No other professional sports team in Dallas has the pioneering legacy of FC Dallas and its patriarch, Lamar Hunt. The story of FC Dallas is tied to Dallas’ soccer history, which began in 1966 when Hunt attended a World Cup match in England and was inspired to bring professional soccer to the U.S.
Born on August 2, 1932 in El Dorado, Arkansas, Hunt is recognized as one of the greatest sports visionaries in American history and a pioneer professional soccer in the United States. Hunt helped make pro football history in 1960 by founding and organizing the American Football League. Long known for his role in the development of football as founder of the Kansas City Chiefs, Hunt’s contributions to pro soccer have also had a major impact on sports in the U.S.
Uncle Lamar formed the Dallas Tornado, one of the first professional soccer clubs in the U.S., and the NASL (North American Soccer League) in 1967. The team carried a roster of professional players transported from Europe. When their playing days were over many of these players, such as Bobby Moffat and Kenny Cooper Sr., began second careers in coaching/conducting clinics, further spreading interest and developing talent in North Texas.
Professional soccer continued in Dallas through the 1980’s with the rise of the indoor Dallas Sidekicks. Former Tornado players Billy Phillips and Neil Cohen played significant roles in the success of the Sidekicks.
The United States was awarded the 1994 World Cup. Not only was Lamar Hunt key to the bid to bring the World Cup to the U.S., but his leadership also influenced the creation of MLS.
The Hunt family stepped to the forefront of U.S. soccer in 1996 by becoming a charter investor in Major League Soccer, which was created with a unique single-entity operating structure, in which investors own an interest in the league in addition to individual teams. The Hunts were the original investor-operators of the charter teams from Columbus (Ohio) and Kansas City.
Hunt made his greatest contribution to soccer in this country in 1998-99, when he made pro soccer history by funding the construction of the first soccer-specific stadium in the United States as the Columbus Crew opened their revolutionary facility. The stadium broke ground on Aug. 14, 1998, and was finished in nine months and one day. Columbus Crew Stadium opened on May 15, 1999 and a sold-out, overflow crowd of 24,741 to watch the Crew defeat the New England Revolution 2-0.
The 1999 MLS season proved to be a historic one for Hunt, as he was awarded the National Soccer Hall of Fame Medal of Honor -- the second to receive the medal reserved for extraordinary individuals whose positive contributions to soccer at the national level affected the course of soccer history in the United States.
That year, he also saw the U.S. Open Cup Tournament renamed in his honor. The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, recognized as U.S. Soccer’s National Championship, is an annual competition open to all amateur and professional soccer teams affiliated with U.S. Soccer. Dating back to 1914, the single-elimination tournament is the oldest annual team tournament in U.S. sports history.
Having taken over the operations of Dallas in 2003, Hunt’s youngest son Dan joined the Hunt Sports Group to help make Texas soccer history by breaking ground on Toyota Stadium on Feb. 18, 2004. The 20,295 seat soccer-specific stadium in Frisco became the first soccer stadium built through a coordination of both private and public funds. Hunt Sports Group, the City of Frisco, Collin County and the Frisco Independent School District partnered to build the facility that features 17 championship-quality soccer fields adjacent to the stadium.
In 2005, the team was relaunched as FC Dallas and opened up the brand-new Toyota Stadium on Aug. 6, 2005 with a 2-2 draw between FCD and the New York Red Bulls. Entering the 2006 season, Hunt-founded Crew Stadium and Toyota Stadium were two of the three operating stadiums in Major League Soccer built specifically for soccer. Through Hunt’s visionary leadership, Toyota Stadium has become the model for soccer-specific stadiums in the United States, and 14 of the 20 current MLS franchises have soccer-specific stadiums. The 117-acre facility in Frisco has hosted millions of spectators and participants since.
As far back as 1982, Hunt was honored for his efforts to help establish pro soccer in America by being inducted into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y. Hunt has also been inducted into both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the International Tennis Hall of Fame, as well as the sports halls of fame of both Missouri and Texas. At the 2004 MLS Cup, Hunt was presented the Commissioner’s Award by MLS Commissioner Don Garber for being one of the league’s founding fathers as well as a man who has championed soccer in the United States for nearly 40 years. In 2005, the U.S. Soccer Foundation, the major charitable arm of soccer in the United States, presented Hunt with the Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
The continued success and growth of youth soccer in Dallas and the surrounding areas is directly related to Uncle Lamar’s four decades of supporting soccer at all levels. His vision is carried on today through his sons, Clark and Dan, and the fans of FC Dallas.
Since his passing in 2006, players of FC Dallas have worn a patch with the initials LH to honor the legacy of Lamar Hunt.
Thank you, Uncle Lamar.