.Silicon Alleys: A Look Back at the South Bay’s 1st World Cup

Last week we learned the Super Bowl will come back to Levi’s Stadium in 2026, serving as a perfect practice event for when the FIFA World Cup unfolds later that year, bringing at least five games to that same venue.

With the World Cup returning to the USA, Canada and Mexico, each game at Levi’s will bring more people than the Super Bowl and for a much longer length of time.

I say this not to troll the NFL fans, but because the giddy San Jose boosters are already acting like the Super Bowl is the primary opportunity to show off the city. For the World Cup matches, a zillion people will come to the South Bay from all over the world. We’re talking citizens of maybe 100 different countries—fans, teams, dignitaries, politicians, consular staff, security, sheikhs, oligarchs, humanitarian workers, tribal leaders, spies, mobsters and every facet of humanity. Part of that zillion will come back multiple times throughout the course of that month. Thousands and thousands will stay for weeks. San Jose is an international city, one that will only get more international as every year goes by, so plenty of potential exists. At a bare minimum, I can imagine downtown concerts, ethnic food tours, mural tours, lowriders and all sorts of stuff.

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music in the park san jose

I’ll leave it there because I have more fun talking about the last time the World Cup came here, in 1994. I attended all the games at Stanford Stadium.

Last year, when we learned Levi’s would indeed be among the 2026 venues, there was no way for many of us to refrain from revisiting the 1994 World Cup matches at Stanford, when the Brazil team stayed at Villa Felice in Los Gatos for a month and trained at Buck Shaw Stadium at Santa Clara University. There were more Brazilian fans partying in Los Gatos than there were residents of Los Gatos. I’m not exaggerating. That’s how it went. It was easily the biggest thing that ever happened to Los Gatos.

At the time, Los Gatos mayor Randy Attaway, who knew nothing about soccer, and previously hadn’t even traveled outside the US, flew to Brazil, where he received a police and military escort and also had to make assurances that Brazilian women would be allowed to wear bikinis in the streets of Los Gatos. He chaired the Brazil Host Committee, overseeing many people, all of whom did a bang-up job organizing everything, which landed Attaway accolades from the Brazilian Consulate after Brazil won the whole tournament. To this day, you will find many people in Los Gatos telling stories about that magical summer of 1994 when the entire city essentially became Brazil for several weeks.

The Stanford matches were equally magical. This was before Stanford Stadium was remodeled, so it still had an old-timey collegiate Rose Bowl type of feel. Across El Camino, what’s now the Palo Alto Medical Foundation was then basically a bunch of parking lots where vendors, festivals and endless parties were staged. Thousands and thousands of people crammed into Caltrain for the games, coming from each direction, since the station was right up the street. Thousands more, many of whom didn’t even have tickets, all lurked in the area for several weeks. The parties outside the stadium were just as fun as the party inside.

For the 1994 World Cup, the late Peter Bridgwater ran the Bay Area host committee and was the Venue Executive Director for the six Stanford Stadium games, which drew almost 500,000 combined spectators. Everyone knew Bridgwater since he had been the GM of the original San Jose Earthquakes when the old NASL folded in 1985 and then did everything he could to keep the Earthquakes name alive in San Jose afterward, while also booking dozens of international friendly matches. Bridgwater passed away in 2005, yet his fingerprints remain on everything soccer-related throughout Northern California.

Finally, the USA-Brazil match at Stanford on the Fourth of July, 1994, was a watershed moment in American soccer history. The story has been practically mythologized ever since. Those of us who attended will never shut up about it.

So when the World Cup returns to the South Bay in 2026, I hope San Jose is ready. Let the fun begin.

Gary Singh
Gary Singhhttps://www.garysingh.info/
Gary Singh’s byline has appeared over 1500 times, including newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro columns, Silicon Alleys, was published in 2020.


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