Inductees feel responsible for MLS

Paul Caligiuri's "goal heard round the world" rippled the net in Trinidad 15 years ago, and Eric Wynalda's MLS-christening goal is now nearly a decade in the past. But their accomplishments were not the focus of Monday's National Soccer Hall of Fame induction; rather, it was the future.

Just as they helped found Major League Soccer in 1996, Caligiuri and Wynalda opened a new era for the league by becoming the first MLS players enshrined at the Hall of Fame. Though each played just six years in the league, their contributions cannot be overstated.

"Paul Caligiuri and Eric Wynalda are two of the pillars that Major League Soccer is built on," said MLS Commissioner Don Garber, who presented Caligiuri for induction. "They truly believed that our country deserved a first division professional soccer league, and they came home and helped build it. We're thoroughly indebted to them."

And now the flood gates will open. With other MLS founders like John Harkes, Alexi Lalas, Marcelo Balboa and others eligible for election in the near future, MLS will soon have a very visible presence in Oneonta, N.Y.

Then, of course, there are the young superstars of today like Landon Donovan and Eddie Gaven, who both may well end up immortalized in upstate New York.

"I didn't know in advance that I would be the first official MLS inductee," Caligiuri said, adding that he feels a special "responsibility" now to future MLS players. "There's going to be many more players to follow."

For Wynalda, the inclusion of MLS players in the Hall of Fame couldn't have come sooner. He said he hopes the relationship between MLS and the Hall of Fame will continue to grow.

"The phrase 'future hall-of-famer' is something that we seldom hear in the game, and I think it's something that needs to happen," Wynalda said. "It's the first time that ... a majority of the fans of MLS have people in the Hall of Fame that they recognize. For us, it's a great honor to be the two faces from MLS."

Some day -- perhaps even right now -- future Hall of Famers will abound in the U.S. top flight. And both Wynalda and Caligiuri plan to stick around to see that day.

Caligiuri looked back on the days of the league's infancy to express his commitment to the league.

"I dreamed of having a professional league here ever since the rise and fall of the (North American Soccer League)," he said. "As soon as it was becoming a reality that MLS was going to happen ... that's when I wanted to return. I wanted to be part of that from the start.

"The guys that were in (U.S. national team) camp in 1993, we shared many of the dreams and plans of building this league. I want to remain part of those dreams and goals."

To continue to expand the league and bring into reality the dream of having packed soccer-specific stadiums throughout the country, the onus is on the league's founders, Wynalda said.

If those original MLS players stay involved and share their knowledge, young players like Jonathan Decker -- a California youth soccer player who befriended Wynalda in 1996, became close to him over the past eight years and introduced him at the induction ceremony -- will be able to turn their love of game into successful professional careers.

"Just because you stop playing doesn't mean you stop caring about the game," Wynalda said. "I still care about the Jonathan Deckers of the world."

Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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