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Class of 2012 National Soccer Hall of Fame Q & A

This year’s Hall of Fame inductees Claudio Reyna, Tony Meola, Desmond Armstrong and Tony DiCicco talked about their Hall of Fame honor and past accomplishments.

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Tony Meola

IN THE IMAGE: Former U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper and Class of 2012 National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee Tony Meola is “humbled and honored” by his Hall of Fame inclusion.

CHICAGO (Feb. 29, 2012) – The National Soccer Hall of Fame announced its Class of 2012 on Wednesday, featuring former U.S. Men’s National Team captain Claudio Reyna and three-time FIFA World Cup veteran goalkeeper Tony Meola on the Player ballot, former National Team defender Desmond Armstrong on the Veteran ballot and former U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Tony DiCicco on the Builder ballot.

ussoccer.com caught up with all four inductees to talk about the honor and reminisce on their past accomplishments and U.S. soccer paths:

National Soccer Hall of Fame Player Inductee CLAUDIO REYNA

On being inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame:
“It’s an incredible honor to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Soccer has been my life from the moment I could walk. You don’t think or play for these types of recognitions, but it is a tremendous honor and I want to thank my former teammates, former coaches and everybody else close to me, especially my family, who supported me – from those who drove me all over as a youth player to my wife and children who have been here my whole career. From a player’s standpoint, it kind of caps things off for me, so it’s definitely an honor and something that I’m proud of.”

On entering the Hall of Fame, the likes of which include many of his former teammates and coaches:
“As the years go on we’re continuing to develop so many good players who have had long careers with the National Team and with their club teams. It’s great to see. I had the honor last year of presenting Earnie Stewart, who is a very good friend of mine. Tony Meola and Desmond Armstrong were very good players on the National Team when I first started my career in the beginning. To see them get in is nice. I imagine there will be many more former and current National Team players who will receive the same honor.”

On the development of the sport over the course of his career:
“For me at this stage, I’m 38 years old and I can think back over the years where this sport was when I first started off. The growth of the professional league, our National Team and the interest in the sport has been incredible. Whatever part I played in that, it’s nice that I was in this cycle that was able to help the sport develop, along with the other players, coaches and people who have invested in the sport throughout the years. It shows that we as a country are now taking the sport more and more seriously.”

On the continued growth of the National Team:
“I think even the guys on the National Team now will look back in 15 to 20 years and say the same thing that I have: They won’t believe how far the sport has grown from their time. It’s hard to realize that when you’re in the present and playing. I thought when I was in the 1994 World Cup that it couldn’t get any bigger or better, but it has in so many different ways. Now I’m sort of on the other side of it, looking to develop our future players and future coaches and help them get better. I’m trying to pass on all the experience I’ve had within the U.S. and of course playing in Europe for so many years so we can close the gap with the best teams in the world.”

National Soccer Hall of Fame Player Inductee TONY MEOLA
On the honor of being inducted into the Hall of Fame:
“It’s certainly the greatest honor you can have in your chosen profession, to be mentioned in the same breath as the great people that were before you and one day the great ones that will come after you. I’m certainly humbled and I’m honored, and I’m thrilled to think that somebody actually thought I was worthy of it. That makes it more special, that people who are obviously knowledgeable about the game, that have followed the game and spent their entire life in the game like I have who voted for me. I can only say thank you to them for the opportunity to be part of the group.”

On his experiences with the U.S. Men’s National Team:
“I was fortunate to have played 100 games with the National Team. I could write a complete book just on my experiences there. I guess I didn’t realize until later on in my career what those early days meant for the sport of soccer, how important they were in our development, how important they were in generating interest in the U.S. National Team and in soccer, and in general in this country. But when you’re playing, that’s not necessarily something you’re thinking about. You don’t think about being in this position 20 years down the road. You’re just thinking about playing and being the best you could be and helping your team, and that’s the way I looked at it. This is a reward, I suppose, for doing that in a way people thought was the way it should be done.”

On being part of three World Cups:
“To be part of three World Cups is a dream come true, and then for me I think that the neatest thing – given my heritage and my background – about the World Cups was that I always said if I had to pick two countries to play a World Cup in when I was a kid, the two I would have picked would have been Italy and the United States. Somehow that all worked out, and for me, that’s one of the most amazing parts of my career, that it worked out that way. I couldn’t have drawn it any better, really. If I had to pick the most memorable game in a World Cup, it was for sure the game against Colombia in Pasadena, where U.S. Soccer and the U.S. National Team was finally thought of, after that game, as a group that could compete all the time. I’m proud to have been part of that team, part of that group of guys, who were so willing to and so determined to make an impact not only in U.S. Soccer, but around the world. That was sort of one of the goals of that group and I’m happy to have been a part of that.”

On the challenge of being a U.S. MNT goalkeeper:
“For goalkeepers, there’s only one spot to be occupied and for so many years, I was able to be part of that and had some colleagues that were there with me in Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller and down the road a little bit, Tim Howard. These are guys that not only helped our National Team get better, but I think we all made each other better at the end of the day. For me, that’s pretty impressive company. I’m honored to be part of that group and to have played a part in the development of U.S. goalkeepers, and I think it’s something that I hope we can recapture and have that many and that kind of group of guys competing for the same position for a long time.”

On the development of soccer in the United States over the years:
“I’m not sure a lot has changed from a soccer standpoint. I still look at the ’94 team and what we did, and I look at the group I was with in 2002 and what we did. The U.S. team’s always going to be able to compete. Everyone talks about winning the World Cup. Well, there aren’t a lot of countries that can say they’ve won the World Cup. I think a lot of things have to go your way. You’ve got to get some luck along the way. There are great players now, for sure. There were great players then, and in some regard, the players back then had a much more difficult road. There were some players prior to me coming on who had no place to play, they were looking for places to train in order to stay fit and to stay sharp and then had to go and compete at the international level. The players are at a little bit of an advantage now and we as MLS players and guys that played overseas had a little bit of an edge because we had a place to work on our trade every day. But there’s no question there were great players then and there’s great players now. I think the pool of great players has gotten bigger now. If you’re a National Team coach, you have a lot more guys to choose from than you did in the past and that’s just the development of our sport in general, and now we have different avenues for guys to play in.

“I love the direction the game has gone, I love the development of young players and being able to go overseas and play in the biggest leagues in the world and make money and enjoy success. Every time I read about that, I think about our group that kept the ball rolling in the sport, and now these guys are making the ball roll a little bit faster. Twenty years from now, hopefully guys will talk about them and talk about how they helped further their career because of the guys before them. It was a responsibility that I took seriously. It’s one of the reasons I decided to come back to the United States and play here instead of stay overseas is because I took the role of developing the sport seriously, and it meant a lot to me.”

National Soccer Hall of Fame Veteran Inductee DESMOND ARMSTRONG

On honor of being inducted into the Hall of Fame:
“It means for me that I’m part of the representation of a generation that has not been forgotten, just somewhat overlooked. We were the group that helped to start this run of soccer success in America, so it’s a great honor to be recognized for that.”

On joining the Hall of Fame with Tony Meola, Claudio Reyna and Tony DiCicco:
“Specifically for Tony Meola and Claudio, they represent the start of this run for the USA qualifying for the World Cup ever since 1990 and also the continuation of the success of American players in Europe – Claudio in particular. He was the impetus for the next generation of American players to be successful in Europe and then come back and give back to the American game. To be in that class is a tremendous honor. For Tony DiCicco, to be in the class with him, he’s a representation of the Women’s game for the 1991 Women’s World Cup (then known as the Women’s World Championship, when DiCicco was assistant coach), that group of women speaks of pioneers, which I believe I’m a part of that generation. We were pioneers, both on the Men’s and Women’s sides. And of course for the Women, Tony represents the greatest success for soccer in America.”

On his most memorable moment on the U.S. Men’s National Team:
“I think the Olympics for me, the ’88 Olympics, was the highlight of my career. I was at the peak of my performance as a player, I believe. This was before I broke my leg – I broke my leg directly after the Olympics and was able to make it back to the 1990 World Cup, which was momentous, as well. I just feel as though that ’88 Olympic team – and again that generation of players, which included John Harkes, Tab Ramos, Christopher Sullivan, Peter Vermes, Frankie Klopas, John Doyle, Steve Trittschuh and the like. I think that generation was the generation that really pushed us forward and brought us toward 1990 and the qualification of the World Cup in 1990. I think that was my greatest moment, which is back in the black and white days of television. That was a great experience, the most momentous for me. And then as we move forward all the way up into ’94, to be a part of the generation that brought the World Cup to the United States for the first time and only time at this point.”

On the development and increasing popularity of soccer during his career:
“I think for us, leading up to 1994, we started to get growing coverage. When I came up through college – I was in college from ’82-86 – NASL was still around but it went under in ’84, two years into my college ranks. So from ’84 to really 1990, there was sporadic coverage of soccer on a national scale. It was difficult to see games, there was no real support for us no matter where we played outside of St. Louis, which was at that time the hub for the U.S. National Team, right in the center of the country, so to speak. Whenever we played out in California, it was sort of like playing away from home because we typically played a Hispanic team, if not Mexico. The support for them was more than it was for us, the Americans. From that to the progressive stages of ’94, when people started to get wind of what the World Cup really was because it was here on our ground and then pushing forward to 2002, which is Claudio’s team, he was tremendous in that World Cup. I think that generation really identified to the world that we had progressed, that we had moved forward. We had more Americans playing in Europe at that time that came back and played in the World Cup and then pushing forward from there, the coverage that we’ve gotten even to 2010, the most recent World Cup, where they showed on television every World Cup game as opposed to just the American games. It has grown exponentially from the time that I played, which is almost ancient history.”

On the increasing growth of soccer in America:
“I think we’ve turned a corner. With the presence in MLS, I think we’ve turned a corner in regard to 1) the exposure, but also 2) the product that we’re putting on the field, which then feeds into the National Team, where the National Team is not the only product that we’re marketing to the general sports community. We’re marketing MLS, or professional soccer, as well as the exposure of other professional leagues around the world that we have access to. Whereas 10 years ago, we didn’t have that type of access of seeing top matches around the world and thus be able to compare our own professional league to those other top levels. I think that now we have a growing generation of soccer enthusiasts because guys like myself, in terms of my age range, we have kids that came up playing soccer. That resonates within one’s household, and thus we have many, many more soccer enthusiasts because we had many more soccer participants that now translated into being able to view that product that is out there through MLS. It’s sure to continue to grow as a major sport in the country.”

National Soccer Hall of Fame Builder Inductee TONY DICICCO

On the exclusive honor of being inducted as a Builder:
“Unfortunately or fortunately, there isn’t a coach category so I wasn’t sure I was ever going to get voted in because there are great builders and a great list of builders in this year’s group of candidates. I’m delighted that I was recognized not only as a coach, but as somebody who has helped build the sport here in the United States. It means a lot to me because, if you look at the list, when I joined, there were incredible builders in that list and to have only one person each year be inducted is an incredible honor for me and my family and my teams.”

On his time as Women’s National Team head coach from 1994-2000, when he won 103 of 119 games:
“It was a unique group because of how they worked together, how they invited in talented new players that were potentially going to take their position and then how they raised their game so that those young, talented players did not take their position. I think that’s why that group of players played as long as they did. But they also had a much bigger sense of responsibility off the field and they continue to do that as spokeswomen for the game, when you look at players like Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Kristine Lilly, Michelle Akers and Carla Overbeck, and the whole group of them. The truth is I never had a disciplinary issue in the five years that I coached the team. Having coached three years in WPS (Women’s Professional Soccer), and I coached the U-20 Women in 2008 and teams before and after that, that is incredibly unique. It was a team that had one common goal and our motto was ‘Win Forever.’ They showed that and they did it with class. They did it with the way Americans love the sport to be played – any sport to be played – with hard work and flair and exciting play and a find-a-way-to-win type of mentality. From that team, this tradition that our U.S. Women still have emerged. I think the last international game they played (against New Zealand on Feb. 11) they scored two late goals and won. I think that tradition of finding ways to win, and of course we saw that last summer in the World Cup, and coming back at the death in games is something that began with our Women’s National Team in the ’90s and continues today.”

On the 1999 Women’s World Cup win and 1996 Olympic gold medal:
“In both of those situations, we were in residency, so I always looked at it as the journey in residency, building the team and fine-tuning the team and finding the special players that are going to make us better. The nucleus was pretty much in place, but finding those one or two players that were going to help us win. That journey was incredible. It was an everyday thing, we got together and it was wonderful. The other part of it was the event – the event has kind of a life of its own. In the Olympics in ’96, it was incredibly rewarding because we played fantastic soccer.”

On his role in increasing the popularity of women’s soccer in the country:
“My role was to not get in the way of the players. We had great players with great motivation. [Former head coach] Anson Dorrance had set the tone on the mentality of the U.S. Women. I tried to get us to play a little bit differently, different systems, and show some variety. I converted Brandi Chastain, one of the great forwards, into an outside back and Joy Fawcett into an outside back. They became the two best attacking outside defenders in the world for five years and beyond. Even after my time, they were incredible players for the USA. I think I gave us a little bit more sophistication in play, I found some players like Christie Rampone, who now I’m amazed at how good she’s become over the years. I think my biggest contribution was to stay out of the way and let these players have the freedom to do what they do so well on the field, just give them a structure and let them do what they’ve prepared to do for a lifetime. My job was to create the structure for them to play their best and display their signature abilities, and what I tried to do was just piece the puzzle together so that one player’s special skills complimented another player’s special skills and so forth throughout the team.”

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