As you all may know, our Seth Vertelney published an oral history of the 1994 USA World Cup team a couple weeks back. There were plenty of good anecdotes that didn’t quite make the cut for the story, so without further (Freddy) ado, here are a few of our favorites:
ALEXI AND THE OLD LADY ON THE PLANE
ALEXI LALAS: I tell this story all the time: Two weeks before I stepped on the field in front of a billion people with the U.S. in the World Cup, I got on a plane. I got my middle seat as we often did and a wonderful older woman sat down next to me and we proceeded to have a conversation. She asked me what I did and I said I played soccer and she said ‘Well isn’t that nice?’ and she said ‘So what do you do for money?’ This is two weeks before the World Cup.
THE 22ND MAN
ALAN ROTHENBERG: While we were doing everything for 94, we were thinking ahead about Major League Soccer. The night before we had to put in our roster I met with Bora who I adored. The 22nd guy never plays on a 22-man roster so I had gotten word that Bora was going to put Fernando Clavijo on the roster who was the oldest player on the team and wasn’t going to go on to play in Major League Soccer. Why? Because Clavijo’s wife and Bora’s wife were friendly and so that way they were going to be able to travel together and so when Bora was gone for six weeks with the team, Maria would have a friend with her. So I sit down to dinner with Bora and I said ‘Look Bora, we’re trying to use this as a promotional vehicle for this new soccer league that we’re starting and there’s this good looking blonde hair kid from UCLA named Chris Henderson. Put him as your 22nd guy, the federation will pay for Clavijo’s wife to travel with Maria, but we want to be able to say that when Chris Henderson goes into Major League Soccer that he was on the World Cup team. And Bora says ‘Oh yes Mr. President’ and of course when he puts the roster in, he’s got Clavijo there and not Henderson. I don’t think people remember this, in the second half, he puts Clavijo in as a substitute. Colombia gets a breakaway, and Clavijo chases the guy down and tackles the ball away from him and saves the victory for us. I told Bora, ‘That’s the last time I tell you who to play.’
TAB AND LEONARDO
TAB RAMOS: He came and saw me at the hospital that night. He was crying, he really felt - even though now he’s going to get suspended and not play the rest of the World Cup – he was concerned about what he had done so he came to see me. We’ve been friends ever since really, because it seems like every World Cup since, there’s either a Brazilian show or an Italian show or an American show that has us both on together sort of remembering that moment and so we’ve become better acquaintances since. We played the Copa America in Uruguay in 1995, the year after the World Cup, and I was back on the U.S. team already and we exchanged jerseys after the game. I still have his jersey from that game.
THE O.J. CHASE
The night before the U.S. began the World Cup against Switzerland, the world watched O.J. Simpson and Al Cowlings lead the LAPD on a slow-speed chase down the freeway
TONY MEOLA: Then of course the entire team had been up all night because the O.J. chase was the night before the game. You couldn’t turn the TV on anywhere and not see the O.J. chase. I was rooming with John Harkes. We talk about it all the time, we kept saying “We have to get to bed, we’re playing in a World Cup tomorrow” but we couldn’t turn the TV off.
JOHN HARKES: His perspective was that he was very excited that O.J. was driving in his Bronco and was on TV and I kept stressing out thinking “Will you turn that TV off because we’ve got to prepare for the game!” But it was interesting the fact there was so much going on and all these other distractions that were there but I can remember that and a couple phone calls came to our hotel room too. I think maybe Colleen his wife had called and he was talking to her about it and eventually I was just like “We’ve got to shut this down Tony, we’ve got to go to bed.” There was a lot going on.
BORA BEING BORA
ERIC WYNALDA: Bora is the kind of guy where 10, 20 years after you’ve been coached by him, you’ll remember something and you’ll say “Oh shit, that’s what he meant! Ok now I get it. Now I know why he said that.” Because he had a very different way of saying things. Everything was a lesson and it was just nauseating at times that you had to go through it.
BORA MILUTINOVIC: My English is not so good, but I have excellent communication with my players
JOHN HARKES: Off the field, whenever we asked him hard questions in English he pretended he didn’t know English. He would get a translator or something and he would hesitate to answer us, but the easy questions he was always answering. It was the same in the media, he’s hilarious. He was definitely a character.
WYNALDA’S ALLERGIC REACTION
Before the Switzerland game, Eric Wynalda had an allergic reaction to a sports drink.
PAUL CALIGIURI: Eric Wynalda, he actually drank Powerade, because Coca Cola was the sponsor of the World Cup and Powerade is one of their brands. He was allergic to like blue 40 or red 30 or one of those food colorings and he broke out in hives because he had to drink so much of it and he didn’t know he was allergic to it until after the fact.
SIGI SCHMID: It ended up being my job to make sure that Eric was focused. We had always had Gatorade all the way through and somehow the World Cup sponsor was Powerade. So it was something in the dye in the Powerade caused an allergic reaction with Eric so I remembered coming in and Eric was showing me like “Look at this!” Players are coming to me and saying “Hey you have to calm him down.” I go to Bora and he goes “Hey you have to keep Eric calm and focused so my job for the whole pregame – and it was a huge locker room because we were in the Silverdome, so it was the Detroit Lions locker room – I took him way in the back of the locker room and I was trying to keep him focused on the game, saying “Don’t worry you can play through this,” and everything else. We got Eric calmed down and he went out there and obviously scored the free kick goal. We came in at halftime and he (Bora) said “What do you think?” And I said ‘I think we can get about 15 more minutes out of him and he’s probably done.’ And so we put him out there for another 15 minutes in the second half and then we took him out.