Preki, Dooley named to Hall of Fame

A pair of talented soccer players born in another country and who wound up making a major impact in the United States by combining their talent and a strong determination to win and succeed received their just desserts Thursday night.

They were elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

The announcement of former international and MLS standouts Thomas Dooley and Preki received the highest individual honors a U.S. soccer player can earn came during the Fox Football Fone-In show at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Not surprisingly, both former MLS players were humbled.

"It's an honor to be in a special group of people and players," Preki said. "It's a tremendous honor for me."

Preki, who worked the MLS SuperDraft as Toronto FC coach a couple of floors higher at the convention center and hours earlier, admitted he didn't know there was an election.

"U.S. Soccer called me and I was surprised because I really don't follow those things," he said with a laugh. "I don't pay attention. So it was just a nice surprise, a pleasant surprise."

Dooley, who was on his final year on the players ballot, discovered his good news out via a phone call from Hall president Jonathan Ullman.

"I really didn't get it in the beginning," he said. "I was eight or 10 times already on the list. ... It was huge, that was great."

Dooley was proud of his career and getting into the Hall.

"Those are memories that nobody can take away," he said. "That's why on top of everything, getting into the Hall of Fame, you don't die because it's a museum where they put your ugly face, picture in there and they're writing something about you. Kids can go, my kids can go and every time they want. There's a place where there's something about me."

Both players took different routes to the Hall, although they were forced to work their way up through more non-traditional routes.

Preki was born in the former Yugoslavia and began his professional career there before journeying to England. He came to the United States and made his mark indoors in the old Major Indoor Soccer League.

Now 45, Preki turned into an offensive juggernaut as a midfield or forward whether he was scoring or creating goals.

He was named the MISL MVP in 1989, the MVP of the Continental Indoor Soccer League in 1995 and then accomplished that feat not once, but twice, in MLS in 1997 and 2001 while scoring 79 goals and adding 112 assists in 242 matches for the Kansas City Wizards and Miami Fusion. He performed in the 1998 World Cup.

Dooley, who played for the Red, White and Blue at the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, performed for the Columbus Crew and MetroStars. He started his journey to soccer stardom in the German 11th division, playing on Saturday and Sunday nights before working his way up to the Bundesliga. He had secured a solid career with the likes of Hamburg SV, Kaiserslautern, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke.

When both Hall of Famers were asked about their most memorable moments, it wasn't necessarily about individual accomplishments.

For Preki, it was being a member of the Wizards' 2000 MLS Cup championship team.

"It was a special group of players," he said. "It was one of the most wonderful moments of my career. Why did I choose that? It was winning with a group. It's a special moment."

For Dooley, it was winning several tiles and several special games in the United States.

"We won the German Bundesliga. This is huge," he said. "We won the German Cup. This is huge. We won the UEFA Cup or German Super Cup. You remember those things. I'll never forget my first game in D.C. I'll never forget my farewell game and I'll never forget my game against Germany where I scored two goals. Or maybe when I was the captain for the national team in the World Cup. Those are moments that you don't forget, you're proud of."

Playing at the highest level, the biggest stage, capped both players' careers, which happened later on. Preki made his debut at 35, Dooley at 34. That is rare because most players perform in the World Cup in their playing prime in their 20s.

"It was special," Preki said. "I was trying to become a U..S. citizen for the World Cup 1994. but that didn't happen. So I had to wait until '98. Once I got on the team, once I got in the World Cup. It was like a dream come true for every single player in the world."

Every time Dooley was on the verge of making the German national team he came up with an injury.

"I was three times close to the German national team," he said. "The media was talking about, 'Thomas, you should be part of those 24 players in the camp.' A week later the next game I tore my ligament and I needed surgery. That happened three times. That was incredible. The last time I broke four ribs, my lung collapsed. I was done.

"My wife said, 'Why are you so negative?' I said, 'The highest thing in soccer is playing for the national team. I am out. I'm now 30 years old. I can't play for the national team any more because this is like my last chance."

Maybe not.

A friend of his agent noted Dooley's name -- Dooley's father is from the U.S. -- and asked if he could not play for the USA? Three weeks later he was in Chicago getting his U.S. passport, although he could not speak English.

He does now -- quite fluently.

Preki eventually became an MLS fixture. When he won a scoring title at 40, he accomplished that rare feat at an age when players have become coaches.

"You have to understand, everything is possible," he said. "The only thing is how much you want it as an individual, how much you want to give up for something that you really enjoy doing. I was ready to give up a lot of things to play and to play long."

The secret of Preki's longevity? Taking care of himself and a zest for the game.

"I kept fit," Preki said. "I made sure I got plenty of rest. I did my yoga. I obviously loved competing every day and that was something I was looking forward every morning that I got up."

Dooley, 48, who is director of international development for Match Analysis, was quite proud of receiving a Fair Play award.

"I said in this speech in L.A. that if someone deserved this award, it's me," he said. "I played 18-19 years professionally and I never got a red card. I played defensive midfielder and played man marker. I always played hard, but never got a red card and never had to sit out because of four or five yellow cards. That meant something."

He was playing for the MetroStars at the time.

"You know that my next game was? Against Columbus," he said. "I wanted to show them that you have to play hard that you have to play with heart. You have to play hard, You have to tackle. I was tackling everybody who was walking around on that field. Everybody was flying. ... I got a red card. When the ref gave me the red card, I told him, 'I deserved this red card 15 minutes before.' ... If you want to win something, you have to play hard."

Playing hard. That defines the careers of Preki and Thomas Dooley perfectly.

Michael Lewis covers soccer for the New York Daily News and is editor of BigAppleSoccer.com. He can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com. Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.