MLS represented on Hall of Fame ballot
all players who combined contributions to the sport through MLS with long U.S. national team careers. Also on the ballot for the first time are several foreign-born players whose contribution to U.S. soccer is contained entirely within the league: players like Peter Nowak, Carlos Valderrama and Raul Diaz Arce.
Like the first two MLS inductees -- Paul Caligiuri and Eric Wynalda -- Balboa, Harkes and Ramos were part of the generation of players that spearheaded the revival of the U.S. national team in the 1990s.
Balboa is currently third in U.S. history in appearances with 128, 18 of which were either World Cup qualifying or World Cup finals matches. The defender -- known for his long hair and penchant for unleashing powerful bicycle kicks -- captained the U.S. side often throughout the 1990s, helping the team to World Cup berths in 1990, 1994 and 1998 and the inaugural CONCACAF Gold Cup title in 1991.
In 1994, Balboa became the first man to win the U.S. Soccer Federation's male athlete of the year award twice, having already earned the honor in 1992. He currently stands as one of only three male players, along with Kasey Keller and Landon Donovan, to have won the award on two occasions.
Balboa was also one of many American players to return to the United States in 1996 to help found MLS. He played seven seasons in the league for the Colorado Rapids and MetroStars, helping the Rapids to their only MLS Cup berth in 1997.
Harkes was another player who helped kick start MLS nearly 10 years ago. In seven seasons, Harkes lifted the Alan I. Rothenberg trophy twice and finished as the MLS Cup runner-up once in addition to winning the CONCACAF Champions' Cup in 1998. Harkes captained D.C. United to the first two titles in MLS history, and played a third season with the Black-and-Red before moving on to the New England Revolution and then finishing his career with the Columbus Crew.
Harkes also wore the armband for the U.S. national team on many occasions, particularly under former U.S. head coach (and current Los Angeles Galaxy boss) Steve Sampson in 1996 and 1997. Harkes made six World Cup appearances, all starts, in the 1990 and 1994 World Cups. He finished his national team career with 90 caps.
Ramos' career was interrupted several times by injuries, including several knee injuries and a fractured skull. When he was on the field, he was one of the most skilled attacking midfielders U.S. Soccer has ever seen. Ramos played a role in 81 full internationals between 1988 and 2000, including nine World Cup matches in 1990, 1994 and 1998 and 15 World Cup qualifiers.
A MetroStar for his entire seven-year MLS career, Ramos was the first player to sign with the league after being one of the first U.S. players to establish himself in Europe. He made a total of 112 appearances in MLS.
Both Nowak and Valderrama are usually involved in any discussion of the best ever MLS players. Nowak came to the expansion Chicago Fire in 1998 as an allocation and captained the club to an MLS Cup championship and a U.S. Open Cup title that same year.
Nowak, a former Polish national team captain, was named to three MLS Best XI's in five MLS seasons. After retiring from playing in 2002, he led D.C. United to its fourth championship in 2004, his first season as the club's head coach.
Valderrama, another midfield legend, is MLS' all-time leader in assists, with 114. 'El Pibe' played for three clubs during his seven-year MLS career, including two stints with the Tampa Bay Mutiny and spells with the Miami Fusion and Colorado Rapids. Valderrama, a native of Colombia, was the first MLS MVP and was named to three MLS Best XI teams.
Diaz Arce, a forward from El Salvador, is third on the all-time MLS goal-scoring list with 82 tallies and seventh in points with 193. Diaz Arce combined with Harkes and Marco Etcheverry in D.C. to bring two MLS Cups to the city. After two years with United, Diaz Arce spent time with the New England Revolution, San Jose Clash and Tampa Bay Mutiny before returning to Washington, D.C., in 2000. He finished his MLS career in 2001 with the Colorado Rapids.
The other first-timers on the ballot who played in MLS are U.S. national team veterans Mike Burns, Ted Eck, Zak Ibsen, Mike Lapper, Matt McKeon and Peter Vermes, as well as MLS originals Richard Farrer, Adam Frye, Mario Gori, David Vaudreuil and Robert Warzycha.
Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.