USA 1994 – a World Cup like no other: 30 years on, Mail Sport remembers Diana Ross’s penalty, Maradona’s drugs scandal – and OJ Simpson keeping the hosts up all night!

Scott LeTellier has had to redecorate his bachelor pad in recent months. The 73-year-old remarried in October and his new wife Patsy doesn’t really share his tastes.

“It feels like a sports museum here,” says LeTellier. The exhibition has now shrunk but its walls remain a summer sanctuary. Photos, posters, tickets – all original. Everything dates from 1994.

LeTellier was once a lawyer. But 30 years ago, he was among the architects of a record-breaking World Cup that brought soccer to the United States. He wrote the bid that influenced FIFA and helped change the face of sports in the United States.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta will host the opening match of the Copa America on Thursday. In two years, the World Cup will return to a footballing landscape transformed since this summer.

When Oprah Winfrey fell through a trapdoor and Bill Clinton was left behind. When Diana Ross missed a penalty and OJ Simpson plunged the players into insomnia. When a bridge collapsed and attendance records also fell.

This summer, it will be 30 years since the FIFA World Cup arrived in the United States in 1994.

Alexi Lalas became the face of an American team that defied its doubters during the tournament

When USMNT hopefuls attended a “reality show” and drank Jagermeister with Metallica. When Diego Maradona failed a drug test, we also played soccer.

“It was a strange, strange summer,” says Alexi Lalas. “We were really afraid we would be embarrassed.”

Shortly before the tournament, Lalas was seated next to an elderly woman on a plane. He told her he was a footballer. His next two questions? ‘What’s your job?’ and “What do you do for money?” »

Within weeks, Lalas had become the red-headed rock star of a team that defied its doubters. During a summer when football was engraved in the hearts and minds of Americans.

Sunil Gulati first became involved with American football in the mid-1980s. They had a squad of around six people then and he was once asked to run an under-17 training camp.

“We literally bought soccer balls from a retail store,” he recalls. “We had sprinklers go off…in the middle of practice.”

Gulati told then-U.S. Soccer Federation president Werner Fricker, “Your national team program is a mess.” He was asked to do something about it.

LeTellier’s journey in football began during Cold War Germany. He was there on a religious mission in 1974, when the World Cup was in town.

“I did higher education in football,” he recalls. A decade later, LeTellier oversaw soccer for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

But that same year saw the collapse of the North American Soccer League, leaving a “wasteland” before the players: no professional league and few career prospects.

Scott LeTellier, pictured with Pelé (center) and former FIFA chief Sepp Blatter (right), wrote the nomination.

Sunil Gulati first became involved in American football in the 1980s and helped organize the World Cup.

Lalas grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. He was juggling a ball 15 minutes from the Pontiac Silverdome. In 1994, he went there to participate in the World Cup.

After America’s failure in its late bid to host the 1986 World Cup, LeTellier argued that – rather than producing “a glitzy American marketing presentation” – they needed to talk to the Swiss-based suits at FIFA .

“It was more of a bureaucratic document,” he explains, “that I basically dictated over the course of a two-day non-stop session.”

A few adjustments and 130 pages later, the offer was formed. They hired a political campaign company in Washington DC. But their chances, according to LeTellier, were about 10 percent. Brazil was widely expected to beat the United States and Morocco, but its attempt to implode was caused by financial problems and infighting.

“The key moment came in 1988, when FIFA announced that it was changing the date of the decision,” Gulati recalls. “They moved it to July 4…we thought that was a pretty good sign.” So it turned out.

LeTellier was asked to close his law practice and head the organizing committee. Soon he had mortgaged his house to keep the business afloat.

“We literally had no money,” he said. Within three months, it is claimed, he was $110,000 in the red.

An aerial view of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, where the 1994 World Cup final took place

At this stage, it remained a minimal operation. “We only had seven people,” LeTellier recalls. That changed when Gulati joined the organizing committee in late 1992, after a stint at the World Bank. But it remained a race against time.

Gulati was usually at the office by 6 am. He would leave around 9:20 p.m. and order a pizza in time for international calls from home. “It’s not a complaint,” he said. ‘It was fantastic.’

For players, the last two years have turned into an exercise in survival. “It was basically a reality show,” Lalas recalls.

In the absence of a professional league, it was time to improvise. A training camp was organized in California, where coach Bora Milutinovic held a continuous audition. “You would come hoping to last the whole week,” says Lalas.

Thirty players trained twice a day, ran on the beach and traveled to play international matches. “It was a training camp,” Lalas says. “They were churning them and burning them…a lot of players were coming in and out. I was lucky enough to take on that challenge.

At first, players were accommodated in a hotel and paid only in meal vouchers. Those who stayed would “graduate” and get a room in an apartment and perhaps a short-term contract. “The pot of gold was in this team in ’94,” says Lalas.

On June 17, 1994, the hardest part was done, on and off the field. But before the sport could take over, organizers had to survive the opening ceremony in Chicago.

Oprah Winfrey was chosen to be MC. “During rehearsal, she completely mutilated (FIFA president) Joao Havelange’s last name,” LeTellier recalled. “So I went up to her and tried to explain…she took offense to the fact that I was correcting her.”

And one of Oprah’s assistants got an earful. ‘That’s it! We are not mentioning any names! she told them.

Diana Ross performed at the opening ceremony in Chicago before missing a penalty

Not many people stick to the strict, in all honesty. During her performance, Diana Ross awarded a penalty from a few meters away. He missed but the goal still broke in two.

It was a comical blunder but no one was hurt. Unlike the time Oprah and singer-songwriter Jon Secada fell out on stage.

The organizers had arranged for the dancers to perform and then disappear through a trapdoor. “The last person was supposed to shut it,” LeTellier says. They didn’t and soon Oprah and Secada were running down the stairs.

In the stands, a luxurious suite had been reserved for Presidents Bill and Hillary Clinton for the ceremony and the opening match between Germany and Bolivia.

Instead, Clinton chose to sit among people whose temperatures approached 100 degrees. “No hat, no sunscreen, no protection. It was just a disaster,” LeTellier said.

The only saving grace? Soon after, another story hit the headlines. Near Detroit, the American players had to get up the next day around 6 a.m. for their first match against Switzerland.

Lalas helped the United States national team reach the round of 16 of the tournament

Colombian defender Andres Escobar was dejected after his goal against the United States.

But Lalas and Co. had trouble sleeping: OJ Simpson was in the back of his friend’s white Bronco, a gun pointed at his head. He had been accused of murdering his ex-wife and her friend. He led police on a 60-mile chase that played out on national television.

“I remember turning to Brad Friedel, who was my roommate, and saying, ‘OJ is going to keep me awake before the biggest game of my life,'” Lalas recalled.

“Impossible to put the remote control down,” he adds. “So obviously we talk about it at breakfast the next morning.”

The United States drew Switzerland – after a pre-match visit from Henry Kissinger – then beat Colombia to reach the round of 16. Lalas went out to dinner the next evening; other diners stood and applauded.

But a few days later, Colombian defender Andres Escobar was shot dead at his home. He scored an own goal against the United States.

“If we could lose this match and Andrès was still there, we would happily lose,” says Lalas.

The tournament also marked the end of Diego Maradona’s World Cup career. The Argentine legend was kicked out of the tournament after testing positive for a banned stimulant.

Lalas and his American teammates were captivated by OJ Simpson’s iconic car chase

Argentine legend Diego Maradona was kicked out of the tournament after failing a drug test.

“An embarrassment for him and an embarrassment for us,” says LeTellier, who was dragged into emergency meetings with FIFA in Dallas.

Argentina was defeated in the round of 16 and the USA’s tournament ended there as well. Lalas and Co lost to Brazil, who went on to win the trophy at the Rose Bowl.

For the first time, the World Cup was decided via penalties, with Roberto Baggio following Ross’ lead and missing the crucial spot-kick.

It was the sad culmination of a remarkable summer that broke attendance records. The 52 games, from Pasadena to Washington, D.C., averaged nearly 70,000 fans.

Somehow they avoided a real catastrophe. At Stanford, a temporary bridge was created to transport media to their headquarters. He collapsed. “Luckily, no one was in it,” LeTellier says. Fortunately, no one was injured either. The party could therefore continue.

Brazil won the trophy after beating Italy on penalties in the 1994 World Cup final.

Roberto Baggio missed the decisive penalty as Italy suffered Rose Bowl heartbreak

Lalas spent time with Pelé before the final. He drowned his sorrows, following the defeat against Brazil, with shots of tequila and Jagermeister with Metallica.

There’s a very good chance that Lalas would have hung up his boots if he hadn’t been called up to this California training camp. After the World Cup, the defender became the first American to play in Italy’s Serie A.

Gulati became president of US Soccer, and in 1996, Major League Soccer began. Three decades later, Lionel Messi has called Miami home and the world is preparing to return to the United States.

“If this was the first half of the game,” Gulati says, “if we could make the next 30 years look like this… I would take that in a heartbeat.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *