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The time I almost went to the World Cup, but didn’t

Or, how I got into soccer in the first place.

United States V Switzerland

We all have origin stories with the sport of soccer. Some of us grew up in a family that loved the sport. Others started playing as kids, and the passion just never went away.

My personal journey to soccer was a little different, but I was part of a transformational generation, the kind that was intended to spring out of the United States hosting the 1994 World Cup for the first time.

I grew up in a suburb of Detroit, in the 1990s, one town over from Pontiac. I was born in a hospital in Pontiac, my parents both worked at that hospital for years, as did my grandfather, my sister was born there, too, and her kids were subsequently born there.

If you go up to the top of the hospital, something I did frequently one summer as my grandfather was dying, you could see the Pontiac Silverdome. From there, on the ninth floor, the Silverdome looked so close it was as though you could nearly touch it.

Today, the Silverdome is a symbol for a lot of things. It no longer exists, having finally been demolished in December, after becoming the region’s largest eyesore for several years. Most notably, it is a symbol of the economic fortunes of Detroit striking the larger area, the concept of “blight” showing up in the largest non-factory building in the region.

But a few decades earlier, times were relatively good. The home of the Barry Sanders-era Detroit Lions, a famous WrestleMania was hosted there. Pope John Paul II held mass there, an event that was probably the single biggest moment in the stadium’s history.

Right behind it, however, was the 1994 World Cup. The Silverdome hosted four games in total: The U.S. vs. Switzerland on June 18, Switzerland vs. Romania on June 22, Sweden vs. Russia on June 24, and Brazil vs. Sweden on June 28.

That first game, the U.S. vs. Switzerland, changed my life. But probably not in the way you would expect.

I was a huge sports fan as a kid. Got sucked in by the Detroit Pistons’ run to the NBA Finals in 1988, only to be disappointed at the Los Angeles Lakers actually winning it. Next year, the Pistons flipped the script, and before long I was into all of the sports I could find.

I wasn’t much of a soccer fan, largely due to ignorance. I grew up in the interim when the original NASL was out of business and MLS was not even on the horizon. I remember reading about Paul Caligiuri’s goal in Trinidad & Tobago to clinch the USMNT’s entry into the 1990 World Cup in my Sports Illustrated for Kids issues, which I often read cover to cover as soon as it came in the mail.

But my neighborhood didn’t play soccer, so I didn’t play soccer. By the time the 1994 World Cup rolled around, I had been hearing about Pontiac hosting games, had seen the signs being posted around town with the now-iconic World Cup ‘94 logos, but I still wasn’t really sure what soccer was, beyond a game where you kick the ball into the net.

Fast-forward to June 1994. Preparations are at their height for the World Cup, the local mainstream media is getting excited, and at the hospital, where I was born and my parents worked, my dad entered a ticket giveaway to the U.S.-Switzerland game...and he won!

How exciting, going to the World Cup! For a moment, those plans were put in some danger, because my cousin was getting married that same day, but the timing worked out. The game was during the day, the wedding in the evening, and people are making such a big deal about this World Cup business, gotta check it out.

Here’s the thing: My dad won two tickets to the U.S.-Switzerland game at the Silverdome. I had a sister, there were four of us in the family. Easy decision, kids were left with the grandparents, and my parents went to check this soccer stuff out.

Now, given that at the time I hadn’t ever actually seen a soccer game before, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Give a kid a choice to go to an event, any event, and of course they would take it. But I literally didn’t know the rules of the game.

But I watched the game on TV, and was transformed. As someone who had played basketball and softball, I noticed that when the ball went out of bounds, the players threw the ball back in. Throw-ins! I can do that.

As a sign of my youth, I’ll tell you what I did at halftime: I ran outside to my grandparents’ front yard and did THROW-INS. To myself.

It must have looked ridiculous, but to someone who didn’t know the first thing about kicking a ball, I had to start somewhere.

My parents came back from the match, had a good time, sitting amongst Swiss fans who were jacked but friendly. They probably wondered how many American fans were like my parents, ignorant to soccer altogether. Surely there were at least some others sprinkled into the stands around the U.S. just like them.

So, while I didn’t get to go to the World Cup and at the time wasn’t terribly bummed about it, as time has passed that game has loomed in my mind. It was a transformational experience for me, 90 minutes that sparked my love of the sport forever. I now watch soccer every day, I write about it for a living — what if I had gone to that game, seen history in person, as the U.S. really brought soccer to America for new generations?

With the news on Wednesday that the World Cup will be hosted by Canada, the U.S. and Mexico in 2026, a lot of people honed in on the transformative power of hosting a World Cup for the host country, based on the experience of World Cup 1994. My story is not unique. While I doubt there were any other kids in America doing throw-ins as some kind of tribute to the very first soccer game they had ever seen, there are so many people who were turned onto the sport by the 1994 World Cup. Fandoms were kickstarted, careers were launched, and the legacy of that World Cup still lives on.

In 1994 we had no fully professional outdoor league in the United States, men’s or women’s. Today, we have nearly 60 fully professional men’s teams around the country with dozens more in the works, a women’s professional league, and aside from the women winning the first Women’s World Cup in 1991, all of the trophies and major accomplishments in the modern era for the U.S. National Teams have taken place since that launching point of 1994.

The state of soccer in this country is in a far different position today, and there are so many opportunities to watch soccer games on TVs or streaming these days that there will be far fewer people who had no familiarity with the sport in 2026. But still. If the legacy of 1994 carries so far, it is certain that 2026 will offer new legacies and should push the sport forward in more exciting directions.

I still haven’t been to a World Cup game, although I hope I can afford to go to one someday. It is probably the biggest bucket list goal in my life. I will be watching each and every game taking place in Russia this summer, and I will wonder when that dream will be realized, when that 11-year-old kid will find what she was looking for way back in 1994.

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