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'94 squad put U.S. soccer on the map

May 08
Latham By Brent Latham
Special to ESPN.com
(Archive)

The summer of 1994 will always be remembered as a defining moment in the history of American soccer. The World Cup brought the game's international talent to a curious nation's doorstep in the form of Baggio, Batistuta and Stoichkov as legions of budding American soccer fans began to learn what soccer at its highest level was all about.

"I think '94 was the World Cup that the United States pretty much recognized the sentiment for the first time," said American team member Fernando Clavijo. "That's what it took the American public to notice what soccer was all about."

That summer was also a coming-out party of sorts for the U.S. national team. A previously unknown group of players surprised the world with their skill and determination, making history by beating favored Colombia in the first round before giving eventual champion Brazil all it could handle in the knockout rounds.

"When we beat Colombia, for the first time in U.S. history, I saw a stadium full of American flags," Clavijo said. "The stadium before was always full of foreign flags. But that day, there were people waiting for us with American flags. It was the experience of a lifetime."

Like that magical summer, and the team that captured the collective imagination of a new generation of American soccer enthusiasts, many of the individual players on that '94 club hold places all their own in the history of the game in America.

JOHN HARKES
David Cannon/Getty ImagesTony Meola and John Harkes celebrate the 2-1 win over Colombia.

"Many people don't remember that there was no professional league at that time," Clavijo said. "Most of us were indoor players, some were playing abroad -- not that many -- and there were some players nationalized at the last minute. Now it's getting better every year, but that team was very good. We can almost compare that team 20 years ago with now. Many people thought that was the stepping stone."

Since the summer of '94, most of the players from that U.S. team have remained involved with the game in America. Eight are already members of the American soccer Hall of Fame, with others sure to be added soon. Here is a look at what those 22 American icons are up to today:

Tony Meola, GK: The three-time World Cup team member (1990, '94 and '02) has led a busy off-the-field life, including while he was still a pro soccer player. Never one to sit still, after the '94 Cup he tried out for the New York Jets' place-kicking job and even had a role in an off-Broadway play.

The longtime Team USA No. 1 shirt won his 100th cap in 2006 and, at the end of that year, retired from the New York Red Bulls. He has stayed busy since then, starting his own business and coaching youth soccer in his native New Jersey. During a ceremonial appearance last year as a guest at the last soccer game played in Giants Stadium, Meola said he would be interested in working with the Red Bulls again at some point.

Michael Lapper, D: Lapper is now an assistant coach with the Columbus Crew. After retiring from that same club in 2002, he joined the Crew's front office, taking charge of business development and youth camps. He returned to field level in 2005, becoming a full-time assistant coach. The former national team defender now works with Columbus' first team on a daily basis, while supporting the youth team program, as well.

Mike Burns, D: Burns, one of the younger team members in '94, didn't see the field during that go-round, though he did play a significant role on the U.S. World Cup team four years later. After finishing an MLS career that included stints with San Jose, Kansas City and his hometown New England Revolution, Burns joined the Revolution's front office as director of soccer. He now supervises scouting and personnel decisions for the team, having played a large role in the Revolution's success in the draft and making foreign acquisitions.

Cle Kooiman, D: Since his days as an MLS player ended, Kooiman has become an influential figure in American youth soccer. He is currently a director and coach for California youth club Arsenal FC, a U.S. Development Academy member that has produced a number of youth national team players in recent years. Kooiman also has worked with U.S. under-20 national team coach Thomas Rongen as a part-time assistant.

Thomas Dooley, D: The dual national Dooley is another former player who has leveraged his time with the U.S. national team for the good of youth soccer development. Having spent most of his professional career in Germany, he now uses his name to brand soccer schools in both Germany and the U.S.

John Harkes, MF: After a long and successful playing career that included developing into one of the first American-born players to excel in England, Harkes has made a second career as one of the most successful soccer commentators in the country. He is a primary color man for ESPN and ABC coverage of MLS and international soccer, and he will be one of the analysts for this year's World Cup coverage, having filled the same role in 2006.

Hugo Perez, MF: For the past two years, Perez has been working with the U.S. Soccer Federation as a scout and technical advisor for the Development Academy. He is now employed by the USSF full-time as a technical advisor, a role in which he serves as the main technical contact for all Development Academy clubs, and evaluates coaching and players. The El Salvador native also promotes the game to Hispanic and inner-city youth in the U.S.

Earnie Stewart, F: Stewart lasted longer than most of his teammates as a professional soccer player, ending a nearly 20-year career in 2005 with Dutch side VVV Venlo, the same club he started with in the youth ranks in the '80s. Since then, Stewart has served as the technical director of Dutch team NAC Breda, overseeing personnel and soccer-related decisions for the Eredivisie club.

Tab Ramos, MF: Forever remembered as the recipient of a vicious elbow from Leonardo in that '94 Brazil match, Ramos is now involved in youth coaching and camps, and lends his name to a sports center and soccer training program in suburban New Jersey, where he grew up as part of the Cosmos' youth setup.

Roy Wegerle, F: Originally from South Africa, Wegerle now lives in Southern California. After a short stint as host of the ESPN program "MLS Extratime," Wegerle tried his hand as a professional golfer, with limited success.

Eric Wynalda, F: Wynalda became a successful soccer commentator after retiring from the pitch. Last year he joined the Fox Soccer Channel as co-host of a weekly analysis show, and he also works as a studio host and analyst for some of the channel's MLS games and the UEFA Champions League. Wynalda also helped out Rongen on a part-time basis with the U-20 team at the Copa Chivas in Mexico in February.

Juergen Sommer, GK: The answer to the trivia question, Who was the first American goalkeeper to play in the English Premier League? After retiring, Sommer stayed in the game as an assistant coach at Indiana University. The U.S. Soccer Foundation, U.S. Soccer's charitable arm, now lists him as a director alongside several big names in American soccer.

Cobi Jones, MF: The iconic Jones seemed to last forever on the field, playing productively through the 2007 season. He retired after 11 MLS campaigns, all with the L.A. Galaxy. Jones never left the club, taking an assistant-coaching job for the 2008 season and serving as head coach late in that season after the departure of Dutchman Ruud Gullit. When current coach Bruce Arena was hired, Jones returned to his position as an assistant.

Alexi Lalas
PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP/Getty ImagesWith his red hair and long beard, Alexi Lalas became the face of the '94 squad.

Frank Klopas, F: The Greek-born Klopas spent most of his professional career in his native land, but he returned to play in MLS for the Chicago Fire for a few seasons before retiring in 1999. He stayed on in the Windy City after his playing days ended, managing an indoor soccer team before joining the Fire in 2008 as technical director, a position he still holds.

Joe Max Moore, F: Although business interests have led him away from the world of soccer, Moore recently returned to Gillette Stadium as honorary captain for New England's 2010 MLS opener. He retired from the Revolution in 2004 after a career that included stints in England and Germany. He now runs a stay-at-home marketing business and helps out with his son's youth soccer team, but he has said he wouldn't mind getting involved in the game at a higher level again should the right chance arise.

Michael Sorber, MF: Sorber retired from MLS after the 2000 season, joining his alma mater, the University of St. Louis, as an assistant coach. In 2007, he was named assistant to Bob Bradley on the U.S. national team, and he'll be on the bench in that role at this year's World Cup in South Africa.

Marcelo Balboa, D: Since his retirement from MLS, Balboa has dabbled in broadcasting as part of ESPN's and ABC's coverage of the U.S. national team and MLS. (He formed half of the lead broadcast tandem for World Cup 2006.) Balboa spent much of his career with the Colorado Rapids and still resides in the Denver area, where he hosts a radio show, "From the Pitch with Marcelo Balboa."

Brad Friedel, GK: The backup goalkeeper for the '94 team is still an easy man to track down, because unlike the other 21 players on this list, he is still playing professional soccer. Amazingly, the 38-year-old Friedel, who retired from the national team after starring in the 2002 World Cup, seems to get better with every year.

In stellar form for English Premier League side Aston Villa, Friedel shows few signs of slowing down, and he rarely gives his American backup, Brad Guzan, a chance to play. To stay busy in the offseason, Friedel penned an autobiography: "Thinking Outside The Box: My Journey In Search of the Beautiful Game."

Claudio Reyna, MF: On the verge of what would amount to a long career, a then-20-year-old Reyna made the '94 team but missed out on playing because of an injury. He would go on to three more World Cups and a long professional stint in Europe.

Since retiring from an injury-marred homecoming as a designated player with Red Bull NY, "Captain America" has found a role with the U.S. Soccer Federation. Reyna was recently introduced as the fed's youth technical director, tasked with "overseeing the design and implementation of long-term strategies for development of both coaches and players at the youth level in the United States." The federation said Reyna's first job will be to establish a coaching plan for the nation's 6- to 12-year-olds.

Paul Caligiuri, D: The author of perhaps the most important goal in recent American soccer history, Caligiuri coached at Cal Poly Pomona through 2008. More recently, he has been involved with youth soccer in the Southern California area.

Fernando Clavijo, D: One of the more innovative minds in American soccer today, the former Colorado Rapids head coach is now director of soccer for USL team Miami FC. He holds the same position for the club's owner, Brazil's Traffic Sports, a role in which he is leading an initiative to find and sign young talent in the U.S. and the CONCACAF region for the organization's feeder clubs.

Alexi Lalas, D: Perhaps the best-known figure from a team full of American soccer icons, Lalas has stayed busy since his playing career ended with the 2003 MLS season. A controversial stint as GM of the L.A. Galaxy came to a merciful end in 2008. Since then, Lalas has spent his time as the lead in-studio analyst for ESPN's and ABC's coverage of international soccer. Fans will see plenty more of Lalas in that role during the 2010 World Cup, further embedding him, and that unforgettable generation of American players, in the American soccer consciousness.

Brent Latham covers soccer for ESPN.com. He previously covered sports throughout Africa for Voice of America radio and now works as a soccer commentator for a national television station in Guatemala. He can be reached at brentlatham@ymail.com.