Hey, 1996: How pop culture and soccer looked on the first MLS game

The cast of the TV show Friends

Almost exactly 20 years ago, on Apr. 6, 1996, the San Jose Earthquakes – then the Clash – faced off against D.C. United for the first MLS game ever. The two teams marked that two-decade anniversary with a matchup on Saturday, which ended in a 1-1 draw at Avaya Stadium.

Back then, obviously, the league was a little different. But let’s take a trip down memory lane, all the way back to 1996, to see what the world looked like in both pop culture and soccer. You can never have too much 1990s nostalgia on the internet, right?

What was top in pop culture?

The overall top song on the pop charts was Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me."

Its release edged out weeks of domination by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men’s collab joint, "One Sweet Day."

“ER,” “Seinfeld,” and “Friends” topped the list of top-rated TV shows for the 1995-1996 season.

Hey, 1996: How pop culture and soccer looked on the first MLS game - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/friendslogo.jpg?null

Netscape was the hot search engine online. Google started up in March, but wouldn’t become an actual search engine until the following year.

In the video game world, Super Nintendo still lingered, and the PS1 was out. (Nintendo 64 would follow later in the year).

FIFA started to gain serious traction for for PC and Playstation, and FIFA 97 would later be released in June. (David Ginola and Bebeto graced the cover.)

Hey, 1996: How pop culture and soccer looked on the first MLS game - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/fifa97cover.jpg?null

What were current MLS coaches up to?

NYCFC’s Patrick Vieira was languishing in the AC Milan reserves, but he’d move to Arsenal in the fall of 1996.

Bruce Arena, now of the LA Galaxy, coached his last season at the University of Virginia in 1995, and had left for the US U-23s and D.C. United by spring of 1996.

D.C. United’s Ben Olsen was still a player/student at Virginia in April 1996.

Orlando City’s Adrian Heath had just assumed his first managerial role with Burnley, then playing in England’s third tier.

FC Dallas’ Oscar Pareja was playing for Deportivo Cali in his native Colombia.

Colorado Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni played for the now-defunct Tucson Amigos.

Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic was finishing his season at the now-defunct Marbella, but would move to Atletico Madrid B in the fall.

Houston Dynamo’s Owen Coyle played at Dundee United.

Vancouver Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson played at Wolves in England.

What was going on in the global game?

The USA sat in the No. 14 spot in the FIFA rankings (one place below Denmark, one above Zambia). Mexico were 12th.

On the day of the first MLS game, the most recent USMNT match had been the team’s third-place game in January’s Gold Cup. The USA beat Guatemala 3-0 on goals from Eric Wynalda, Jeff Agoos and Jovan Kirovski.

The most recent US women's national team match had been a 2-0 friendly win over Germany played in Davidson, North Carolina, in front of 3,500 fans. Tiffeny Milbrett and and Kristine Lilly provided the goals.

George Weah had won the most recent Ballon d’Or. (Jurgen Klinsmann finished runner-up in voting!)

Here were the defending club champions around the world, coming out of the 1994-1995 season:

  • Necaxa (Mexico)
  • Blackburn (England)
  • Dortmund (Germany)
  • Nantes (France)
  • Juventus (Italy)
  • Real Madrid (Spain) — That year, Barcelona finished fourth behind Deportivo La Coruna and Real Betis!