The National Soccer Hall of Fame announced Tuesday that Major League Soccer pioneers and U.S. national team stars Marcelo Balboa, John Harkes and Tab Ramos will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Aug. 29 in Oneonta, N.Y. All three were instrumental in the growth of MLS, participating in the league's inaugural season in 1996 and racking up more than 100 appearances each in their storied professional careers.
"These are players who have truly made a difference to soccer in America, most notably on the field, but they have been so very important in the growth of the game on all levels," said National Soccer Hall of Fame President/CEO Will Lunn. "We look forward to welcoming them to their new home in Oneonta."
Balboa, Harkes and Ramos were easily elected in their first years of eligibility. Hall of Fame induction criteria stipulate that a player must be retired for at least three years and each wrapped up their player careers in 2002. Additionally, each player easily surpasses the minimum of 20 international games for the United States.
Balboa was a staple of the Colorado Rapids defense from 1996-2001. During his time in the Mile High City, the athletically gifted Balboa made 151 appearances scoring 24 goals and adding 23 assists. He completed his MLS career with the MetroStars, making only one appearance in 2002 before being forced out of action by injury.
Balboa made 128 appearances for the U.S. national team between 1988 and 2000, scoring 13 international goals. However, it is probably his bicycle kick attempt that went just wide of the net against Brazil in the 1994 World Cup for which is he most widely remembered. He was also a member of the World Cup squads in 1990 and 1998.
"This is something that you dream about, beginning as a young player," said Balboa. "When the call comes, your first reaction is 'Holy cow!'"
Harkes is one of the most accomplished players in U.S. soccer history. Five times he was named an MLS All-Star and he led D.C. United to back-to-back MLS Cup titles in 1996 and 1997 before his club lost in the 1998 MLS Cup Final. Following that season Harkes moved to the New England Revolution where he played in 55 matches. He completed his MLS career as a member of the Columbus Crew, seeing action in 25 matches. In seven MLS seasons Harkes made 167 appearances, scoring 16 goals and adding 42 assists.
Also a member of the historic team that represented the U.S. in their first World Cup in 50 years in 1990, Harkes was a regular for the Red, White and Blue between 1987 and 2000. The central midfielder was a key ingredient in the USA's passage into the knockout stages at the 1994 World Cup, though he was forced to miss the round-of-16 match against Brazil due to yellow card accumulation.
"I am overwhelmed with the honor," said Harkes. "It is not an everyday even that you get to be honored by the people that are knowledgeable in the game. I could not be more proud.
Ramos, who grew up in Kearny, N.J. with fellow 2005 inductee Harkes, spent his entire MLS career with his hometown team, the MetroStars. He returned from a successful career in Europe to be the first player ever signed by MLS and he stayed at Giants Stadium through the 2002 campaign.
Ramos also was a regular for the national team, earning 81 caps between 1988 and 2000. Ramos assisted on Earnie Stewart's goal against Columbia in 1994 to help send the U.S. into the knockout stages, but his round-of-16 appearance against Brazil was cut short when an elbow to his head resulted in a fractured skull.
"You can never be prepared for a moment like this," said Ramos. "I am extremely honored to be one of the soccer names that will live forever and I say that with a great respect for the Hall of Famers who preceded me."
Balboa, Harkes and Ramos will be officially inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Hall on Aug. 29.
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.