Connolly: Demanding 100 percent

youth, Olympic, World Cup, and in the professional leagues at home and overseas -- showed their quality."

Well said. In fact, when ESPN showed the highlight reels of all three players during the afternoon announcement on Tuesday, it made you wonder if there are any players like these three in the current U.S. pool of players or even in MLS.

Someday, probably at the end of the decade, players like Claudio Reyna, Earnie Stewart, Cobi Jones and possibly Brian McBride will all easily earn their ticket to Oneonta. We're also currently watching future Hall of Famers in DaMarcus Beasley, Landon Donovan and, at this pace, Eddie Johnson continue to set the bar higher for their impressive accomplishments at such a young age.

But could any of these players cut on a dime or break down a defender 1-v-1 like Tab Ramos could? That's an easy "no."

Was there ever a more complete player with a combination of technical and tactical abilities, leadership, drive and versatility than John Harkes? Another "no."

Has there ever been a defender who was as dangerous on set pieces than Marcelo Balboa? No way.

Each of the three players will be remembered as individuals, both on and off the field, and for the different ways they contributed to the game.

For Harkes, the memory that will linger on might very well be the blinder he struck from about 35 yards out to beat England's legendary goalkeeper Peter Shilton when he was playing for Sheffield Wednesday that was ultimately named England's Goal of the Year in 1990. To see an American score such a goal in the English top flight at that time was startling in a way that the current generation of players and young fans cannot comprehend.

Ramos, much more of a reluctant star than Harkes or a peer like Wynalda, will always live on through the highlight-reel goal he scored against Costa Rica in Portland on Sept. 7, 1997. It was most critical goal in the U.S. national team's qualifying effort as it gave Steve Sampson's side a 1-0 victory and a new life after going 0-1-2 in the previous three qualifiers. Ramos' strike came via a drop-back pass from fellow Class of '05 inductee Balboa outside the 18-yard box. The diminutive midfielder rocketed the ball into the back of the net, and proceeded to storm across the field with his fists clenched, and his mouth wide-open to celebrate with Sam's Army.

During his retirement press conference in the spring of 2002, Ramos said that was his most special moment with the national team.

"It was a culmination of things that made that moment so special," he said. "First of all, I didn't score that many goals. Normally when I score I'm not a guy who goes crazy celebrating, but that happened to be the day. It's a moment, definitely, that I'll never forget."

For 'Celo, there's always both the missed bicycle kick in the 1994 World Cup as well as the one he did find paydirt with for the Colorado Rapids in 2000 that may very well be the best goal ever scored in Major League Soccer. But, for the most part, one will remember him as being a rock in the back. He was a player that was simply penned into the lineup when healthy for more than a decade with the national team, and one that any of his coaches or teammates didn't have to worry about. As laid back and affable as he is off the field, he was a lion on the field. Simply put, without him in the back, guys like Harkes, Ramos and Wynalda wouldn't have been able to play in all of those World Cups.

What's special about this class is that they are from the same era as teammates, pioneers and friends. You can't think of Tab Ramos without thinking of fellow Kearny, N.J., native John Harkes. And when you think of Marcelo Balboa, the images of his two Hall of Fame classmates, as well as Wynalda, come to mind right away.

To vote for one and not the other two, or to even think of leaving one, two or all three players off one of the voter's ballots is a crime. In my case, I voted for six players: Balboa, Harkes and Ramos, as well as Thomas Dooley, Bruce Murray and Hugo Perez. The latter three are Hall of Famers in my book due to their huge contributions to the U.S. national team long before the side was considered amongst the top 10 in the world. Unfortunately for them, it'll be extremely difficult to get inducted into the Hall of Fame over the coming years with former luminaries like Alexi Lalas, Joe-Max Moore and Mia Hamm becoming eligible.

There'll be many a difficult decision to make in the future concerning who gets in and who doesn't get in to the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

Thankfully, that was not the case this year.

Marc Connolly writes for ESPN.com and several other publications. This column runs each Wednesday on MLSnet.com and Marc can be reached at marc@oakwoodsoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs


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