When Greg Vanney was drafted 17th overall out of UCLA by the Los Angeles Galaxy in Major League Soccer's inaugural 1996 college draft, he was just happy to be able to keep playing soccer.
"Coming to this league, early days, at the start of it all, I was just so pleased to have the opportunity to play professional soccer," said Vanney. "It was a dream for many of us my age, my generation, to be able to grow up and to find somewhere to play professional soccer.
"I'm grateful for the league. I believe I am where I am today because of the people who started MLS and the owners who have committed such a great deal of resources to keep this league going and to continue to help this league flourish," added the Toronto FC coach.
Vanney played 11 seasons in MLS, primarily with the Galaxy, and won 36 caps for the U.S. That helped him achieve another dream of playing in Europe, signing on with France's SC Bastia
MLS, which has gone from 10 teams in 1996 to 26 this year, announced Friday it is celebrating its 25th anniversary by naming its top 25 players of all-time -- those "who have achieved the most on the field, drove the narrative off the field and helped lay the foundation or set the course going forward."
Canadians Alphonso Davies, Dwayne De Rosario, Will Johnson and Pat Onstad join Vanney among the 134 finalists for "The 25 Greatest."
They are up against the likes of David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Cobi Jones, Sebastian Giovinco, Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robbie Keane, Wayne Rooney, David Villa, Chris Wondolowski and Bradley Wright-Phillips.
The 25 will be chosen by a voting panel of more than 200 comprised of "MLS greats and emeritus" (former players, coaches, staff), current MLS club staff, media members and broadcast partners.
The league nominated 134 of the "most decorated and impactful players in league history," prioritizing players who accomplished one or more of the following as an MLS player:
-- Received multiple league-wide individual honours such as: Best XI, MVP, Golden Boot, Defender/Goalkeeper of the Year, all-star selections.
-- Won major team trophies such as: MLS Cup, Supporters' Shield, U.S. Open Cup, international club competitions.
-- Made extraordinary off-field contributions or impact.
-- Rank among the all-time leaders in key statistical areas.
The 25 Greatest will be announced -- without ranking -- Dec. 9, three days prior to the MLS Cup final.
The finalists include current Toronto FC players Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Omar Gonzalez as well as former assistant coach Robin Fraser (now Colorado coach).
Former TFC players nominated include De Rosario, Giovinco, Johnson, Edson Buddle, Danny Califf, Jeff Cunningham, Todd Dunivant, Amado Guevara, Drew Moor, Richard Mulrooney, Ronnie O'Brien and Carlos Ruiz as well as former Toronto coach Preki.
Montreal is represented by former players Ignacio Piatti and Donovan Ricketts and Henry, the team's current coach. Davies is joined by fellow former Whitecaps Joe Cannon and Kei Kamara.
De Rosario is the most decorated among Canadians nominated. He won the MLS Cup four times, twice earning MLS Cup MVP honours, and was the 2011 MLS MVP and MLS Golden Boot recipient.
Onstad, currently Columbus' technical director and vice-president of soccer operations, played nine seasons with San Jose, Houston and D.C. United, winning goalkeeper of the year honours twice. He recorded 64 shutouts in 223 career regular-season games.
Johnson is a two-time MLS Cup champion and three-time all-star who won MLS goal of the year honours in 2008. He played for five teams over 13 seasons.
Davies played just three seasons in MLS before moving to Bayern Munich, where he has become one of the league's most famous exports. With Vancouver, he became the third-youngest player in MLS history when, at 15, he signed a homegrown player contract in the middle of the 2016 season. He was named to the 2018 all-star team as a commissioner's pick.
MLS also plans to celebrate the top goal from its first 25 seasons. The league will come up with an initial list of 25 top goals, with the winner to be chosen by fans on MLSsoccer.com.
Voting will run Dec. 14-17, with the winner announced on Dec. 18.
Finalists for MLS' 25 Greatest
Jon Busch, Jorge Campos, Joe Cannon, Brad Friedel, Brad Guzan, Bill Hamid, Kevin Hartman, Tim Howard, Kasey Keller, Tony Meola, Pat Onstad, Troy Perkins, Matt Reis, Donovan Ricketts, Nick Rimando, Luis Robles, Zach Thornton.
Jeff Agoos, Chris Albright, Marcelo Balboa, Wade Barrett, Matt Besler, Carlos Bocanegra, Nat Borchers, Jonathan Bornstein, Bobby Boswell, Danny Califf, Aurelien Collin, Jimmy Conrad, Thomas Dooley, John Doyle, Todd Dunivant, Robin Fraser, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Hedges, Frankie Hejduk, Lubos Kubik, Alexei Lalas, Carlos Llamosa, Chad Marshall, Drew Moor, Jamison Olave, Ike Opara, Michael Parkhurst, Mike Petke, Eddie Pope, Eddie Robinson, Greg Vanney, Peter Vermes.
Tyler Adams, Osvaldo Alonso, Chris Armas, Guillermo Barros Schelotto, DaMarcus Beasley, Kyle Beckerman, David Beckham, Michael Bradley, Brian Carroll, Mark Chung, Mauricio Cienfuegos, Ricardo Clark, Alphonso Davies, Brad Davis, Dwayne De Rosario, Marco Etcheverry, David Ferreira, Eddie Gaven, Christian Gomez, Amado Guevara, John Harkes, Will Johnson, Cobi Jones, Shalrie Joseph, Juninho, Kaka, Chris Klein, Sacha Kljestan, Jeff Larentowicz, Pablo Mastroeni, Dax McCarty, Javier Morales, Richard Mulrooney, Darlington Nagbe, Piotr Nowak, Ronnie O'Brien, Ben Olsen, Preki, Steve Ralston, Tab Ramos, Robbie Rogers, Carlos Valderrama, Diego Valeri, Richie Williams, Kerry Zavagnin, Graham Zusi.
Freddy Adu, Miguel Almiron, Jozy Altidore, Juan Pablo Angel, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Edson Buddle, Jeff Cunningham, Clint Dempsey, Raul Diaz Arce, Landon Donovan, Giovani Dos Santos, Dom Dwyer, Luciano Emilio, Sebastian Giovinco, Thierry Henry, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Stern John, Kei Kamara, Robbie Keane, Jason Kreis, Roy Lassiter, Mike Magee, Josef Martinez, Clint Mathis, Brian McBride, Jaime Moreno, Ignacio Piatti, Alex Pineda Chacon, Ante Razov, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Ruiz, Taylor Twellman, Carlos Vela, David Villa, Josh Wolff, Chris Wondolowski, Bradley Wright-Phillips.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2020.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press