Were You at the Galaxy’s First Game at the Rose Bowl?

Then I know someone who wants to hear from you.

And on a day after the Galaxy announced they had sold more than 70,000 tickets for Saturday’s game against Barcelona there (remaining tickets start at $35) it’s an apt post:

I’m Miguel Melendez and I’m a sportswriter at the Pasadena Star-News. I’m working on a story about the Galaxy’s return to the Rose Bowl Saturday for the first time since leaving in 2002 for Home Depot Center. The story is scheduled to run later this week in such newspapers as the Daily Breeze, L.A. Daily News and the Star-News. I want to talk to fans who were at the first Galaxy game in 1996 at the Rose Bowl. Tell me about your experience, your thoughts on the atmosphere and the game itself. E-mail miguel.melendez@sgvn.com and be sure to put “First Galaxy game” in the subject line. Thank you all very much!

I’ll go first: I was there as a fan.

MLS had opened its inaugural season the previous weekend, Eric Wynalda’s 88th minute goal for the San Jose Clash against D.C. United saving the league (and its fans) from the humiliation of its first-ever game ending scoreless.

It seemed somewhat unbelievable to think that top class professional soccer was returning to where I lived for the first time in a dozen years.

All week long the L.A. Times revised (upwards) the estimated attendance for the Galaxy’s first game Saturday against the New York-New Jersey MetroStars: 25,000, then 35,000, 45,000 and then somewhere north of 50,000.

I drove down from Ventura with my wife in our 1983 Oldsmobile Omega, which had a habit of overheating and certainly didn’t disappoint on April 13, 1996, grinding to a vapor-spewing, volcanic halt in bumper to bumper traffic en route. We finally got to the vast stadium, negotiated the grassy oceans of parking lot/golf course and got in a huge line for tickets (the first and last time I bought tickets the day of the game).

It was around half time before we got in. It was impossible to find your seat. People sat and stood anywhere. I didn’t care. Football was back. In the end almost 70,000 attended.

I don’t remember a whole lot about the game (and certainly didn’t have the best view anyway). Cobi Jones scored the Galaxy’s first-ever goal in the 37th minute and I missed it. The Galaxy won 2-1. And I’m sure New York was as crap then as they are now.

(The Galaxy XI: Campos, Semoli, Calichman, Fraser, Noamouz, Jones, Cienfuegos, Armas, Motajo, Karapetyan, Hurtado; Andrew Shue came on as a second half sub).

There were things to like about the Rose Bowl: the pubs in Old Town Pasadena, tailgating before the game, barbecuing on the lush golf course, the numerous bacon-wrapped hot dog vendors after the final whistle.

But it was a long trip (made longer at the end with the seemingly never-ending winding drive through residential neighborhoods with no signs pointing to the stadium and populated by people that quite clearly didn’t want you there) to sit in those tiny uncomfortable seats (and I’m not a big guy) in often oppressive heat. (BTW, I still remember sitting sweating in full sun and then seeing Dennis Hopper walking past me clad in a huge heavy coat as he negotiated the steps of the Rose Bowl on June 16 when more than 92,000 of us – the largest crowd ever to a (professional/club) soccer game in the U.S. at the time – crammed in to watch the Galaxy play the now deceased Tampa Bay and the U.S. face Mexico in a doubleheader).

These days I appreciate the cozy confines of the HDC and my 15 minute drive. But I’ll be reliving memories of the early years of MLS at the Barcelona game. I’m heading out to a few days of vacation. Posting will be light and there’s no column Tuesday. See you at the Rose Bowl.

Including you, Josh. Hope Becks buys you a Becks one of these days.

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