Twenty-seven goals. It's a big number, whether hit in 34 regular season matches or in 32 it is a record with a certain amount of power. Roy Lassiter first set the record in MLS year one - 1996. That record would stand, without regular threat, until just last Saturday.
In many ways, particularly here in Seattle, MLS' early years are forgotten. There's the idea that the league is on a perpetual trend upwards in regards to talent. It is a possibly mistaken notion. It ignores that in 1996 every team was stocked with talent that would be DPs under the modern rules and in almost every case more than four players of that level of talent and recognition.
Prior to Wondo setting the record Sounder at Heart asked Sigi if the record's challenge would be a good opportunity to remember the early years and talents around the league.
It's also good to be able to think back to the beginning and think back at some of the players that were around the league at that time. Whether it was Mauricio Cienfuegos or a Carlos Valderrama, or guys like Roy Lassiter or Eddie Pope, who had a big influence early in the league, or Chris Armas. There's a lot of good players - Peter Nowak - a lot of good players in the early years of the league.
Cienfeugos would spend eight years in MLS, have four straight seasons with 10+ assists, represent El Salvador in two straight Gold Cups, three time Best XI, seven time All Star and win three Cups. He was a great playmaker. He wasn't even the best of the era.
Valderrama can lay that claim. He was the 96 MVP, All Star MVP, twice the South American Footballer of the year. There is probably no better assist man in the history of the league. He captained Colombia to the number one position out of CONMEBOL for the 1994 World Cup.
Lassiter was a speed demon, the scorer for Tampa Bay's side. He would earn five trophies in MLS from 96-99 there likely wasn't a better scorer in MLS. He only had 30 CAPs on the US National Team in that era. There's a reason for that. The other US Forwards of that MLS era were damn good too - McBride, Wynalda, Wegerle, Stewart, Moore. Not to mention the attacking midfielders.
Eddie Pope was one of the best American defenders of the era. As a rookie he was on the US National team. He would go on to spend 11 years in MLS and earn 82 CAPs. He was also merely a four time Best XI player and once won the Defender of the Year.
Armas would win two Gold Cups and appear in 66 matches for the USA. His 12 years in MLS were highlighted by five Best XIs and a US Soccer Athlete of the year. Nowak is now known as the head coach, but back then he was just a player that earned 100+ appearance with the multiple Cups with the Fire.
That's only six players. Maybe they were the exceptions? They aren't.
The All-Star Game in 1996 is a demonstration of the level of talent. Split between East and West the talent level was impressive. It was a collection of Americans and internationals with significant time at the 94 and 98 World Cups. They are names that live in legend - Digital Takawira, Meola, Agoos, Lalas, Donadoni, Ramos, Etcheverry, Savarese, Johnston, Bravo, Kreis, Preki, Fraser, Campos and more.
Award winners that year consist of names already mentioned and Mark Dodd. Who had a misfortune of being just a bit too old during the era of great American keepers. He would participate in the 92 King Fahd Cup when the USA earned third. That wasn't impressive. The list of players on that roster is another who's who of American soccer.
- 1 Meola
- 2 Michallik
- 3 Lapper
- 4 Murray
- 6 Harkes
- 7 Pérez
- 8 Kinnear
- 9 Ramos
- 10 Vermes
- 11 Wynalda
- 12 Harbor
- 13 Jones
- 14 Quinn
- 15 DeBrito
- 17 Balboa
- 18 Dodd
- 19 Henderson
- 20 Caligiuri
- 21 Clavijo
- 22 Wegerle
Most of those would go on to play in MLS.
This collection of talent was scattered through only 8 and later 10 teams in MLS 1.0 (Logan Era). There were funky rules. The falloff in attendance was rapid and only recovered recently. But the talent, the talent was there.
It was a more open game. Goals were easier to come by. It was played in huge, empty NFL stadiums with the crappy version of artificial surface.
The talent was as strong in their starting XIs as it is now. The benches were hollow. MLS has come a long way since the Logan era. Many of the mistakes of that time are just now being corrected. But watching Ralston or Valderrama slip a throughball to Lassiter is something that should not be missed, but for so many modern MLS fans it was. Watching McBride, Cunningham, Stern John, Dooley and the Crew in their woeful start was still a show, even though surrounded by 90,000 empty seats in The OSU stadium.
It's something we too often forget in Seattle. MLS started pretting high, had a significant dip through contraction, salary cap adjustments and the slow crawl that started the DP era in 2007 back to a decent talent level. Wondolowski and Lassiter give us a chance to look back and Know MLS' History.