FRISCO, Texas — Season openers are special by definition. Anticipation builds and hope swells, as a fresh pour of dreamy ambition spikes the supporters’ punch.
But every now and then comes a sort of unicorn: a home opener and a season opener of utmost historical heft. FC Dallas gets one of those for 2020. Popping the top on this one marks significant history for the local club and for American soccer.
This year’s opener at Toyota Stadium will be No. 25, the launch of a benchmark 25th season for the club and for Major League Soccer – and the historical circumstance can’t be overstated.
Generating traction for any professional sports league is a tough, tough slog. Consider the graveyard of failed leagues, soccer and otherwise: the old North American Soccer League, two previous failed attempts at a major women’s pro league, the first incarnation of XFL in American football, the World Football League and going further back the old USFL. Those are just the higher profile false starts.
Mere survivals for a pro soccer league (soccer!) is worthy in itself. But to see MLS not just persevere, but to thrive is surely the sports business story of a lifetime. Today’s MLS is braced by teeming and gleaming stadiums, 5-star training facilities, fruitful academies and a growing roster of 26 healthy clubs. The league didn’t just squeeze past the nervous “will it survive?” stage; it blew past that stop sign and went racing forward.
And as one of 10 charter members, FC Dallas (previously called the Dallas Burn) has been there all along. So, where does this year’s history maker fall in the hierarchy of important home openers? It’s a good question if only because the league has those growing volumes of real history; there are 24 previous FCD home openers from which to choose, after all.
The first kick in 1996 – surely the opener of all openers, the inaugural day that started it all – will never be topped.
Never mind that neither team scored; Dallas beat the San Jose Clash in a shootout that April day at the historic Cotton Bowl. And never mind the oddities of a league in infancy. (Anyone remembers the clock that counted down rather than forward?) Just moving off the starting block meant everything – new team, new league, new stars and a brand new, beautiful day for American soccer – and abundant buzz that day reflected as much.
Consider this: a crowd of more 27,000 remains the largest even now for any FCD home contest that wasn’t part of an international doubleheader or a high-profile concert.
Any new manager’s debut match along that high-visibility sideline real estate carries additional punch. So it was with Mike Jeffries in 2001, Oscar Pareja in 2014 and Luchi Gonzalez in 2019. Jeffries’ side managed a comfortable win over the Tampa Bay Mutiny (R.I.P.), while Pareja’s first game in charge was a tight win over Montreal on a cold, rainy night in Frisco.
Raincoat-and-mitten weather also dampened Gonzalez’s first night at Toyota Stadium, a 1-1 draw with New England. (Other FC Dallas managers took over at mid-season, so their first match didn’t unfold as a season opener.)
Even the opener for a year spent inside suburban Southlake’s Dragon Stadium (2003) carried a certain energy. The team was moving from a ground-too-large into one of more accommodating size. We all agree now that it wasn’t the place to be, but it did help signal an industry shift out of those NFL-sized venues.
The next year, 2004, saw FC Dallas open once again at the Cotton Bowl; for supporters and players alike, that day’s home opener inside Fair Park felt like a college kid’s warm welcome back after a year spent abroad.
The 2006 home opener was a splashy occasion. Major League Soccer and FC Dallas were moving into a second decade that day. Plus, it was the first full season at then-named Pizza Hut Park.
Alas, it would also be the final home opener under Lamar Hunt’s watch; the beloved giant of American soccer would die later that year.
As mentioned, project “Luchi Ball” got rolling one year ago with a season opening draw – not a “W,” but a useful start as the club gobbled up 10 of a possible 15 early points.
As FCD pushes to replicate or top last year’s admirable takeoff, history is on its side. The club hasn’t lost a home opener since 2009 (back when this was all just a 15-team league).
“History” seems a good friend to have right now. There’s so much of it now around Major League Soccer. And around FC Dallas, too.