In 1994, 24 teams descended upon the United States of America to compete in the World Cup.
Twenty years later, a group of 23 Americans will head to Brazil in search of World Cup glory, thanks in no small part to the '94 festivities.
When the 1994 World Cup kicked off at Soldier Field in Chicago, players like Michael Bradley, Chris Wondolowski and Omar Gonzalez had mere dreams of playing on the world's biggest stage.
Now that they are about to enter the World Cup fray, all three players have plenty of praise for the impact that the events of 1994 had on their careers.
"At that time there was no MLS around every week, you couldn't watch games from around the world on your TV, so to have the biggest sporting event in the world in our country was incredible," Bradley said during the team's media blitz on May 30.
"For me, [the 1994 World Cup] had a huge impact on me, it touched me and really made a difference," Wondolowski said. "I found a love for soccer, and saw what it could really be on a global scale."
Since the World Cup was spread across the country in 1994, it gave youth players from all over the U.S. a chance to take in the beautiful game at its best. That included Gonzalez, who witnessed it firsthand.
"My mom volunteered at the 1994 World Cup, we were at the Cotton Bowl," Gonzalez said. "I was six, not much memories, but my mom still tells me about them."
"That was when I first made my dream to one day play in a World Cup," he continued.
One of the players to play at the Dallas venue that year was a German forward named Jurgen Klinsmann, who scored twice in his team's final Group C game against South Korea.
Klinsmann is now in charge of the United States side that will look to do what Brazil did on their home soil 20 years ago: lift the Jules Rimet Trophy.
"I told [my mom], I'm going to be out there one day," Gonzalez said.
Bradley was also able to experience some of the world's best in person, which had a lasting mark on a seven-year-old who was beginning his trek to soccer superstardom.
"I was able to be in the stadiums for a few games. I was able to watch teams train up close and it was something I'll never forget," Bradley said.
Had the World Cup not been held on American soil, the course of the U.S. Soccer could have continued down the path it was on.
A domestic league was nowhere in the sights of the organizers when the bid was first accepted, and it was not until two years after the World Cup that Major League Soccer began play.
"[Hosting the World Cup] was an amazing thing," Wondolowski said. "I think that's really helped a lot of these players and helped MLS."
Twenty years after nine of the best stadiums in the nation hosted the World Cup, MLS is expanding rapidly, aiming to have 24 clubs in the league by 2020, per MLS Commissioner Don Garber. Soccer-specific stadiums are popping up all over the nation.
Another major draw for the league is American star power returning home to spark interest in the domestic game even more.
"You see the players like Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey now back, and how deep MLS has gotten over the last few years, the style of play has really changed and that's helped it," Wondolowski said.
"I think that's a statement of where MLS is going (as a league)," he continued.
Adding on to that incoming American talent from overseas is the development of homegrown players, which is something that you would never see two decades ago when Europe was the ultimate goal.
The biggest sign of progress to some, including Gonzalez, is the inclusion of defender DeAndre Yedlin in the squad of 23.
Yedlin will become the first homegrown player from MLS to play in a World Cup, which is not something that Gonzalez takes lightly.
"DeAndre Yedlin being the first homegrown player to be on the national team and play in the World Cup, that's the first giant leap for us," the LA Galaxy defender said.
While the 1994 tournament ignited a new wave of interest in the sport, including the creation of MLS, getting the World Cup to come back stateside would have an even bigger impact on the sport in the United States.
"It was crucial to have the World Cup here in '94. I wish we could have gotten the bid recently (in 2022), but hopefully we shoot for the next one," Gonzalez said. "Having another one here, and to continue to ignite the passion of soccer in this country will lead to great things."
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
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