1996 Club by Club
Major League Soccer’s inaugural season kicked off with much anticipation as the founding ten members – five teams each in both the Eastern and Western Conferences – ushered in a new era for professional soccer in the United States. Teams selected 16 players each in the MLS Inaugural Player Draft, and each team was designated four marquee players by the league to bring stars such as Carlos Valderrama, Jorge Campos, Alexi Lalas and Brian McBride from leagues abroad to bolster the on-field talent – and reputation – of the fledgling league.
San Jose Clash striker and US international Eric Wynalda scored the first goal in MLS history on April 6, an 88th-minute winner over D.C. United. But it was the Tampa Bay Mutiny that ran away with the best regular season record, the play of Valderrama and striker Roy Lassiter helping the club finish nine points clear of the second-best LA Galaxy. Valderrama’s 4 goals and 17 assists earned the Colombian MVP honors, while Lassiter scored 27 goals and added 4 assists to become the firs MLS Scoring Champion. Tampa Bay midfielder Steve Ralston won Rookie of the Year, while head coach Thomas Rongen completed the sweep by winning Coach of the Year.
Fans came out in force to see what Major League Soccer was all about, the average attendance for the league in its’ first season was an extremely healthy 17,406. The first season of MLS play also saw the emergence of futures stars such as Brad Friedel, Jason Kreis and Cobi Jones. All of these players won accolades such as player of the week or player of the month in the 1996 season.
The 1996 MLS season certainly provided enough excitement for fans as each team completed their 32 game season with over 500 goals scored in the regular season. But equally as impressive was the goaltending with future stars such as Mexican Jorge Campos finishing top of the ‘keepers ratings, letting in just 1.20 goals on average per game.
Despite their regular season dominance, the Mutiny faltered in the Eastern Conference finals against D.C. United. The Capital Club would meet the Western champion Los Angeles Galaxy in the first ever MLS Cup at Foxboro Stadium. Despite the dreadful wet and windy conditions, 34,643 fans turned out to see D.C. United come out 3-2 winners in overtime as Eddie Pope’s 94th-minute strike sent the first ever MLS Cup to the nation’s capital.
Most Valuable Player: Carlos Valderrama – Tampa Bay Mutiny
Goalkeeper of the Year: Mark Dodd – Dallas Burn
Scoring Champion: Roy Lassiter – Tampa Bay Mutiny, 58 points
Rookie of the Year: Steve Ralston – Tampa Bay Mutiny
Defender of the Year: John Doyle – San Jose Clash
Goal of the Year: Eric Wynalda – San Jose Earthquakes vs. D.C. United – April 6, 1996
Coach of the Year: Thomas Rongen – Tampa Bay Mutiny