Lasting Memories of World Cups Past and Present

Peter Wilt celebrating the US win over Algeria with the World Cup Trophy in one hand and the "Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous" in the other. Fake World Cup Trophy, real joy.

Peter Wilt celebrating the US win over Algeria with the World Cup Trophy in one hand and the "Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous" in the other. Fake World Cup Trophy, real joy.

In his weekly column, Milwaukee Wave President & CEO Peter Wilt gives us his World Cup memories from an indoor star on the big stage to Bob Bradley’s goalkeeping dilemma.

My memory can be rather selective and when it comes to past World Cups, there are usually only one or two moments from each that stand out for me.

Here are my most memorable moments of the last five World Cups along with thoughts on memories from South Africa 2010:

1990: I was working for the Milwaukee Wave — the first time — and one of our players, Jimmy Banks, a defender from UW-Milwaukee, earned a starting role under his former collegiate coach Bob Gansler who guided the United States to its first World Cup appearance in 40 years.  I may be using my selective memory, but I believe Jimmy is probably the first, last and only full time professional indoor soccer player to play in a World Cup.

Just making the tournament was considered a success.  After watching from the bench as the US was undressed by Lubos Kubik and Czechoslovakia 5-1 in its opening match, Jimmy Banks started in place of Steve Trittschuh  in the 1-0 loss to Italy and 2-1 loss to Austria that ended the return to World Cup play for the US.

My sole distinct memory from that tournament twenty years ago was 52 minutes into the Austria match when Andreas Ogris split Banks and Desmond Armstrong on a torrid run that led to the game’s first goal, chipped over Tony Meola.  Watching Jimmy getting beat wasn’t a pleasant memory, but I was still proud that one of our Milwaukee Wave players was on the world’s biggest stage.

Peter Wilt at the 1994 Opening Game at Soldier Field with Pele. Fake Pele, real Peter Wilt.

Peter Wilt at the 1994 Opening Game at Soldier Field with Pele. Fake Pele, real Peter Wilt.

1994: I was working in Los Angeles for the CISL during the US-hosted World Cup.  My trips back to the Midwest gave me the opportunity to attend several matches at Soldier Field including the tournament’s opening game between defending champion Germany and Bolivia.  Watching the opening ceremony in the south end with Chicago soccer legend Pato Margetic, I saw Oprah Winfrey fall through the stage, Diana Ross miss a staged penalty kick, Bolivia’s Marco Etcheverry ejected from the match and Germany’s Juergen Klinsmann score the tournament’s first goal.  After the match I went to Kitty O’Shea’s inside the Conrad Hilton Hotel and watched the infamous OJ Simpson Bronco chase.

Oscar de La Hoya becoming the "Golden Boy" in Barcelona. Real Golden Boy, real Olympic Gold Medal.

Despite those incredible moments from the opening match, the single memory that stands out most from the tournament occurred two weeks later in Pasadena at the United States vs. Colombia group match.  I was sitting in a luxury suite high above the Rose Bowl next to boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya.  The 21-year-old future champ had already won Olympic gold in Barcelona and was 13-0 professionally at the time.  He was just 19 months into one of the best welterweight careers ever that would include five world championships.

Thirty-five minutes into the match John Harkes sent a long diagonal pass into the Colombia goal box.  Before it could reach Earnie Stewart, its intended target, the ball was  redirected by Colombia defender Andres Escobar into his own goal.   The goal helped lead to Colombia’s surprise demise and elimination from the tournament…and Escobar’s murder ten days later in Colombia.

The specific moment I remember was De La Hoya, whose Golden Boy Promotions is now a co-owner of Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo, turning and lifting his famous and powerful left hand and slapping mine in celebration.  Four years later I was back at that historic stadium slapping high fives to dozens of Chicago Fire players, fans and staff in celebration of the team’s inaugural season victory in the 1998 MLS Cup.

1998: My memories of France 1998, not surprisingly, are nearly non-existent.  The United States flamed out with three losses in group play amid reported personal problems within the team and I was keeping myself busy steering the MLS Chicago Fire’s inaugural season as the team’s general manager.  The Fire debuted just two months prior to this World Cup and our big name superstar and key to early season attendance and publicity success was Mexico’s legendary goalkeeper Jorge Campos.

The Fire won its first two games, then lost the next five, with Campos only available for one of those games (a home opening win over Tampa Bay with 36,444 in attendance), before he joined the Mexico National Team for World Cup preparations.  In his absence, his backup, Zach Thornton led the Fire to victory after victory — eleven straight, in fact.  Midway through that stretch, Fire Head Coach Bob Bradley talked to me about his desire to relegate Campos to the bench upon his return and go forward with Zach in goal.

Bob was concerned about pressure to play Jorge for marketing reasons even prior to the trade that brought him to Chicago.  Despite the public interest in Jorge, the key to our acquisition of the flamboyant goalkeeper from Los Angeles in the first place was the inclusion of Chris Armas.  Bob never would have agreed to take the flamboyant star of the day without also receiving the quiet star of the future.

Bob and I had deep discussions before he accepted the Fire coaching position about what type of organization we would have.  It was critical to him that we would be an authentic soccer team with integrity and would go about things the right way.  My first — and most significant — test was securing a proper training facility, which we accomplished by taking over the Chicago Bears former training ground Halas Hall on the campus of Lake Forest College.  There were other tests before the Campos conversation, but this was a milestone decision that would point the direction of the team for years to come.

To me it was simple.  I just asked Bob one question:  “Who do we have a better chance to win with?”

2002: Not Ji-Sung Park saving our butt. Not  “Dos a Cero“.  Not Hugh Dallas screwing us. Not even having two of my team’s players — DaMarcus Beasley and Josh Wolff — in the World Cup.

It was Portugal.  Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Fernando Couto…the original Golden Generationhad matured and was expected to run over the United States in the opening Group D match for both sides.  John O’Brien in the 4th minute on the rebound of a Brian McBride header - “WOW!”  Then Landon Donovan’s chip deflects off Jorge Costa into his own goal in the 29th minute – “HOLY COW!” And finally, the former Milwaukee Rampage teammates combined for the dagger: Tony Sanneh racing down the right side and whipping it in for a classic Brian McBride header and an unimaginable 3-0 lead after just 36 minutes – “OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD!”

2006: It was June 17th again – twelve years to the day after Oprah fell through the stage and OJ cruised the I-5 in his Bronco with the world watching.  Section 8 Chicago had a small caravan driving from Chicago to Kansas City for the Fire match at Arrowhead Stadium.  We timed our departure, so we could get to St. Louis in time to watch Portugal beat Iran at the Scottish Arms and then the United States vs. Italy match at Milo’s Bocce Garden, an Italian joint on “The Hill” — St. Louis’ old Italian neighborhood that provided several of the famous 1950 USMNT members who upset England at Belo Horizonte.

The USMNT wasn't the only group to crash in June of 2006. Fake image of Peter Wilt's real crash.

The USMNT wasn't the only group to crash in June of 2006. Fake image of Peter Wilt's real crash.

After the disappointing 1-1 draw, I volunteered to drive the van full of Fire faithful the final four hours to Kansas City.  Rain had slowed us down a bit, but we were still on schedule to make the kickoff when our destiny coincided with that of the US World Cup team.  Both soon crashed without reaching their destination.  The US trip to the knockout round was derailed by Ghana a few days later.  Our trip to Kansas City ended 20 minutes away at the hands of a pickup driver fueled with booze and road rage.  The drunken driver, who apparently believed I had cut him off a mile back, pulled alongside and slammed into our van sending both vehicles spinning round and round and into the median of Interstate 70.  A strong set of cables in the median — and a decent job of Joie Chitwood style crisis steering and Bob Bondurant School of Defensive Driving — kept everyone alive and mostly healthy, though our rented van was totaled.  While I pleaded with the Missouri State trooper to charge the other driver with seven counts of attempted vehicular homicide, the twice previously convicted drunk driver was merely arrested for felony DUI.  I never did make it to the Fire match — and the assailant never made it to prison as he pleaded down to a misdemeanor — but I do have a World Cup memory that will likely never go away.

2010: So, what will be my enduring memory of the 2010 World Cup? There are many candidates and perhaps more to come on Sunday.

  • The two US goals unrighteously called back
  • The despair of the US/Ghana match
  • Watching Mexico defeat France with a restaurant full of Mexicans
  • Watching Argentina beat Mexico in a bar full of Argentines
  • The wild three minutes of Paraguay/Spain
  • The crazy finish of Ghana/Uruguay
  • The steady buzz of the vuvuzelas
  • Or the raw jubilant emotion following the most important United States goal in the last 20 years.

While they are all memorable in this extended moment that continues through Sunday, I don’t think anyone will be surprised when five, 10 and 20 years from now, the memory of 2010 will be voiced over by Ian Darke:

“Howard, gratefully claims it.  Distribution, brilliant.  Landon Donovan, are things going here for the USA?  Can they do it here?  A cross and Dempsey is denied again!  Donovan has SCORED!  OHH, CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS??? GOAL! GOAL! USA certainly through.  Oh, it’s incredible!  You could NOT write a script like this.”

…and the United States of America ERUPTS!

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