Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber presented the Commissioner's Award to all the members of the RadioShack All-Time Best XI on Saturday night at the MLS Awards Gala, held at the Nokia Theater in Grand Prairie, Texas. The All-Time Best XI was unveiled Friday at the MLS Cup 2005 Media Luncheon at Pizza Hut Park.
Each year, the commissioner selects an individual or group of individuals to receive the Commissioner's Award as recognition of their commitment to the game of soccer and the growth of MLS. As the league uses the 10th championship game on Sunday as an opportunity to celebrate the past as well as the future, it is only fitting that the earliest and most consistent stars through MLS's first decade are honored for their contributions.
The RadioShack All-Time Best XI is laden with men who achieved numerous firsts in MLS. Four of the individuals selected by fans, current MLS general managers and coaches, and media for the Best XI were a part of the first-ever championship team in MLS. Defenders Eddie Pope and Jeff Agoos, midfielder Marco Etcheverry and forward Jaime Moreno each played pivotal roles as D.C. United captured the first of their four championships in 1996. Each of the aforementioned talents went on to reach great heights in the league, all the while helping to improve the quality of play, the development of young players and build a solid fan base.
Great American talent from the past, present and future received the honor from Garber on Saturday as well, perfectly displaying how MLS has shaped the U.S. national team and aided in the blossoming of both quality and quantity players from within the 50 states. Players who had made names for themselves in American soccer even before the league's inception, such as current MetroStars goalkeeper Tony Meola, defender Marcelo Balboa and midfielder Preki were among the first big-name stars in MLS, inspiring other American products to follow in their footsteps.
Those included forward Brian McBride, who entered the league as the first-ever draftee prior to the 1996 season. During eight years with the Columbus Crew, McBride used MLS as a springboard to the U.S. national team, scoring in two World Cups for the Red, White and Blue and then moving on to play in one of the most renowned leagues in the world, the English Premier League.
The youngest member of the RadioShack All-Time Best XI and winner of the Commissioner's Award, Landon Donovan has become one of the most respected young players in the world after coming home from Germany to play in MLS prior to the 2001 season. Donovan represents the next generation of Major League Soccer's elite, helping to pave the way for youthful talents such as his forward strike partner for the Galaxy Herculez Gomez.
But it isn't only American players that have taken the league to the next level. The contributions of such great foreign acquisitions like Etcheverry, Carlos Valderrama, Peter Nowak, and Moreno cannot be overlooked, and Garber recognized those players for all they have done Saturday when they each claimed their Commissioner's Award as well. Bolivians Etcheverry and Moreno, Colombian Valderrama, who was unable to attend the event due to personal business in his native land, and Polish great Nowak each helped to open the borders in MLS. Foreign-born players on display Sunday, such as Grenada's Shalrie Joseph (New England Revolution) and Jamaica's Tyrone Marshall (Los Angeles Galaxy) have much to owe to the first men who made the trek to the league in its earliest days.
Major League Soccer will close out its 10th season on Sunday with the MLS Cup from Pizza Hut Park. On Saturday night, Garber chose to recognize those who laid the groundwork that should carry the league into its second decade and beyond.
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.