World Cup fever: remembering Colombia at Brandeis in 1994

Colombia trained at Brandeis for five days before playing USA, Romania and Switzerland

Colombia plays Uruguay at the FIFA World CupPhoto/Chensiyuan

Colombia and Uruguay square off at the World Cup

Every four years, as the FIFA World Cup approaches, former Judges soccer coach Mike Coven reflects on a special week in June 1994.

With the United States hosting the quadrennial international soccer showcase that summer, Coven got a better look than most at some of the tournament’s top futbolistas.

The Colombian national team – one of 32 teams that participated in the 1994 World Cup – used Brandeis’ Gordon Field as a training ground for a five-day tune-up before taking on the U.S., Romania and Switzerland in California for the preliminary group round.

“It was fantastic,” said Coven of seeing the Colombian players up close. “Colombia was then, as it is now, a soccer powerhouse worldwide. I remember being on the sideline within earshot of some of the top players ever and seeing them ping the ball around and train. The level of play was extremely high.”

Brandeis has had a unique track record of hosting elite athletes over the years.

The Gosman Sports and Convocation Center served as a practice facility for the Boston Celtics and their opponents during the 1980s and 90s, so seeing the likes of basketball greats like Larry Bird and Robert Parish was a regular occurrence. Up until Gillette Stadium opened in Foxborough in 2002, Gordon Field served as a training ground for the New England Revolution, too.

A number of professional athletes, including former Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn and Celtics point guard Marcus Smart, have used Brandeis facilities for camps as well.

“You could never take the type of access we had as coaches, the access our student-athletes had as players, for granted,” said Coven, who was at the helm of Brandeis men’s soccer for 44 seasons. “It was so much fun.”

“I remember seeing Larry Bird in the batting cages taking swings with our baseball team; Charles Barkley putting with the old golf team; the Revolution players chatting it up with me in my office, sometimes even running clinics with my players,” Coven added.

But hosting Colombia remains near the top of Coven’s decades-worth of memories.

How Brandeis came to host Colombia, Coven doesn’t remember. But he recalls several thousand spectators, most of whom were of Colombian descent, flocking to campus that June to catch a glimpse of the training despite minimal publicity.

Brandeis was the only venue with practices that were open to the public. Argentina, Nigeria, Ecuador and South Korea also trained at Boston area schools, but didn’t permit spectators.

“The Colombians were a terrific group,” said Coven. “They would stay at Brandeis well after the lights turned off and kick the ball around with fans, sign autographs, take photos. They were very personable and friendly.”

A Colombian representative gave Coven tickets to some of the World Cup games in Foxborough, and also presented him with the national team’s canary-yellow jersey, which the longtime Brandeis coach still has to this day.

As for the tickets, Coven distinctly remembers taking Brandeis biology professor and Nobel Prize laureate Michael Rosbash to games featuring Nigeria, Greece and Argentina.

“That whole experience was one of the highlights of my career,” said Coven, who is excited for this summer’s World Cup to kick-off on Thursday, June 14. “My players and I were five or six feet away from quality soccer. It was the very start of summer, usually kind of a dry time on campus with students and faculty away for vacation, but that year it was truly special. It’s impossible not to love and not learn from and treasure an experience like that.”

Categories: Athletics, General

Return to the BrandeisNOW homepage