American fan interest in soccer got a big boost in 1994 when the United States hosted the World Cup for the only time. It was also the event that led U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez to pursue soccer.
Gonzalez, who made his World Cup debut June 22 against Portugal, was 5 in 1994. His mother, who grew up in Mexico and immigrated to the Dallas area, volunteered to help at early-round World Cup games at the Cotton Bowl. After learning that the games needed kids to help carry flags, she brought Omar and his three siblings to the stadium with her.
From Barry Horn's terrific profile of Gonzalez in the Dallas Morning News:
For the Gonzalez family, that World Cup’s defining moment may have come when Bebeto, the famed forward for Brazil, scored a goal in a quarterfinal match against the Netherlands. An entranced Omar watched as he celebrated with his trademark “rock the baby” cradled arm movement.
Soon after he told his mother he would like to grow up play professional soccer.
And so mother began tutoring son in the game she had studied watching her brother play in Mexico. Brother Adrian thought nothing of shooting BBs at a dodging Omar to improve his speed and quickness. Sister Roxanna drilled him in footwork skills.
Gonzalez went to play college soccer for the Maryland Terrapins and won a national championship. The LA Galaxy drafted him, and Gonzalez was the MLS defender of the year in 2011.
Gonzalez hurt his knee in early May, and he did not play in the World Cup opener against Ghana. He entered the game against Portugal in the final minutes as a substitute, but then was a starter against Germany.
"I keep telling myself I am here playing at this World Cup in Brazil and it is an unbelievable experience," Gonzalez told the Los Angeles Times. "But I don't think it is really going to set in until a few weeks after I am back home and have time to really sit down and think about this amazing experience."