15 Most Important Men and Women in U.S. Soccer History

Kevin Koczwara@kkoczwaraContributor IIIMarch 14, 2012

Sunil Gulati has long been the man behind the curtain for U.S. soccer.
Sunil Gulati has long been the man behind the curtain for U.S. soccer.Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The United States may not have a rich soccer tradition like other countries across the globe. There are no World Cups. There is no Total Football or Tika Taka or Samba or Zidanes. But there is a history, and there are some important people who helped put American soccer where it is today: on the up-and-coming.


Mia Hamm 

The face of the U.S. Women's National Team for so many years, Hamm was a once-in-a-lifetime player who could lead, score goals and inspire. Hamm was an integral member of the U.S.' 1991 and 1999 Women's World Cup sides. In 275 appearances Hamm scored 158 goals.


Julie Foudy

Another member of the Golden Generation in USWNT, Foudy started playing for the Yanks in 1987 and retired from professional soccer in 2004. Foudy was the midfield engine of the 1991 and 1999 World Cup triumphs. Now she's the color commentator for ESPN for USWNT games, continuing to cement her mark on the game.


Kristine Lilly

Five World Cups and 352 caps for the USWNT, Lilly was a staple in the Red, White and Blue. She could play in the midfield or lead the line as a forward, and she did both while other players around her continued to get younger, faster and stronger.

There may never be another Lilly in American soccer history. She had skill, passion, the drive and the work ethic that might never be matched. She was a staple in the national side and a player who helped make the women's team one of the best in the world for so many year.

Michelle Akers was one of the USWNT's best players during its dominance in the 1990's.
Michelle Akers was one of the USWNT's best players during its dominance in the 1990's.Aubrey Washington/Getty Images


Michelle Akers

Two World Cups like Lilly, Hamm and Foudy, Akers was one of the players who put the U.S. women's soccer team at the top of world soccer. One of the focal points of the 1991 and 1999 World Cup-winning sides, Akers scored 105 goals in 153 appearances. In 2004, Akers and Hamm were the only two women players selected to the FIFA 100, the 125 greatest living players.


Bert Patenaude

The first player to score a hat trick in a World Cup, Patenaude scored three times against Paraguay in the U.S. Men's National Team's second game in the 1930 World Cup after scoring a goal against Belgium in the team's opening game. The Fall River, Mass.-born player played eight professional years in the defunct American Soccer League before retiring. 


Brian McBride

Clint Dempsey recently passed McBride as the most prolific American goal scorer in England. McBride scored 33 times for Fulham over four seasons and helped pave the way for other Americans going abroad. Prior to that, he was one of Major League Soccer's top scorers and best players. He also chipped in 30 goals and played in three World Cups for the USMNT over 13 seasons.


Alexi Lalas

The red-headed defender was a standout player for the USMNT during the 1994 World Cup and found himself playing for Padova in Serie A, the first American to play in Italy's top division. He was well-known for his beard and his long, red hair and his no-nonsense defending, but Lalas is also the general manager who brought David Beckham to MLS while in charge of the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Brian McBride (left) was named Fulham's best player in 2005 and 2006.
Brian McBride (left) was named Fulham's best player in 2005 and 2006.Clive Mason/Getty Images


Bora Milutinović

Could the 1994 U.S Men's World Cup team have been as good as it was without Milutinović? Probably not. The Mexican-Serbian coach helped the 1994 USMNT play above and beyond its potential as its undisputed leader. The success of the 1994 team and the 1994 World Cup in the United States led to the formation of Major League Soccer two years later, and Milutinović made that happen by leading a band of unknown players to greater success than anyone expected.


Cobi Jones

The most capped player in American soccer history, Jones has been a leading figure in American soccer since the 1994 World Cup and moving to play for Coventry City in England in 1994. When MLS got started, Jones moved back to the states to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy in 1996, where he was a staple in the team's two-time winning MLS Cup teams.


Sunil Gulati

Elected president of the U.S. Soccer Federation in 2009, Gulati has been the man behind the curtain for U.S. soccer for years. He's served as the vice-president for six years before that and as a major decision maker behind the scenes before that. Gulati has been in the middle of the advancements of U.S. soccer for years, and he looks to be in a position to continue making American soccer grow.


Hugo Perez

Born in Ecuador, Perez moved to the United States as a child and played soccer as a child. He played three full seasons in the North American Soccer League before it folded. He played 73 times for the USMNT, Perez helped the team qualify for the 1990 World Cup for the first time since 1950.


Jeff Agoos

The former USMNT defender, Agoo is now the Technical Director of Competition of Major League Soccer, which he was promoted to in 2011 after working for four years in the New York Red Bulls front office for four years. Before that, Agoo played11 professional seasons, 10 in MLS and one in the fourth tier of the German Bundesliga. Agoo played more than 130 times for the USMNT and was a leader in the team's defense for 10 years.


Claudio Reyna 

The first American to captain a European team, Reyna moved to Germany after the 1994 World Cup to play with Bayer Leverkusen, and he moved to play with VFL Wolfsburg and became the team's captain in his second season with the club.

After moves to Rangers in the Scottish Premier League and then Sunderland and Manchester City in England, Reyna made an impact on all the teams he played on. In 2007, he moved on to play one season in MLS with the New York Red Bulls before retiring.

Captain America, which Reyna was dubbed while playing in England, is now USSF US Youth Soccer Technical Director and leads the initiative to develop the next generation of young American players. 


Bruce Arena

Arena coached the USMNT from 1998 to 2006 and led the team to two World Cups. In 2002, Arena's team reached the quarterfinals before losing to Germany. He helped lead the USMNT to two Gold Cup championships, 2002 and 2005.

The 2006 World Cup wasn't a good showing, as the U.S. finished last in Group E, but Arena left the team on good terms, as he helped push through the next crop of American stars, including Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. He has won three MLS Cups and three Supporters Shields between coaching D.C. United and the Los Angeles Galaxy and been one of the most successful coached in MLS history. 


Charles “Dick” Spalding

Spalding scored America's first international goal in a game against Sweden in 1916. The defender set the ground work for the future of American soccer. Need he have done more to be important?