Wynalda, Caligiuri become first MLS players elected to National Soccer Hall of Fame

Eric Wynalda and Paul Caligiuri became the first players in MLS history to be elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame, joining U.S. Women's national team legend Michelle Akers in the 2004 class of inductees. The announcement was made on Wednesday by National Soccer Hall of Fame President/CEO Will Lunn at a press conference at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. The 2004 Induction and Enshrinement Ceremonies will take place on Columbus Day weekend, October 9-11, 2004 at the Hall of Fame in Oneonta, N.Y. The Induction 2004 ballot was the first in history to include players from Major League Soccer as 25 of the 38 names on the ballot either played or coached in MLS.

Wynalda, a color analyst for ESPN2 Soccer Saturday Game of the Week broadcasts, is the all-time leading scorer in U.S. National Team history and also scored the first goal in MLS history on April 6, 1996 as the San Jose Clash defeated D.C. United 1-0 in the League's Inaugural Game. Wynalda began his MLS career with San Jose in 1996 before joining the Miami Fusion (1999-2000), New England Revolution (2000-2001) and Chicago Fire (2001), amassing 98 appearances and 34 goals. He joined MLS after an illustrious career for the U.S. National Team (1990-1998) in which he netted 34 goals. Prior to joining MLS in 1996 Wynalda broke ground in the German Bundesliga as an American forward, the first to secure a starter's spot in a major European league while at Saarbrucken.

Caligiuri, a former defender for the Columbus Crew and Los Angeles Galaxy, will always be remembered for his goal on November 20, 1989 when his looping volley from 35 yards found the back of the net against Trinidad and Tobago in the decisive CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier for the 1990 Italy World Cup. The goal ensured the qualification of the U.S. to its first World Cup tournament since the historic performance in 1950, ending a 40-year absence. Caligiuri's international career began as an undergraduate at UCLA and included participation in the 1990 and 1994 FIFA World Cup. Caligiuri started each of the seven matches the U.S. played in those two tournaments, playing all but 18 minutes. One of the first Americans to play in the German Bundesliga, Caligiuri joined MLS in its Inaugural Season and enjoyed a six-year career which started in Columbus (1996) and ended in Los Angeles with the Galaxy (1997-2001), where he captured the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Championship in his final game for the Galaxy in 2001.

Akers, recognized as the FIFA Player of the Century in 2000, began her illustrious career with the U.S. Women's National Team by scoring the first goal in the program's history. Over the course of her career and as a direct result of her high-energy, intimidating style, the U.S. won the first FIFA Women's World Cup in 1991 and captured a second world title in 1999 to go along with the team's first Olympic Gold Medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Her 105 international goals also include the winning goal in the 1991 FIFA Championship and the clinching penalty against Brazil in the 1999 FIFA World Cup semifinal. For the last eight years of her career she battled Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, an affliction that did not prevent her from competing at the highest level of the sport.

The Hall of Fame instituted a new voting process beginning in 2004, including voting by media members across the country, First Division professional coaches with four or more years tenure, current and former U.S. National Team coaches and national soccer executives. In all, 32 of the 38 players on the ballot received votes and players who meet the Hall of Fame eligibility criteria remain on the ballot for a seven-year period after which the player is eligible for election to the Hall of Fame via the Veteran's Ballot. The following are the Hall of Fame selection criteria for a given year:

a) the two individuals with the most votes as long as each receives more than 50% of the votes; and
b) a third individual as long as that person receives at least 80 percent of the vote.

The following is the breakdown of the 2004 voting:

(1) Michelle Akers -- 70 votes (95.9%)
(2) Eric Wynalda -- 68 votes (93.2%)
(3) Paul Caligiuri -- 65 votes (89.0%)
(4) Thomas Dooley -- 42 votes (57.5%) (5) Hugo Perez -- 42 votes (57.5%)
(6) Bruce Murray -- 33 votes (45.2%)
(7) Roy Wegerle -- 23 votes (31.5%)
(8) Fernando Clavijo -- 20 votes (27.4%)

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber issued the following statement following the election of former MLS players Eric Wynalda and Paul Caligiuri into the National Soccer Hall of Fame:

"On behalf of the entire Major League Soccer family, including the League's Investor-Operators, Players, Coaches, Administrators and of course our Fans, it is my pleasure to congratulate all of today's inductees for their election to the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

"The League is especially proud of the contributions of our former players, Paul Caligiuri and Eric Wynalda, whose well-documented achievements - with the numerous milestones and 'firsts' between them - have advanced and accelerated the creation and development of the professional game in the United States.

"The trail-blazing spirit embodied by their accomplishments, on and off the field, continues to inspire us all. This spirit, exhibited throughout their U.S. Men's National Team careers, from the pioneering experiences among the first wave of Americans plying their trade overseas, to the overwhelming commitment to return stateside and develop the American professional game through Major League Soccer, has provided multiple generations of soccer fans and players with the opportunity to pursue their soccer dreams.

"Now that their playing careers are over, they continue to tap into that spirit to promote the game we all love and push the sport forward at all levels through coaching and broadcasting efforts, something we all appreciate. Adding to the list of firsts, we can proudly say that Paul and Eric are the first two Hall-of-Famers in MLS history.

"We are very proud and excited to see Major League Soccer's history now an ongoing part of the National Soccer Hall of Fame's future."

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