FRISCO, Texas – This Wednesday, April 14 marks 25 years since the Dallas Burn played its inaugural game at the Cotton Bowl; giving professional soccer in Dallas a second lease on life.
April 14, 1996
Dallas had lived without professional outdoor soccer since the Dallas Tornado of the North American Soccer League folded in 1981. So, when the recently formed Dallas Burn first took the field in 1996, it was a new dawn in the city's soccer story—a rare second chance that had been a long time coming.
“If you loved the game back in the 1990s, you dreamed of a day where a major professional soccer league would happen; and there it was,” said Steve Davis, who was the Dallas Morning News’ lead soccer writer at the time.
The Burn welcomed the San Jose Clash to the Cotton Bowl for that first opening day. While not a soccer-specific stadium by any means, the Cotton Bowl had hosted six games at the 1994 World Cup and was the former home of the Dallas Tornado. This wasn’t its first rodeo.
Future club legends and stalwarts including Jason Kreis, Mark Dodd and Leonel Álvarez made their first contributions in Burn colors. But Hugo Sanchez, the club’s biggest star, had recently finished his career in Europe and wouldn’t debut in MLS for another month. Not even his absence could spoil the occasion, though.
“People were very excited,” Davis said. “There was a lot of curiosity about it with regular sports fans...We understood at the time that we were living history. Hopefully this thing will be around for years and decades to come. But there will only be one first game.”
“In the Hispanic community, there was big excitement about it,” said Carlos Alvarado, who called the inaugural game for KESS 1270 AM and has remained the club’s Spanish language broadcaster ever since. “Having a soccer team for the Dallas area was a big deal…It was very exciting for everyone who knew about it.”
That game itself was undoubtedly a success for the new franchise. After a scoreless 90 minutes, the Burn defeated the Clash in a hockey-style shootout with local goalkeeper Mark Dodd stealing the headlines. But, just as important as the result, was the crowd of 27,779 that watched on from the Cotton Bowl’s bleachers.
“The atmosphere was fantastic, and it surprised a lot of people,” Davis said. “The size and volume of the crowd gave me a sense of relief. It wasn’t going to be 4,000 people in this big stadium. They opened the gates and a lot of people wanted to be there. It wasn’t just happening; it was happening on a big scale.”
Crucial to the strong turnout was Dallas’ sizable Hispanic population. Of the 27,779 in attendance, Alvarado estimates 70% were Hispanic.
“The entire east side of the stadium was all Hispanic,” Alvarado said. “There were groups of fans with drums, flags, hats, faces painted, they gave the atmosphere for that game—and every game after.”
The emotions of the day allowed Dallas' soccer community to look to the future; to think wistfully about the heights the team – and league – could some day reach.
“I think a lot of us let ourselves to dream a little bit,” Davis recalled. “To look beyond the activities and excitement of the day. Because a lot of us were hoping and excited about what it could all become.”
Twenty-five years have passed but Steve Davis remembers exactly what he dreamt about that day. And it sounds pretty familiar.
“Could we have a high quality league with a mix of very good American players and highly skilled craftsmen from other lands? Playing inside actual soccer-specific stadiums and covered extensively by knowledgable media? Could that happen somewhere down the road?
“In other words, we were dreaming about what we have now.”