25th Season

From Mariah Carey to George Clooney: How 1996 pop culture informed MLS's first-ever game | Sam Jones

Mariah Carey 1996

EDITOR'S NOTE: To mark the anniversary of Major League Soccer's first-ever game between the San Jose Clash and D.C. United on April 6, 1996, MLS YouTube, Twitter and Facebook channels will air the game at 4 pm ET this Monday. A part of MLS Classics: Remix, the enhanced broadcast will feature alternative commentary from MLS legends Eric Wynalda and Jeff Agoos, as well as current D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid and MLSsoccer.com's David Gass. You can also now follow the @MLSin96 Instagram account, which will chronicle the entirety of the inaugural MLS season in “real-time” throughout 2020.

On Saturday, April 6, 1996, the San Jose Clash hosted D.C. United in the first-ever MLS match. I was eight months old.

However, I’ve been tasked with looking back on this historic moment through a pop culture lens previously knowing few of the game’s participants and little of the moment’s pop culture. But I have been given a time machine, courtesy of the full, as-it-aired version of MLS's inaugural game, something you can watch across MLS's platforms on Monday at 4 pm ET. 

I am going to try and cram as much April 6, 1996, into my brain and relate back to the first-ever MLS game.

The following is what the internet tells me was happening on April 6, 1996. If any of this is wrong it’s because I used Ask Jeeves to search for it all. For 1996 realism. I’m the Daniel Day-Lewis of mediocre soccer bloggers with platforms they don’t deserve. Be right back, I have to go check on my Tamagotchi pet.

Extremely Popular...Soap Opera TV Show Type Thing - Melrose Place

From Mariah Carey to George Clooney: How 1996 pop culture informed MLS's first-ever game | Sam Jones - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/mp6/image_nodes/2011/01/andrew-shue.jpg

I’d like to set a scene for you where a lone 24-year old is sitting in his living room watching a soccer game from 1996 and a large group of the gentleman with mullets or mullet-adjacent hair line up for a coin toss. “What is this,” he says to no one. “The cast of 'Melrose Place'?” he says only having a vague idea of what "Melrose Place" actually is. The TV then informs him almost immediately that the person in the white polo is literally Andrew Shue. From TV’s "Melrose Place".

I Asked Jeeves and Shue and MLS have a real history. Shue, a legitimately good soccer player played in five games for the LA Galaxy in 1996 and recorded an assist. Prior to that, he won the double in the Zimbabwe Premier Soccer League in 1990. I verified both of these things as true. Jeeves also recommended a place to buy shoes called “Kinney Shoes.” I was unable to verify that the place ever existed.

Anyway, "Melrose Place" is apparently a kaleidoscope of tragedies happening to rich and attractive people which they largely overcome in the end and averaged 13.2 million viewers in 1996. But I honestly just wanted you to know how incredible it is that a massive TV star also had a career in MLS — and in the Zimbabwe Premier Soccer League.

Most Popular Song - “Always Be My Baby” by Mariah Carey

The number one song on April 6, 1996, was “Always Be My Baby” by Mariah Carey, who I guess did real songs before she became a Christmas-specific artist. Let’s take a look at the music video. Hold on, just have to wade through all the comments about how MTV used to actually be about the music…

00:50 I am 50 seconds into the song. There has not been a single lyric. There has just been Mariah vocalizing. In a way, it’s kind of like a soccer game played on April 6, 1996, where no one scores until the 87th minute. Sometimes you just have to wait for the exciting part and that’s what makes it more enjoyable. Mariah knew! Mariah. KNEW.

2:05 Mariah Carey was legally required to change octaves every five notes in 1996. She has been on a tire swing in the middle of a lake for this entire video. Except for the parts where she’s dancing in front of a fire at a camp.

3:30 [Vocalizing and hitting notes that shouldn’t actually exist]

3:35 Mariah has no idea how to get off this tire swing.

3:50 Just like MLS was trying to figure out how to get off their own metaphorical tire swing and establish themselves as legitimate. See? This all relates. Mariah knew.

Most Popular Commercial, Probably - MasterCard Future Card

At halftime of the first MLS game, they showed some incredible commercials. I know this because the stream from the game has THE ORIGINAL COMMERCIALS. DO THEY INCLUDE A CREDIT CARD THAT WILL ONE DAY READ YOUR FINGERPRINT? OF COURSE, THEY DO. “It’s how the future will be paid for.” It’s the “running shootouts to break ties is the future of the sport” of credit card commercials. Jeeves tells me that MasterCard actually did make this card. In 2017. 21 years later. It has not caught on.

Most Popular Talk Show - Jay Leno

I had to make sure I wasn’t dead like five times but at halftime of the first MLS game they showed a clip of Alexi Lalas on Jay Leno’s late-night talk show. Which is crazy. Who knew the guy with the car YouTube channel used to have a show? Anyway, the order of events here is: Lalas walks out and bounces the ball before booting it into the crowd. Jay Leno refers to him as the “Rasputin of Soccer.” Lalas responds by asking if Leno is, “Ready for the weekend or what?” Everything feels right with the world.

Most Popular Movie - Primal Fear

The most popular movie (by box office) in 1996 was "Independence Day." However, the most popular movie (by box office) on April 6, 1996 was something called "Primal Fear." Apparently this is Ed Norton’s film debut. I’ve always considered Ed Norton the MLS of actors. Overshadowed at times, but always putting in consistently great performances. Always. I’ve always thought this. Appropriate that they make their debut the same week. Because I’ve always said this.

Primal fear also describes the feeling the D.C. United defense had when Eric Wynalda ran at them with the ball and then curled it into the net in the 87th minute for the first goal in MLS history — it would later go on to win MLS Goal of the Year.

Most Popular TV Show - ER

From Mariah Carey to George Clooney: How 1996 pop culture informed MLS's first-ever game | Sam Jones - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/ClooneyER.jpg?4YMfyyE9_d32c66vrxB4QlJ2IFhPU9gX

"ER" is apparently a kaleidoscope of tragedies happening to rich and attractive people which they largely overcome in the end. But look at the incredible cast that had huge breakthroughs on this show like George Clooney and...George...Clooney. It’s just like the first MLS game where we got to see Eric Wynalda, Marco Etcheverry and John Harkes establish themselves as stars in the new league. I’ve always referred to those three as the George Clooney of MLS. I’ve always said this.

Most Popular Sporting Enhancer - Breathe Right Strip

From Mariah Carey to George Clooney: How 1996 pop culture informed MLS's first-ever game | Sam Jones - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/EtcheverryMLSFirstGame.jpg?qDRNes.Lg6rqEqjTco0QYu6jJHTemxf6

Another question you may have while watching the first-ever MLS game: What exactly does Marco Etcheverry have on his face? Turns out, the Breathe Right Strips were the sporting enhancer of choice for top players across the globe in 1996, though their popularity was sadly short-lived. What a time.