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The royal treatment: How San Jose came to embrace its MLS team in 1996

Stars Wynalda, Agoos talk about first-ever MLS game.

United V Clash

25 years ago, Major League Soccer was about to kick off for the first time. But according to Eric Wynalda, who scored the first-ever goal in league history, no one in San Jose knew about the history about to be made in their town.

“In the beginning, nobody really knew much, and as much as we were trying to market ourselves and to be a part of the community, we had not started yet. So there was just such an unknown component of that,” Wynalda admitted during a conference call with reporters recently to discuss the first MLS game.

25 years ago today, on April 6, 1996, the San Jose Clash hosted D.C. United at Spartan Stadium in the inaugural game in MLS, with Wynalda notching a winner in the closing minutes to give San Jose a 1-0 win.

“It’s hard for me to talk about it sometimes because it sounds a little self-serving. But I’m just so glad that I scored and we finished the game 1-0 and didn’t give all the haters an opportunity to say, ‘Oh, look, soccer is boring, 0-0.’ It was a wonderful moment, and it really was the kick-start,” Wynalda said.

Defender Jeff Agoos, who started for D.C. United on the day, admitted the goal was the right moment for the league’s launch.

“It’s a memory I have fondness for in a certain way, as a defender and having to face Eric Wynalda on the 88th or 89th minute in a one-on-one, is not an ideal place to be as a defender. Nonetheless, I give Eric an incredible amount of credit for what he was able to accomplish,” Agoos said on the same conference call.

“I do remember at the end of the game in the shower and coming out of our locker room, feeling obviously disappointed in the result, but I felt like the worst outcome we could have had was a 0-0 game, and that everybody had complained about soccer is boring; and that what Eric did and what the team did, what the Clash was able to pull off, the fans; they wanted to come back. They wanted to see another game and we really created a lot of momentum,” Agoos added.

So while San Jose wasn’t aware of what was happening with the launch of an outdoor men’s pro soccer league before the inaugural game, Wynalda said times changed rather quickly in the city.

“Nobody knew who we were until after the game was over and the hard part for some of our guys was, you know, once that game happened, and it got it the attention that it did it really kick-started a lot of things,” he explained. “People were so receptive, and then San Jose really got to show its true colors. We used to go to Tony & Alba’s, which is a family-owned restaurant there and we were just unknown. Nobody had a clue who we were but six months later, if we were going in there, it was the royal treatment and everybody knew who we were all of a sudden.

“The starting point of all of this really was the first game. Once that game was over, and they kept re-running the goal and re-running the results, and it just gave us such a positive push in the right direction.”

Wynalda spent three seasons ultimately with the Clash, scoring 21 goals and 29 assists in 57 regular-season appearances there, before stops in the league in Miami, Chicago and New England. Ironically Agoos was on the “wrong” side on that opening game, but he ended up spending four seasons with the San Jose Earthquakes, 2001-04, winning two MLS Cups in that span. Agoos admitted his sour memory of losing the first game at Spartan Stadium receded with his later memories with the Quakes.

MLS - New England Revolution vs San Jose Earthquakes - April 17, 2004 Photo by J Rogash/MLSNETImages

“It was an interesting moment for me personally just because of what that stadium would represent in my career going forward. I was traded to the Earthquakes in 2001, and won two championships there and played at Spartan Stadium. I’ve got a very warm and fuzzy feeling for a lot of moments in that stadium. I don’t know if that one would count, but it was a really positive experience for our league, for our fans, our players, and I’m happy just to have been part of it,” Agoos said.

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