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Center Circle Extra: Harkes Looks Back and Ahead

CHICAGO (April 20, 2005) - Former U.S. internationals Marcelo Balboa, John Harkes and Tab Ramos were elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame on Tuesday (April 19), each gaining entry in their first year on the ballot. The trio of World Cup veterans will formally be inducted into the Hall of Fame in a ceremony Aug. 29 in Oneonta, N.Y.

Harkes, whose career began with the national team in 1987, earned over 90 caps while netting six goals for the United States. A two-time World Cup veteran, Harkes started and played every minute of the six games he appeared in 1990 and 1994. A pioneer who was the first American ever to play in England's famed Wembley Stadium, he was made captain of the U.S. team in 1995, serving for three years.

Harkes sat down with to talk about his playing career and the coaching aspirations he has as he moves into the next stage of his career. On being elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot:
John Harkes: “It’s one of those things you don’t really think about until the end of your career. It’s a dream and an honor to be selected, especially with the number of media members and MLS coaches that have a vote. It is such a fantastic feeling, but as exciting as it is, it is also very humbling to be linked with this group of fantastic players in soccer history in this country.” On being part of the team that qualified for the 1990 World Cup:

JH: “I remember a lot of people wondered if our game was mature enough to go down to Trinidad & Tobago against all odds, pull out a result and be part the team to qualify for the World Cup. It was added pressure, but we were a very competitive group of individuals and we liked to fight for things and we didn’t want it to come easy. I remember going into that game and a lot of the players like team captain Mike Windischmann, Bruce Murray, Tab Ramos and Peter Vermes telling us that we have to do this not just for each other, but for the history of soccer we need to get back to the World Cup. It was such a battle and we stuck together throughout the game.” On what it was like in the locker room after the game:

JH: “We get into the locker room after the game and we’re just absolutely wiped-out, totally exhausted. I think I lost about five pounds that game. It was so hot, the crowd was so noisy, and everyone was wearing red. The support from their fans was phenomenal and that was just incredible to be part of. When I look back on it, I just think about how much we celebrated, but at the same time how much we were in shock of what we just accomplished. It was one of those things where you try to put it into perspective, but you couldn’t because it didn’t hit you until weeks later that we actually qualified for the World Cup.” On having the opportunity to wear the captain’s armband with the Men’s National Team:
JH: “First of all, it’s an absolute honor to be selected to your national team, and then to be given the captain’s armband was something that was really special for me. With that comes heavy responsibility, but for me it was an incredible time because we had such a great group of players that made it easy to be a captain, really. I always tried to bring passion to the field as a captain because you feel that responsibility as a leader to bring that to the guys every single time, even if we’re beaten and we’re down you have to stand up and show that leadership. For me, it was very special and I’m sure every captain will tell you that. Just to wear the crest on your shirt and get that cap is a amazing honor and then to wear the captain’s armband can not be taken lightly.” On playing on the team during the 1990s:
JH: “At the time it was such an important part of soccer history. We didn’t really realize it back then, but we were changing the history books one game at a time. We were able to be part of a unique generation of players that could really do something special. It was exciting. It was exciting to be a part of it and walk out onto the field every day for training. The coaches were fantastic because they believed in us, saw we had the ability and gave us the chance to succeed. It was just a thrill. Looking back on it now, you’ll able to reflect and not only remember how much fun we had, but also the experience that we gained and how during that time we helped put soccer back on the map in this country. To know we helped soccer in the U.S. gain some respect is a nice feeling.” On if there was a moment or game he realized he was playing at the highest level of soccer in the world:
JH: “I think that’s kind of a feeling that gradually builds from one game to the next. When you’re that young, you don’t totally take in what you’re actually doing. But I’d have to say qualifying for the Olympics in the CONCACAF region were the games that really let me know that I was playing at the highest level because that was such a huge competition. Obviously, making my debut for the national team in South Korea (against Egypt) in 1987 was something special. When you get there, you think, ‘oh, my God, look what I’ve done. I’m here now. Now I have to work hard to stay here because there are so many talented players.’ When I look back on it those are the memories that come to mind.” On which of his six goals he scored with the MNT was his favorite:

JH: “You know I’d like to see them all on tape again (laughs). My first goal was against South Korea and I think it was a deflected goal off a guy’s back. Scoring against Italy in the U.S. Cup was a great goal as we tied 1-1 and we ended up winning the inaugural tournament in 1992. I got a goal against Ireland, which was at the time one of the top nations in soccer and scoring so close to home (in Washington, D.C.) was fantastic. There was also one against Mexico in the 4-nil game, which was a special one. It’s hard to pick out one because they were all kind of meaningful.” On whether he was nervous going over as one of the first Americans to play in England:

JH: “Yeah, I was very nervous. It was very intimidating because there wasn’t really any American that had gone on to excel over there, but I thought I had to take a chance after I was able to get a lot of experience playing in the ’90 World Cup. My dad, mom and the rest of my family and friends, including my girlfriend and wife now, Cindy, all supported me. I remember there was a point that I went over there on trial and I didn’t get signed right away. It was a lot of hard work to convince them that I was mentally strong. I think they saw my ability straight away and I earned the respect from the fans and the media there for my playing ability, but for a coach to take a chance on an American was a difficult one. Mentally it was a strong challenge for me to stick it out. I was over there on my own and it was basically just hanging out in the hotels and finding yourself. It was good for me though, it helped me grow up and mature. You had to be thick-skinned and I battled through it. It was great to be accepted, sign the final contract and be the first player to break into the premier league." Talk about your first season:
JH: “What a great season I was able to have the first year, too. I was fortunate to get goal of the year against Peter Shilton two months after signing the contract, and then beat Manchester United in the League Cup Final in ’91 in Wembley Stadium. A lot of players on that team were telling me, 'Harkesy, you can retire now.' And I was like, 'No, I’m just getting started.' It was a fantastic first year for me and it helped me solidify my position over there.” You moved into broadcasting now. Has it been harder than you thought it would be and has being on that end given you a different perspective on the game:

JH: “Since I retired I was able to do MLS Wrap and co-host my own show which was fantastic. I’ve had some experience by doing a show here (in Washington, D.C.) when I came back in the beginning with D.C. United. From there I worked with SkyTV in England as well, so it wasn’t something that was so new to me, but again it was another challenge. I was able to stay close to the game, too. Actually, doing the broadcasting has educated me on who was in the league. You’re learning about the style of teams, you’re watching every single game, you know their roster, and you know their substitution tendencies. It gives you a different perspective on things and it helped me move into my next career, which I really feel passionate about and that’s coaching.” Talk a little bit about your coaching aspirations:

JH: “That’s my passion. I love it. I love being on the field, teaching, learning about each of the players. Through my experiences that I’ve had as a player, I hope I can translate those to coaching. Working with the Under-20s with Sigi Schmid and Dave Dir has been great for me. You feel it in your blood, you feel it in your veins. That’s what I want to do to stay involved in soccer and hopefully down the line I can either coach in the MLS as a head coach or stay within the national team program. I still have a lot to learn and I’m learning things every day, but I’m just thankful for the opportunity to be involved. It’s great.” What do you hope people remember about John Harkes:
JH: “I hope people remember that I was an honest player, that I gave everything that I could, played with my heart and that I love this game so much. I’m very thankful for the career that I’ve had and a lot of people need to be thanked for that. The support I’ve had over the years from the fans, coaches and players has been remarkable. No one player is bigger than the game and no one can have success without help from the people around them. It’s been a fantastic journey for me in terms of a player and now I’m just looking to step into the next role whole-heartedly and bring that passion once again.”