Unlike most of my friends, I never played soccer in school. It wasn’t offered in my high school. We had field hockey, folk dance, volleyball, etc. I did letter in sports with the GAA (girls athletic association) at Foothill High School in the Santa Ana/Tustin area where I graduated in 1967.
I discovered soccer during the ‘94 World Cup. I wanted to see what it was all about. I went to the soccer celebration to buy souvenirs and would go home to watch the game, but the shuttle wouldn’t return to the parking area until after the game. I hung around and found a vendor who had a game ticket. I only had $20 left but he took it, since the pre game had already started. This was a very hot game and my fortune was that this seat was in the shade of the suites. I was next to a camera guy, so this was great. The game was Columbia vs Romania. I had no idea what the rules were. Luckily a guy behind me was describing the game to his friend so I listened intently. This was my first soccer match. I didn’t realize what a great deal it was for the US to play so well. I fell in love with the whole US team and followed the players when they joined MLS.
After the World Cup, LA Galaxy was being formed. Luckily a local Fullerton team, the APSL team, LA Salsa, played at Titan Stadium. The team included many future MLS players including Jeff Agoos, Bob Amman, Ian Feuer, Zak Ibsen, Harut Karapatyn, Jorge Salcedo and Jose Vasquez. Octavio Zambrano was the Coach. I followed them and made several friends, and even offered to volunteer to Rick Davis, who was a legend and later became a Galaxy announcer. I made friends with a Santa Ana soccer store owner, and he told me about all the upcoming Galaxy events and the Galaxians. He introduced me to the “list”. The “list” in ’95-96 was a pre-Facebook community communication where you posted something and everyone on the list got it. That’s how I met the future Galaxians, like founders Kyle Dane and Michael Breton. Others included Unca Obi Wan, Dan Loney, Ozzy Gomez and a French high school student named Charly Tribileau. We shared info on the combines at the Rose Bowl, Occidental College, UC Irvine, and a major one in San Diego. During the early MLS years, we complained or praised the team and shared notes. A lot was also squabbling about who a true fan was or wasn’t.
The ’96 San Diego combine, in February, was to reduce the teams’ rosters, and it included all of the West Coast teams and D.C. United. Bruce Arena was coaching the U-23 at the time and needed to be in the West. That’s where I met many players and got many of my ’94 World Cup cards signed.
During this time the Galaxians were formed and we had a vote on what to name the supporters’ club and the club officials. We met in the tailgate area at the Galaxy’s introduction of the players at the Rose Bowl. There, many of us met for the first time. My friends gave me insights about the people running. Ozzy Gomez became our Grand Galactic Emperor and we named our seating section AREA 51, as many of our ideas were based on aliens. Mohammed’s wife designed the 1st Galaxian image a few years later. Our newsletter was the Flaming Carrot based on the drawing of Twizzler looking like one.
During the player introduction event, fans lined up to get autographs. There were no autograph cards at that time but TSI had a soccer catalog that many, like me, used for our first signatures. Cobi Jones and Jorge Campos were the biggest stars on the team. So many people wanted Cien’s autograph but I had no idea who he was. I met our first team captain, Captain Dan (Calichman). All of the Armenian fans loved Harut Karapetyn. Another famous player was Andrew Shue, an actor on Melrose Place.
Sometime prior to our first game on April 13, 1996, the City of Pasadena closed part of Colorado Blvd and introduced the players to the City. It was a fabulous celebration.
On April 6, 1996, the MLS officially started. Some friends and I made the trek to SJ to see the inaugural game. I stayed at DC United’s hotel, where I got to chat to DCU’s John Harkes in the lobby, and some really nice players who got cut after the first game.
It was exciting at Spartan Stadium. Cobi was signing autographs and I gave him a great Gold Cup US team photo that he wanted, that a photographer friend of mine took. So much celebration, and MLS gave everyone an inaugural t-shirt of the event. It was an exciting game and saw Waldo (Eric Wynalda) score the first goal in MLS History. We became acquaintances over the years with our little rivalry jabs.
Then came the exciting first Galaxy game day on April 13, 1996. As usual got there several hours early, hung out with the Galaxians on the $5 game-day parking on the grassy lot. I bought 2 season ticket packages so I could have someone to sit with me at the games, as I didn’t sit with the Galaxians the first year. My seats were $17 and at the middle, near the center. Great seats. In fact, the premium seats were above me. It’s strange, but I had a hard time getting any of my work friends to come and my daughter refused to go. It’s also when I got my first 200mm lens film camera. Later I was given the nickname Snapshot because of all my pictures.
I recently heard Cobi in an interview saying that they didn’t know what to expect crowd-wise for that game. That’s why with the 90k stadium they covered many of the lower seating on the sides with tarps. These were colorful but didn’t last long that first game. The crowd was huge. The freeway traffic backed up and it was hard for people to get into the Rose Bowl area. As the game went on the tarps were being pulled back to make room for all the people coming in. They were still selling tickets late in the 2nd half for people still trying to get inside and be a part of history. 69,255 was the final tally, the largest attendance in MLS. This game was only to be surpassed on June 16 during a doubleheader: USA v Mexico and LA Galaxy vs Tampa Bay Mutiny (best in West vs best in East) where the attendance was 92,216. It was a phenomenal game. The Sammers (Sam’s Army – USA supporters) and Mexican Supporters filled the parking lot. Jorge Campos played for both teams. As a forward for Mexico and Goalkeeper for us. Only flashy Campos could get away with that.
After the games we all shared our connections to find out where the team would go. It was mostly Mooses or Cues (a pool bar) on Colorado Blvd. A few times they would be at an Italian place. Fans would hover around trying to get autographs after they had the team meal. Cues was for adults only but players like Cobi were good to go outside and sign autographs for the kids. One of the early games I heard they were eating at a restaurant patio area. So I pretended to be just a customer and got it. It was also their 1st athletic trainer’s birthday. I got to see Ivan Pierra for the first time as they sang happy birthday to him, then took pictures with Cobi and Campos. Those were fun days, being able to mingle with the players. Some of us got tunnel passes from the team to see the players after the game, which were highly prized.
I spent the night at the team hotel in Pasadena the night before the double-header game. I met Fernando Mejia and his wife and we’ve been friends since. We both liked to get autographs and shared info on where to get them. Back in the day we hung by the payphones, that’s how in the early years I got Valderrama and many others autographs. Cheaper to use payphone than hotel phone charges. We went back and forth between the US and Mexico’s hotels. The morning of the game, I met the US Soccer Commissioner, Rothenberg in the dining room during breakfast. I told him that I was one of those non-soccer fans he was trying to reach during the ’94 World Cup. He thanked me and gave me his US soccer lapel pin and said it was an older version that wasn’t made any more.
I worked with Veronica Avila to include the Galaxians to host the Galaxy Stars program for young fans. We manned the tent in the Fan Zone area of the parking lot and signed the kids for a raffle. In the old days some of the Galaxians would get there early to hold a couple of tables under the trees for our group. We would have large potlucks before the games. It was a lively group. After the game we would bang the drums and do chant circles, with fans dancing, cheering and yelling outside the stadium after the games whilst we waited for the Rose Bowl traffic to die down, many times leaving about 11pm when we got kicked out, or lights turned off in the parking area. It was so much fun talking about the game and future events.
The Galaxians had a phone line so members would say how many tickets they needed for the next game. We couldn’t get a dedicated order line so Ozzy and Kyle, and later me, would call the office and say how many tickets we needed. We would pay about $9 for the tickets and sell for $10 or $11. The extra money would go into a pot for purchases. I remember one Fourth of July buying 100 tickets and distributing to those who ordered in advance. As the years followed I assisted Ozzy in many things. We had a great group and some fun characters.
Lilly Sunn and her husband lived for soccer. We did several road trips to San Jose together. She’s the one who talked me into going to the MLS Cup in New England. There was a group of us going with Warner Le Manger who worked for the team, and Blaine Shepard who later went on to work for the team. We did a group thing and stayed in Fall River, MA, not far from Providence, RI. Warner grew up in Bainbridge, MA, and knew the area well. We had paella in the back room of a bar which was delicious. It rained the whole time. Lilly and I had a rental and drove by the stadium. The team were trying to do practice, but with the hurricane nearby, the nor’easter was unstoppable. Everything was cancelled except the game. No umbrellas were allowed so I had to throw mine away. The old stadium was like a college one with everything open, and there were no shelters except behind the bleachers. I couldn’t bring my camera with me due to all the rain. Blaine wore a fireman’s suit and stayed dry, but my poncho was too short so my seat was soaked every time I stood up. I was too cold to order hot chocolate because I couldn’t raise my arm for the vendor. The field was flooded in many places making it hard for the teams.
We went up by 2 goals and thought it was over and we would win. The team let up a little and that was a big mistake. D.C. came back and tied the game. We went into sudden death overtime. We almost scored and so did they. I’ll never forget Eddie Pope hitting in the header to win the game.
After the game, behind the bleachers, Lilly sank to the floor sobbing. Told her it was just a game. What did I know, I was a novice.
Luckily we were switching hotels after the game so our luggage was in the trunk. Dry clothes became wet trying to get it from the trunk to inside. Warner got us some rooms in the team hotel and Blaine allowed us to share his room so he could get an early ride to the airport. We hung out with some of the players in a back dining room. They were saying the 2nd goal was a mistake, that they let up and it cost them the game.
My first year of following the Galaxy ended and many more years of joy and sadness followed. It changed my life forever.