Editor’s Note: Eddie Lewis is the founder of Costa Mesa’s Toca Football, the largest operator of indoor soccer centers in the country. The company, which has raised over $100 million from investors since its 2016 founding, also has a growing entertainment arm, Toca Social, which opened its first venue in London and is readying for a rollout in the U.S.
Lewis started Toca after a lengthy pro soccer career where he played for clubs in Major League Soccer as well as famed English clubs Leeds United and Fulham, and represented the U.S. Men’s National Team in two World Cups.
Lewis wrote the following for the Business Journal about his experiences playing in the 2002 World Cup, when the team made the quarterfinals of the tournament, its best result in modern times.
For the first time ever, the World Cup will be held in November and December of this year. The raw emotion is what makes this unlike any other sporting event, and whether it’s in the snow or sunshine, rest assured that dedicated fans will pour into the streets and unite for their teams.
For the players, I can speak from experience that the honor of wearing the flag on their uniform carries a weight of expectation.
I represented the United States in 83 games, spanning two World Cups, and I’ve managed to play on every continent, barring Antarctica.
But throughout all of these years, one game, in particular, stands out in my memory.
During the 2002 World Cup, the United States Men’s National Soccer Team reached the quarterfinals for the first time since 1930—a true watershed moment. That year, the tournament had undertones of a battle. Coming off the heels of 9/11, the global atmosphere at the time was intense.
When our team plane flew to matches, fighter jets were on our wings, and military personnel encircled our training facilities.
When did I realize that the tournament, held in South Korea and Japan, was making waves in the U.S.? Probably when the President called us.
President Bush’s pregame speech, piped in from the White House, held special meaning.
“The country is really proud of the team,” Bush said before the team’s round of 16 match.
Coach Bruce Arena, while not guaranteeing a victory for the game, told the president that the team would “give a performance that all America would be proud of.”
Our group stage play set us on a collision court with Mexico with a spot in the quarterfinals on the line.
Historically, Mexico dominated the rivalry, and they still lead the head-to-head count. But around the new millennium and leading up to the World Cup, we had significant victories over them, and we were beginning to turn the tide. We started to wonder, could we stamp a new authority down and beat our biggest rival, on the biggest stage?
Mexico was widely favored the win the match.
The game itself was fiery because we knew each other inside and out. There was no love lost between our teams. Plenty of respect, sure, but also a level of disdain. When the whistle blew, Mexico dominated the early minutes, but we stunned them with a perfectly executed counterattack eight minutes into the game.
Then, in the 65th minute, as they began to press for an equalizer, I saw an opening and went streaking down the left sideline to serve up the most important cross of my life.
Now, a great cross doesn’t find a player, it finds space. And the best attackers look for that same space. When the two come together synergistically, it becomes a great goal. Landon Donovan found that space and we combined for the final blow. Dos A Cero!
Most of the U.S.’s biggest victories over their rivals from Mexico have come with 2-0 scores, adding to the legend of the ‘Dos a Cero’ phrase used by fans of the team.
That game was about commanding respect for American soccer. After retiring, I knew my path was not in coaching or broadcasting. My passion was rooted in continuing to grow the game stateside, which is what led me to create Toca Football, a tech-enabled soccer training program that helps improve player performance.
We have also turned our attention to fan engagement and social experience with the opening of Toca Social, an entertainment and dining concept built around interactive football-based games that taps into the everyday excitement of the game. The first Toca Social sits in London, with further venues launching in 2023.
Having such versatile venues enables Toca to create amazing viewing experiences, and it will be incredibly exciting to see communities in both North America and the U.K. gather to support their national team.
We also recently announced a 10-year partnership with the MLS aimed at growing the sport and developing future players in North America. Together with their backing, we look forward to building further fan engagement in more cities across the US.
For more on Toca Football, see the Nov. 14 print edition of the Business Journal.
The rivalry across the border remains strong and is an asset for both countries. Recently, the MLS and Liga MX announced that both leagues will pause their season for one month to engage in cross-border play between league members. Prime Video is set to release “Good Rivals,” a three-part series documenting the intensity of our cross-border history. It premieres on Nov. 24. Personally, I am proud to have been part of this unique rivalry’s history. When the 2026 World Cup rolls around and the U.S., Mexico, and Canada host, Toca will be positioned to welcome impassioned fans through its doors to create unforgettable memories.