For Ramos, first-ever All-Star Game a moment to savor

HARRISON, N.J. — It was a moment Tab Ramos said he wanted to savor.

July 14, 1996, was a hot and humid Sunday afternoon in East Rutherford, N.J., and Ramos remembers the inaugural MLS All-Star Game well.

The first-ever player signed by the league, Ramos was a natural selection to represent the East squad in the game, a star-studded affair that included the likes of Jorge Campos, Marco Etcheverry and Carlos Valderamma. MLS was a fledgling league and the Giants Stadium game was a potential showcase of the star talent and the caliber of player that MLS could provide in flashes in its first year.

Then in the 14th minute, Ramos struck the game’s symbolic moment.

Valderamma was dribbling down the left side of the midfield and carried the ball near the top of the box where he right footed a perfectly weighted cross to the opposite side of the penalty area. There, Ramos stood unmarked and settled the ball with his chest before he fired a powerful shot past Campos in the West’s goal. The Mexican international 'keeper, who played some forward in the second half of the game, had no chance to stop Ramos’ well-placed shot.

To celebrate the goal, Ramos lifted his arms out as he ran to the corner flag—his trademark—and as he looked towards the stadium’s upper decks, crammed to the rafters, all Ramos could do was laugh.

“I just remember wanting to soak up the moment, just wanting to take it in, embrace it all,” Ramos told MLSsoccer.com. “All the pressure, being the first signing, the moment of that game, the sold-out crowd that afternoon at Giants Stadium — I wanted to absorb it all.”

The capacity Meadowlands crowd erupted as Ramos, the hometown boy, had forever etched himself into MLS lore by scoring the first goal in All-Star Game history. Ramos has again come full circle in his life, with the All-Star Game at Red Bull Arena this week leading him back to Harrison, N.J., on Monday night to play in a celebrity game. The low-key affair against local high school talent from north Jersey took at place in downtown Harrison at a small field known simply as “the courts.”

It was here that Ramos grew up playing soccer. Across the street from the courts is Holy Cross school where Ramos first learned to play a game that took him to a professional contract with Real Betis in Spain and eventually three World Cups. He played those games on the court alongside John Harkes and Tony Meola before the trio went on to form the core of the US national team for the better part of a decade.

“This was a special place—you always wanted to come down here and play, compete against the best,” Meola said. “The winner stayed on so you always wanted to play your best. “

In 1995, Ramos became the first player signed by MLS and he was allocated to the yet unnamed New York/New Jersey franchise. He was naturally an All-Star selection — an American in his prime who possessed skill and ease on the ball — and a better story could not be written then Ramos scored a spectacular goal in the 1996 game.

“I just remember standing there, overjoyed that it was him, that he scored,” Meola said. “I remember the stadium erupting, the place was going nuts. It was an incredible moment.”

Kristian R. Dyer can be followed on twitter.com/KristianRDyer