FRISCO, Texas – Almost 24 years ago, the Dallas Burn kicked off its Major League Soccer journey with a penalty shootout victory over the San Jose Clash at the Cotton Bowl. That inaugural game will be streamed this Tuesday, April 14 at 7 PM on fcdallas.com, exactly 24 years after it was first played.
In honor of the upcoming anniversary, we spoke to six FC Dallas Season Ticket Members to hear their memories of the match and how it shaped the course of their loyal support.
Dustin Christmann, an original 1996 season ticket holder, remembers the opening game as a promising first step in a renaissance of American soccer.
"The whole scene around the game was absolutely surreal. I literally had no idea what it was going to be like," he said. "Once I saw the crowd around me, I thought soccer was going to make it this time. I figured we may not have those kinds of crowds for every game, but we were going to have crowds. It was validating."
Although the old school shootout that gave Dallas Burn its first ever win no longer exists, it is definitely a point of pride for a number of fans who’ve watched the league develop since its inception.
“I actually thought the [shootout] was kind of cool,” said Greg Carmichael, who attended the game with his wife Heidi and their two children. “FIFA actually wanted the league to try that because they were looking at the American league as a test bed for some of the new ideas.”
Apart from the action on the pitch, there was one element to the match that stands out in all of the season ticket members' memories.
“Personally, I couldn’t believe the crowd size,” Heidi added. “I went into it thinking there would be a few thousand people. Then, you walk into the stadium and it was packed. It was crazy.”
In total, 27,779 packed out the Cotton Bowl. To this day, it remains one of the largest crowds in the club’s history. For Greg and Heidi, the boisterous crowd also brought plenty of joy to their children, who grew to love the sport and the team.
“Back then, we had twin boys that were 18 months old. One of the things the fans used to do was bang those metal seats in the Cotton Bowl,” Greg said. “The kids thought it great stuff, so they spent half the game banging stuff.”
Bert Sanders, who grew up playing and refereeing soccer matches, remembers the match as the beginning of a special bond with his family.
“I think the biggest memory was seeing the other people there who may or may not have been aware of soccer then. It was almost reminiscent of the [‘94] World Cup games with the energy that was there,” he said. “Soccer was back, and this was the start of something we hoped and wanted to be a huge deal to start off.”
A college student at the time, the matches gave Sanders the opportunity to spend time with his parents. The same can be said for Janice Lindstrom, who's father helped her develop a strong passion for the beautiful game.
“I remember feeling like a part of history. I was in the supporter’s section with The Inferno and they were all trying to figure themselves out,” she said. “What I remember most is that the only chant we could seem to come up with on a regular basis was that San Jose sucks.”
Troy Phillips' game recap for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, April 15, 1996
But rewinding even further than the match itself, how did each of the fans learn of the new franchise? And what did the new chapter mean of American soccer mean to them? For most, the answer is simple.
“My dad and I attended the World Cup games at the Cotton Bowl and knew that the tournament being placed there was conditional on starting up a league, so we were excited about the league and at the first Dallas Burn game together,” Janice said. “I was living in Houston at the time and the game was a reason to come back home and visit my family.”
For most, soccer was already a major part of their lives.
“[Heidi and I] were both playing a lot of adult soccer back in the mid 90s. The World Cup was obviously a catalyst and that got everybody excited,” Greg said. “I was coaching my nephew’s team, asked for season tickets for Christmas and Heidi was kind enough to get those for me.”
For Janice's husband, Kevin Lindstrom, it wasn't necessarily the World Cup that drew him back. Instead, a chance encounter with the sport he still loves helped renew his interest.
“I was in law school. I grew up loving soccer and then grew away from it after the NASL died to the point where I did not go to a single World Cup game in ’94,” Kevin said. “I was hanging out at my college and there were some kids playing soccer. I jumped out, started playing and it just reminded me that I love this sport. A year and half later, Major League Soccer was in the paper and I was [very excited.]”
Steve Davis' story for the Dallas Morning News, April 15, 1996
Heading into the Burn’s first match, Kevin was relieved to see the sport he loved was back at the top level.
“I was just so glad soccer was back. I grew up in Florida going to Fort Lauderdale Strikers games and vividly remember those, even though I was only 10 or 12 years old. I really missed it,” he said. “I’d show up four hours before on game days, tailgate with everybody and stay two or three hours afterwards.”
It was actually at these tailgates that Kevin ultimately met Janice. And that is something sports have the heartwarming power to do: bring us all together.
“It’s given a lot to our family … We’ve made a lot of good friends with the players. We hosted Bobby Rhine’s retirement party,” Heidi said. “We went to the  World Cup to see Eddie Johnson play. It’s been a pretty cool journey.”
For Bert, the family tradition of going to matches lives on to this day.
“Over the years, it became a defining thing with the family. My mom and dad would go to the games and when I was available, they’d get an extra ticket and I’d go join them,” he said. “When my dad passed away, it was my mom and I who would continue with season tickets … We’ve supported soccer as much as we could over years.”
Although his mother recently moved to Alabama, it still did not deter them from getting together for matches.
“She would actually fly out 3-4 times a year just to see soccer games with me,” Bert said. “I would fly out once Atlanta United started and as a family, me, my mom and my roommate, who has the other season ticket now, would go to United games. We were there for that first game at Mercedes Benz Stadium.”
But what is a club without a passionate fan base to help create that unique soccer atmosphere. Dustin, inspired by watching the sunburnt German fans sing their hearts out at the ’94 World Cup, knew that a supporters' group was paramount.
“They had a press conference to introduce Billy Hicks at Dallas City Hall and I just kind of walked in without any sort of press credentials and grabbed Billy after the press conference,” Dustin said. “I told him, ‘I’m interested in starting a supporter’s group like Sam’s Army for this new team you guys are putting together here.’ I don’t think he or I had an idea of what that was going to look like, but that’s what became The Inferno and the rest is history.”
Being by the team’s side over the years is something Dustin would never consider trading away.
“It’s sort of like seeing your child grow up and be able to live a life on their own,” he said. “You feel like all those bumps along the way and all those high and low moments are what has led to today. It's something we can really be proud of.”