I’ve had a pretty good life so far but I’d be lying if I said any single moment has given me more joy that Ray Houghton’s goal for Ireland against Italy in Giants Stadium on the 18th of June 1994. As a 10 year old soccer obsessed kid, the summer of USA ’94 was heaven. While my friends were in school forbidden to stay up too late, I spent the tournament at a campsite in France with my family where I played football all day and watched the World Cup all night. I didn’t miss a single moment apart from when group games were played at the same time. It was perfect. I say this because any book on USA ’94 is getting a 5 star review from me regardless of whether it deserves it. Thankfully USA 94: The World Cup that Changed the Game is objectively very good!
Given England’s failure to qualify, the 94 World Cup hasn’t got the same English language book treatment that Italia ’90 has with Pete Davies’ All Played Out. Even for Ireland, it lacks a classic book like Declan Lynch’s Days of Heaven on Italia 90. Matthew Evans has stepped up to fill this gap with an entertaining recap of the tournament, the politics surrounding it and the legacy it left behind on football globally and in the US.
Writing a book about a tournament without taking the personal memoir approach poses the challenge of covering 50 plus games and the risk of writing a glorified collection of match reports. Evans wisely chose to take a team centric approach, working through the various teams that reached the knockout stages and recounting their stories chapter by chapter. It strikes a nice balance of scene setting and match reports. The book is particularly interesting on the awarding of the tournament and the political backdrop in US Soccer which I was totally unaware of and has clearly benefited from Evans’ speaking to a variety of interesting people and digging up interesting sources.
Ultimately I found this book to be a very enjoyable nostalgia trip. It was a tournament of great number 10’s – Baggio, Hagi, Stoichkov, Brolin – of great defenders – McGrath, Baresi, Maldini – and of great goals. Its key moments are burned into my memory from countless replays of All the Goals of USA 94 on VHS. To relive them in this enjoyable, informative and well written book was a real pleasure.