Twenty-five years ago, Tab Ramos spent his holiday season mulling over a potentially life-altering decision.
At the end of a grueling 38-game season, Tab Ramos and Real Betis had achieved automatic promotion to La Liga by a two-point margin. This was Ramos’ fifth season in Spain and it included a semifinal run in the Copa del Rey.
That summer, Ramos had led the United States Men’s National Team to the Round of 16 in the World Cup on home soil. From his midfield position, he played a crucial role on the team as it captured the attention and affection of the nation with its hard-working, never-say-die underdog mentality.
As part of its bid to host World Cup 1994, U.S. Soccer had committed to launch a first-division domestic league. Major League Soccer was announced as the new league’s name in 1993, and after the World Cup, preparations to launch the league kicked into high gear.
The U.S. Men’s National Team star was at a crossroads. Follow Betis to the first division or return home to build a league for future American soccer players?
“Without established cities, logos, fans or even team names I decided to take a chance on the league in 1995,” Ramos said. “All with the hopes of encouraging other American players to come back home to help get soccer into a faster gear.”
On January 3, 1995 Ramos made his decision official as he joined Major League Soccer as its first player. The New Jersey native would eventually go on to finish his career with 121 appearances for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars from 1996-2002 and three MLS All-Star appearances.
It did not take long before the core of the U.S. Men’s National Team would follow Ramos as Jason Kreis, Eric Wynalda, Jeff Agoos and Alexi Lalas joined MLS for its inaugural season in 1996.
Ramos makes his return to MLS in 2020, this time as the head coach of the Houston Dynamo, and the league bears little resemblance to the one he signed on with 25 years ago. MLS has grown rapidly in the last 25 years and will feature 26 teams this season, with expansion set to take it to 30 teams by 2022.
Coverage of the league is reaching new heights as well. While player signings now are accompanied by photos, videos and graphics, that wasn’t necessarily the case in 1995. Building the league was priority number one, and unfortunately no one thought at the time to capture Ramos’ signing for posterity.
By contrast, the 2020 season will feature an all-time high of 46 network broadcasts windows across four league television partners. The Dynamo will feature on national television six times, including the first match window of the season as Houston will take on the LA Galaxy to BBVA Stadium for Opening Day, presented by BBVA, at 2:30 p.m. CT on Saturday, Feb. 29 in front of a national audience on Univision.
“Although in my dreams I believed that Major League Soccer would lead the way to the future of soccer in the US, I could not have imagined the magnitude of its impact domestically and globally in such relatively short period of time,” Ramos concluded.