’s National Team, although eclipsed by the Olympic competition, still had a number of significant victories and tournaments in 1996. One of the major events was the 1996 Gold Cup Tournament (see above).
The US’s next major tournament was the US Cup. This time it was a cross-country affair with games in Washington, Foxboro and Los Angeles. After a warm-up exhibition victory over Scotland in late May, the US opened with a close victory over Ireland in Foxboro with goals by Tab Ramos and Claudio Reyna. That was followed by another surprising loss to Bolivia, 0-1, with the sole goal scored in the 2nd minute of an otherwise scoreless game. In the final game, Mexico drew with the United States 1-1. The US had scored in the 34th minute from Wynalda, and looked to have the game and the Cup, but Mexico tied in the 89th minute, giving them the game, as well as the cup (based on goal differential). In comparison to last year, this was a disappointing effort for the US, especially with World Cup qualifying about to start in five months.
The US trained intensively over the summer, pausing for friendlies with El Salvador (3-1 win) and Peru (a flat 1-4 trouncing) before the start of Qualifying. Because this was the first round, the competition included a number of weak nations, so the US had a fairly easy time of it, shutting out Guatemala, and Trinidad & Tobago (twice) before losing to a much stronger Costa Rica 2-1. They beat Costa Rica in the visit to San Jose, Costa Rica, before drawing to Guatemala 2-2. Wynalda scored two goals, and newcomers McBride, Hedjuk and Preki all scored goals, providing good performances for new MLS stars. The performance left something to be desired but was enough to get the US through the first round and four months to practice before the Hexagonal where the victories really counted.
Women’s National Team
The highlight of the Women’s year was the triumph at the inaugural Olympic event, but the team was busy with a full schedule as well. Continuing their January tournament tradition, the US entered the Brazil Soccer Cup competition, and swept the prizes, with four straight wins. The first was an 8-1 trouncing of the weak Russian side, with double scores by Cindy Parlow and Foudy among the treats. A closer 3-2 victory against host Brazil gave Mia Hamm her first goal of the year, and warmed the team up for a 6-0 shutout punishment of Ukraine courtesy of a hat trick by Carin Gabarra. The championship was a rematch with Brazil, and was a grueling draw all the way, but the US prevailed on penalty kicks.
The Americans then began their intense practice schedule to prepare for the Olympics, starting off with a pair against the defending world champion squad Norway. A 3-2 win was followed by a 1-2 loss, to put the US on notice that Olympic Gold was not a sure bet by any means. Double headers with powerhouses Germany and Sweden and France saw the US six wins richer, to put them in a good mood for USA Cup ’96. The USA Cup was another sweep for the US, as they defeated Canada 6-0, Japan 4-0 and China 1-0. ten players scored the 11 goals for this tournament. The US was DEEP. A final pair of matching 2-1 victories over Australia sent the US to Georgia and the Olympics in grand style (see Olympics above). The US triumph gave the team a well deserved vacation to enjoy, relish and experience. They did not play again until the following February.
The 1996 Open Cup was the first to include Professional Division 1 clubs since the early 1930s as MLS entered eight of its ten teams in the tournament. They were arrayed against four teams from the A-league and the USISL. D. C. United, Tampa Bay Mutiny, Dallas Burn and Kansas City Wiz received byes to the quarterfinals. The rest of the MLS clubs advanced easily. In the quarterfinals, D. C. United defeated Carolina Dynamo (USISL) 2-0, Dallas defeated the Seattle Sounders (A-League) 3-2, the Rochester Rhinos (A-League) upset Tampa Bay Mutiny 4-3 and the Colorado Rapids (who had replaced the Colorado Foxes at the last minute) defeated Kansas City 3-2.
In the semifinals, D. C. United beat the Dallas Burn 2-0, and Rochester Rhinos defeated Colorado 3-0, bringing a surprise, with the A-League getting their first team into the Open Cup finals. The title match, played at RFK Stadium in washington was a rout for D. C. united, who delighted the home crowd of 7,234 with a 3-0 shutout of Rochester, on their way to earning the “double”, which would come when they won MLS Cup ’96.
International Clubs vs. Major League Soccer: Results: 5 wins, 2 draws, 6 losses; May 22 through November 10, 1996
(Home teams listed first) 5/22/96 New England Revolution 0, Fiorentina (Italy) 2 5/24/96 NY/NJ Metrostars 0, Fiorentina (Italy) 4 5/26/96 San Jose Clash 3, Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) 4 5/26/96 Tampa Bay Mutiny 1, Feynoord (Holland) 1 6/5/96 Metrostars 1, Sporting Lisbon (Portugal) 1 6/12/96 San Jose Clash 2, UNAM Pumas (Mexico) 1 7/11/96 Los Angeles Galaxy 1, El Salvador National Team 1 8/14/96 Los Angeles Galaxy 1, Nexaca (Mexico) 2 9/10/96 D. C. United 2, Luis Angel Firpo (El Salvador) 1 10/27/96 Los Angeles Galaxy 2, Deportivo Cali (Colombia) 3 10/30/96 Quan Xing (China) 0, San Jose Clash (select) 3 11/5/96 Guoan (China) 1, San Jose Clash (select) 0 11/10/96 Dallas Burn 3, El Salvador National team 2
The College Game
This was yet another year of rapid growth for college soccer. So what else is new? But men’s growth tapered as colleges struggled to achieve Title IX compliance, yet still established a record high for varsity teams, rising from 676 to 681. This disappointing news was offset by the fact that this struggle made possible major improvements for varsity women’s program throughout the nation. Soccer most of all benefited, with women’s programs expanding from 619 to 690, to surpass the men in scope for the first time. Pretty impressive when one considers there were only 77 women’s programs in 1981, and only 17 three years before!
In the 1996 Men’s Division 1 Tournament, third round action saw Creighton defeat Fresno State 2-0, St. John’s defeat William & Mary 2-1 in overtime, UNC Charlotte defeated Hartford 3-0, and Florida International defeated Indiana 1-0. In the semifinals, St. John’s defeated Creighton 2-1 and Florida International defeated UNC Charlotte 4-0. The Championship returned to Richmond, VA where on December 15, St. John’s won the crown by defeating Florida International 4-1
The NCAA, recognizing the growth of women’s soccer, both in quantity and quality, expanded the Division 1 Women’s tournament from 24 to 32 teams. Likewise, the Division II tournament was expanded from 8 to 12, and the Division III tournament from 20 to 24. In the Women’s Division 1 tournament, third round action saw North Carolina (who else?) shut out (what else?) Florida State 9-0 (were you expecting anything less?). Santa Clara defeated Connecticut 1-0, Portland defeated Nebraska 1-0 and Notre Dame defeated Maryland 3-2. In the Semifinals, North Carolina defeated Santa Clara 2-1 and Notre Dame defeated Portland 3-2. The championship moved to Santa Clara, California, but the result was very familiar: On December 8, North Carolina reclaimed the title, shutting out Notre Dame 1-0 in double overtime. UNC had by now become one of the all-time dynasties in American Sports, and in World sports for that matter. The team was simply unstoppable, and their triumphs would continue for the rest of the century.
Division II Men’s champion: Grand Canyon defeated Oakland 3-1
Division II Women’s champion: Franklin Pierce defeated Lynn 1-0
Division III Men’s champion: Williams defeated Methodist 2-1
Division III Women’s champion: UC San Diego defeated College of New Jersey 2-1
NAIA Men’s Champion: Lindsey Wilson defeated Birmingham-Southern 5-1
NAIA Women’s Champion: Simon Fraser defeated Mobile 3-2 (5 overtimes)
NJCAA Division I Men’s Championship: Mercer County Community College 1, Yavapai 0
NJCAA Division III Men’s Championship: Herkimer Community College 2, Burlington County Comm. Coll. 0
NJCAA Women’s Championship: Brevard College 2, Monroe Community College 1
NCCAA Division 1 Championship: Western Baptist 6, Pacific Christian 2
NCCAA Division 2 Championship: Philadelphia College of Bible 2, Baptist Bible College 0
Final Men's Division 1 Coaches' Poll: 1. St. John's 2. Florida International 3. Creighton 4. William & Mary 5. UNC Charlotte 6. Indiana 7. Fresno State 8. Washington 9. Maryland 10. Hartford Final Women's Division 1 Coaches' Poll: 1. North Carolina 2. Notre Dame 3. Santa Clara 4. Portland 5. Connecticut 6. Nebraska 7. Maryland 8. Florida 9. Wisconsin 10. Penn State Men's Division 1 NSCAA All-Americans (1st team): G - Jon Busch, UNC Charlotte D - Tahj Jakins, UCLA D - Pete Santora, Furman D - John Stratton, Air Force M - Mike Fisher, Virginia M - Steve Klein, Bowling Green M - Mike Mekelberg, South Florida F - Tony Kuhn, Vanderbilt F - Ignace Moleka, Florida International F - Johnny Torres, Creighton F - Andrew Williams, Rhode Island Women's Division 1 NSCAA All-Americans (1st team): G - Jennifer Renola, Notre Dame D - Erin Taylor, Maryland D - Sara Whalen, Connecticut D - Staci Wilson, North Carolinas M - Justi Barmgardt, Portland M - Cindy Dows, Notre Dame M - Jennifer Lalor, Santa Clara M - Tiffany Roberts, North Carolina M - Kari Uppinghouse, Nebraska F - Danielle Fotopoulos, Florida F - Debbie Keller, North Carolina F - Cindy Parlow, North Carolina Men's National Award Winners: Hermann Trophy: Mike Fisher, Virginia Missouri Athletic Club Award: Mike Fisher, Virginia ISAA Player of the Year (Division 1): Mike Fisher, Virginia NSCAA Coach of the Year (Division 1): David Masur, St. John's Women's National Award Winners: Hermann Trophy: Cindy Dawes, Notre Dame Missouri Athletic Club Award: Cindy dawes, Notre Dame NSCAA Coach of the Year: John Walker, Nebraska
Awards & Cups
US Open Cup Championship:Washington D. C. United (MLS) defeated Rochester Ragin’ Rhinos (A-League) 3-0.
US Women’s Open Cup Championship: Dallas Lightning defeated Sacramento Storm 2-1
National Amateur Cup Championship: Washington Iberia defeated Dallas Speed 2-1.
James P. McGuire Cup (US Youth Soccer Boys U-19): Scott Gallagher (St. Louis, MO)
Andy Stone Cup (US Youth Soccer Boys U-18): Santos (Phoenix, AZ)
Don Greer Cup (US Youth Soccer Boys U-17): Columbia (MD) United
D.J. Niotis Cup (US Youth Soccer Boys U-16): (Southern California) Nomads
J. Ross Stewart Cup (US Youth Soccer Girls U-19): North Huntington Beach (CA) F.C.
Frank Kelly Cup (US Youth Soccer Girls U-18): F. C. Royals (Washington)
L. Moynihan Cup (US Youth Soccer Girls U-17): F. C. Royals (Washington)
Patricia Masotto Cup (US Youth Soccer Girls U-16): Central Valley Mercury (San Jose, CA)
CONCACAF Champions Cup: The Seattle Sounders (A-League) defeated Transvaal (Suriname) 10-0 on the artifician turf at Seattle, and advanced. In the final round, they lost to Communicaciones (Guatemala) 2-0, Nexaca (Mexico) 4-1, and Cruz Azul (Mexico) 11-0, to finish 4th and last. Cruz Azul (Mexico) won the round and took the title.
CONCACAF Cup Winners Cup: Results unknown. The tournament was abandoned before the finish of pool play.
CONCACAF U-20 Championship: The US beat Jamaica 4-1 and Martinique 2-0, and drew with Honduras 0-0 to win Group B. In the final round, they lost 2-0 to Canada and 2-1 to Mexico to finsih third. The top 4 teams, Canada, Mexico, USA and Costa Rica qualified for the World Youth Cup.
CONCACAF U-17 Championship: The US took second in Group 1 by beating Bermuda 5-0, Dominican Republic 3-0 and losing to Costa Rica 3-2. In the final round, Mexico beat them 3-1, the US beat Canada 2-1 and drew with Costa Rica 1-1. The top three teams qualified for the World Youth Cup: Mexico, the United States and Costa Rica.
FIFA Futsal World Championship: The US had done well in the earlier indoor tournament, beating Cuba 7-3 (after losing to them 5-3), Guatemala 7-3 and Costa Rica 4-1. In the Championship itself, in November, they didn’t do so well. They were defeated by Uruguay 1-0 and Italy 4-2, making their final pool play game meaningless even if it was an 11-0 trouncing of Malaysia.
Hall of Fame: In 1996, the US Soccer Hall of Fame inducted Gordon Bradley, Paul Danilo, Nick Kropfelder, Len Oliver, and Reinhold Spath. The National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Hall of Fame inducted Harry Keough. The National Intercollegiate Soccer Officials Association (NISOA) Hall of Fame inducted Frank Jewell, Abbot Leonard, and Henry Papa. The American Youth Soccer Organization inaugurated their new Hall of Fame by inducting Brian Davies, Paul Harris, Bill Hughes, Norm Jackson, George Kay, Sigi Schmid, Hans Stierle, and Bill Wolstencroft.
Honda Award (Player of the Year): Eric Wynalda
USSF Players of the Year: Eric Wynalda, Mia Hamm
NSCAA Honor Award: Joseph Morrone, Connecticut, and Timothy O. Schum, Binghamton
NISOA Honor Award: Henry Papa, Alabama
NISOA Merit Award: William Chambers, Bellarmine Prep, Michael Pantalione, Yavapai College