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Pele, Anschutz, Hunt Appear at Dinner on Eve of Opening

June 07, 2003|Grahame L. Jones

The Galaxy's new stadium in Carson got its official blessing from the soccer gods on Friday night. Or at least three of them.

Pele, the greatest player of them all, was one of 1,200 guests at a gala dinner on the eve of today's opening and recalled that when he came to the United States almost three decades ago, the first stadium he played in, a baseball field on Randall's Island in New York, was so primitive "that the sand had to be painted green" to make it look better for soccer fans and television viewers.

He said his dream now was to see the U.S. men win the World Cup as the U.S. women have done twice already.

Phil Anschutz, the Denver billionaire who spent $150 million to turn a flower nursery on the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills into a sports complex, made an exceptionally rare public speech.

He deflected the credit for building the Home Depot Center from himself and said it should go to those who have labored for decades to raise the sport's profile in the U.S.

"I'm not the one who deserves being honored tonight," he said. "The people who really deserve that honor are the thousands of people over the years who have dedicated their lives and spent countless hours and committed their lives to the development of soccer in this country."

Lamar Hunt, who built the first soccer-specific stadium in the country for the Columbus Crew and who has taken on as his next challenge building a stadium in the Dallas suburb of Frisco, Texas, praised Anschutz for his vision.

"He has made the most extraordinary investment in American sports history," Hunt said. "Major League Soccer today is flying on the wings and the inspiration and the guts of Phil Anschutz."

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