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06 / 13

Kick This Around: A Lansing United Blog

WRITTEN BY: Dave Ellis
PUBLISHED ON: June 13, 2014

Back in 1994, I was at best a casual soccer fan.

I had an ancestor who was a season ticket holder at one of the great old stadiums of England, the iconic Highbury that housed a team called Arsenal. I remember watching the 1989 English League One season finale on a late may Friday afternoon on Canadian television, an anomaly only possible thanks to living across Lake Superior from the Ontario city of Thunder Bay. Arsenal scored in injury time at Liverpool to win the league championship with almost the final kick of the season. It was a thrilling moment that is still remembered for its drama a quarter century later in England. But without the chance to experience it in person, the moment doesn’t have the visceral effect on me that it would for someone who was there.

The 1994 World Cup changed that.

Americans scoffed that the tournament would be largely ignored, and no one would care. But I saw the city of Pontiac overrun with Brazilians and Swedes, with Russians and Romanians, and Swiss fans (who were expecting a train from Metro Airport to the stadium) wondering if they would see American fans. They did.

I was one of the 73,425 who endured a stifling June morning inside the Silverdome to witness the first ever indoor match in World Cup history. The only American player I knew was Alexi Lalas, who had played high school hockey against my school in a state championship game 9 years earlier. Most of the pre-match conversation was about the OJ Simpson Bronco chase the night before the match. But once the first ball was kicked, the mood around me changed.

People around me had no USA gear. They had only been handed small handheld flags if they came in a certain entrance, which most around me did not. But after hearing the group of Swiss supporters making noise in a far-flung corner of the dome, they seemed to feel obligated to respond. The only patriotic cheer most had heard in a sporting venue was the simple “USA, USA, USA” and it appeared a few times early in the match. It was pretty apparent that most of the locals didn’t really understand much of what they were watching. They did, however, understand fully when the Swiss scored in the 39th minute.

But when Eric Wynalda curled in a perfect free kick that we saw bend into the corner from the far end of the field, the place went nuts. Tony Meola was jumping up and down like a pogo stick in front of us celebrating. Flags appeared from all corners of the building. It was as loud and crazy as any Lions crowd, and in the heyday of Barry Sanders that was saying something.

The match ended in a 1-1 draw, and most people were just anxious to get out to their coolers in the parking lot. There was a bit of “that’s it?” reaction, but it cleared out quickly. And once we reached our provisions, the discussion began about what we had just seen. The comments about the uncomfortable conditions were minimal.  With seats in three different sections, everyone wanted to talk about what they saw on Wynalda’s kick.

Years later, I look back at that match as the point when I finally understood being a soccer fan. The shared joy of the single moment makes me think of that old golf adage – that no matter how bad your round was, what keeps you coming back is that one shot when you put it all together and felt that tuning fork moment of perfection. I saw that moment for many people in United’s last home match when Tyler Pasher scored to put Lansing ahead 2-1. When you’ve invested yourself as a fan for the whole night and the payoff finally comes, that moment is like a release of surprise…joy…relief…and validation all in one. And when you remember that match in the future it won’t be the late equalizer that comes to mind, but that special mix of emotion you felt in that moment.

Maybe you’ve had your moment already. Maybe that moment is yet to come. But when you finally get it, you’ll point back to it – and maybe this blog will pop into your mind. Then you too will have that tuning fork moment…and the building desire to feel it again.