In 1995 the U.S. national team was all over the map ... literally, all over the map. When the national team flew down to Copa America that year after winning the U.S. Cup against Nigeria, Mexico and Columbia, we were a team whose starting lineup was almost completely European-based. We had guys playing in Germany, England, Spain, Italy, Greece, Denmark, Turkey and Mexico.
We were all over the place, but we loved opportunities like tournaments to come together and play while representing the U.S. Copa America was an awesome place for us to show the world that we were a great team, and a great team we were.
The World Cup in 1994 was where it all started. The team assembled by then-coach Bora Milutinovic was the beginning of something special. The 1994 team was all about one thing: personality. Bora was not afraid of it and actually, in his weird way, condoned some of our crazy behavior and our crazy hairstyles, not to mention his own hair, which still looks the same 10 years later (we used to call him the fifth Beatle).
The 1994 World Cup team was a great team to remember on the stories alone. We got back together this past weekend in D.C. and the memories were thick. So were some of the stories. It's amazing how they get embellished over the years. What am I talking about? I am the one embellishing them. Anyway, it was a special occasion for all involved and we were blessed with this opportunity to come together and play as a team again.
What a lot of people don't realize is that the team from 1995, which was mainly the guys from 1994, is responsible for establishing the National Team Players Association. It was the will of 20 guys who changed the way things are for current and future generations of soccer players in this country.
Every year the national team negotiated an appearance fee, which fluctuated between $1,000 and $2,500 depending on the game and its importance, according to the U.S. Soccer Federation. When the team arrived in South America, our contract was much different from the contract we were expecting. Needless to say, we went on strike. Many may view that as a selfish endeavor or maybe even view us as a group of troublemakers.
Well, I can tell you this, there are many things you find out along the way about your teammates. There are many decisions that you make in your playing career that will forever be remembered by your teammates and define the person and player that you are. Some are the most important you will ever make in your life. The collective decision to say 'no' was the most important decision ever made in the history of the U.S. national team.
You see, we rewrote the contract. We stood up to something we believed in. We made a decision, very similar to the decision a parent might make, for the betterment of the future of the game in our country, all the while knowing that it would have an immediate effect on our relationship with our part-time employer. We did it for the future. We did it for Landon Donovan. We did it for Eddie Gaven. We did it for every player that went on to put the jersey on after us ... and we are glad we did. We were threatened; we were scared; but, we did what we knew was right.
So when you see those guys and you judge and remember them on their good performances and their bad performances, just know that there is a little bit more to the story. This country's national soccer team is where it is because of the individuals who realized that they weren't bigger than the game and they certainly weren't willing to compromise the future growth of the sport for their own personal gain.
We lived in 12 different countries and we spoke seven different languages, but when it came to the point we were a team in every sense of the word. We weren't the best team in the world but we had heart, and we stuck together. We are a team even today because we lived through a time, as necessary as it was, we wouldn't want to have to live again. More importantly, we are proud that the kids of the future won't have to live through it either because of our efforts.
In Washington, D.C. the other day, we took the field for maybe the last time. The Celebration Game ended 2-2. I joked about it being a chance to kick the guys who made more money then us (and now you know why). For one last time, I sat in the locker room with Tab Ramos, who as always, told me that I stunk until I scored. I got the chance to get on the end of some of his passes and to watch him dribble down the right wing. I really miss that.
Thomas Dooley slide-tackled somebody and I remember thinking, 'don't go down so easily'. He got the ball and it went right to Mike Sorber who immediately starting looking for John Harkes or Ramos. I missed that too. Alexi Lalas and Balboa standing next to each other on a free kick, waiting for the cross and running back to their positions cursing when the ball flew over their head. I miss that, too. The fact is, I miss it and them a lot. They were my teammates, they are my friends and maybe in the big scheme of things, they might just be the best friends American soccer ever had.
So we tied the game, we had fun and we enjoyed being a part of what was called the Celebration game. Can anybody say, 'rematch'?
Catch Eric this weekend as the analyst on RadioShack Soccer Saturday on ESPN2. Do you have feedback on Wynalda's feedback? Please send your comments to Wynalda. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.