Features & Columns

Cup of Memories

The Quakes pay tribute to the U.S. team that took on Brazil in 1994 in a game for the ages
POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE: The spectacle was global at the 1994 United States vs. Brazil World Cup game at Stanford.

ONE OF THE most colossal singular sporting events ever to hit the Bay Area took place July 4, 1994, at Stanford Stadium, when Brazil played the U.S.A. in the World Cup. That summer, the tournament took place at stadiums across the country, including Stanford, where Brazil eliminated the United States in front of 84,147 people.

Thousands more partied and celebrated outside the stadium, across the street, in the parking lots of Town & Country Village and the surrounding areas. After the game, Brazilians, Mexicans, Americans, Swedes, Italians, Germans and countless others danced and drank into the evening.

Anyone who lived in Los Gatos at that time will be more than happy to share experiences of the Brazilian fans taking over the entire town for the stretch of time the Brazilian team stayed there. Some even joked there were more Brazilians than residents of Los Gatos.

This Saturday, members of that 1994 U.S. National Team will be honored during halftime at the San Jose Earthquakes' match against New York, taking place at Stanford Stadium at 7:30pm. That 1994 squad paved the way for a new era of professional soccer in America, including the league that started two years later. They shocked the world by defeating Colombia in the first round, leading them to a spot in the knockout stage. Even though the United States lost that game to Brazil, those players, relatively unknown at the time, left a huge impact, setting the stage on which the national team stands today.

Several members of that 1994 U.S. team have ties to this area. One, Eric Wynalda, played for San Jose and scored the league's first goal in 1996, right here at Spartan Stadium. Another, Fernando Clavijo, had actually played for the old San Jose Earthquakes in the early '80s and, at 38, was the oldest American player to participate at the 1994 World Cup. Alexi Lalas played for the 2003 Los Angeles squad that the Earthquakes defeated in the playoffs, overturning a four-goal deficit in what many call the greatest game in Major League Soccer history.

Paul Caligiuri, a midfielder on the 1994 World Cup team, blew through San Jose just last week and stopped long enough at Britannia Arms Almaden to tell some stories about the 1994 World Cup and that now-famous game against Brazil on the Fourth of July.

"When you dedicate your life to a sport, you do it because it's a childhood dream, you do it because you enjoy it," he said. "But then as you get older, you realize you want to make an impact, and bring the game and keep it on American soil. We knew the World Cup was coming and the impact it was going to have, but the greatest feeling was to see that you had American fans out there, cheering for their national team, in what was really the first time."

It's true. For most Americans, the 1994 World Cup was their first real, in-your-face experience with the game on a global level. It was a magical, transformative summer for millions.

"Eighty thousand, 90,000, 77,000, whatever venue it was, that was really the turning point for soccer in this country," Caligiuri said. "Not just for the American soccer fan, but for the American sports fan."

As always, there were also a few dark sides to that World Cup. Following an own-goal, which led to a defeat at the hands of the United States, Andres Escobar of Colombia was gunned down in a parking lot on July 2, after he returned home. The reasons are still argued about to this day, but at the time, the Brazilians had to think about such things when playing the United States two days later.

"We heard before this game, that if Brazil were to lose, they had a 30-day extension on their passports," Caligiuri recalled. "They could not go back to Brazil because of the situation with Escobar. The players were at risk if they had lost to the United States, that something like that might possibly happen in their country. Or something of that magnitude."

For the statistics geeks out there, the Brazil-U.S.A. match on July 4, 1994, at Stanford Stadium outdrew Super Bowl XIX—played at Stanford on January 20, 1985—by a grand total of 88 people.

Earthquakes vs. New York

Saturday, 7:30pm

Stanford Stadium