FRISCO, Texas – To commemorate the anniversary of the club’s first match, FC Dallas is streaming the 1996 opening game tomorrow, Tuesday, April 14 at 7PM on fcdallas.com/burndebut.
Tomorrow marks 24 years to the day since the Dallas Burn debuted in front of 27,779 of its new fans at the Cotton Bowl, earning a win over the San Jose Clash to kickstart its inaugural season.
It was also a day of firsts for little-known rookie Jason Kreis, who started for the Burn on opening day.
“There was a ton of excitement and buzz around the beginning of a first division league, the first one we had since the NASL (North American Soccer League),” Kreis said. “As somebody who’d been involved with soccer my entire life, I was super excited and really eager to be a part of it.”
Five-time MLS All-Star and FC Dallas' leading scorer Jason Kreis, 2000
Although Kreis would go on to become Dallas' all-time leading scorer and a league MVP, his MLS career began with significantly less fanfare. Kreis was a three-time All-American at Duke but the influx of foreign stars ahead of the first season raised some doubts that he’d make an impact in MLS.
“Jason was one of those guys that flew under the radar, especially that first year,” said Dave Dir, the Burn's head coach from 1996-2000 who selected Kreis in the fifth round of the MLS Inaugural Player Draft. “Some people were saying he wouldn’t make it as a great professional player because he was playing as a traditional No. 10 in college and the top playmakers were coming from international [soccer], like [Carlos] Valderrama.
“I, on the other hand, just thought he had a knack for scoring goals, and you can’t teach that. He wasn’t the fastest guy, he wasn’t terribly creative, but around the goal he just had a way of finding space and time that not many others can emulate.”
Dallas Burn press conference during the first MLS draft with General Manager Billy Hicks (left), Director of Community Relations Andy Swift (middle) and Director of Media Relations Chris Ward (right). February, 1996
Heading into that first season, Dir had the sizable task of building the Burn’s roster from scratch. It meant welding many different playstyles, cultures and languages into one coherent team—all in a matter of months. And for a rookie joining his first pro locker room that included one of the sport’s greats, it wasn’t an easy transition.
“I actually roomed with Hugo Sánchez, so that was quite intimidating as well,” Kreis remembers. “Here was this megastar player who’d gone all around the world and done all these incredible things, and he was rooming with some kid who’d never played a top-flight professional game in his life.”
“It was very difficult, bringing together an entirely new team. I think there was a couple guys that had played together under coach Dir in Colorado, but other than that we’re all brand new playing together.”
That first preseason wasn't easy for the Burn, but there remained a pervasive sense of occasion with the club's debut on the horizon.
“The excitement and exuberance around that game wasn’t only felt by us players,” Kreis added. “It was felt by the all fans and soccer lovers in the North Texas area."
And it wasn't just the Burn's debut. On the eve of the game, Kreis remembers his own anticipation brewing.
“There was a huge emotional build up to the game," he said. "The night before was definitely not one of my better night’s sleep, that’s for sure.”