Cobi Jones: First-ballot Hall of Famer

Cobi Jones, the speedy winger who played more international games than any other American, was a no-brainer. So was Eddie Pope. And Dutch-born Earnie Stewart certainly was deserving after missing the cut twice before.

The three former U.S. national team stars head to National Soccer Hall of Fame's Class of 2011, U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday.

Jones (Westlake Village/Westlake HS and UCLA), who spent most of his professional career with the L.A. Galaxy, and Pope were first-ballot selections. Former U.S. star Bruce Murray was voted in by the Hall's veterans committee and former U.S. head coach Bob Gansler made it through the builders category.

Jones, 40, played 164 times for the U.S. and played in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cups. He was with the Galaxy from 1996, Major League Soccer's inaugural season, until his retirement in 2007 and spent three seasons as a Galaxy assistant coach before joining the New York Cosmos in January as associate director of soccer.

Pope, 37, was the finest defender of his generation -- and possibly the finest backliner ever to feature for the U.S. He made 82 international appearances, played in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cups and spent 12 seasons in MLS, with D.C. United, New York and Real Salt Lake.

Stewart, 42, was the son of an American serviceman who married a Dutchwoman and settled in Holland. The attacking midfielder joined the U.S. national team in 1990 and made 101 appearances over 15 years, playing in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cups. He played two seasons (2003-04) with D.C. United and otherwise spent his career in the Netherlands, with VVV Venlo, Willem II and NAC Breda.

Stewart and German-born Thomas Dooley, a 2010 Hall of Fame inductee and also the son of an American servicemen, were the most prominent foreign-born players brought into the national team program as the sport grew rapidly in this country leading up to and following the 1994 World Cup.

Jones was listed on 87 percent of ballots, Pope on 74 percent and Stewart on 71 percent. Full disclosure: I have a vote, and Jones, Pope and Stewart were the first three names on my ballot.

Murray, 45, was the top U.S. scorer with 21 goals before Eric Wynalda and later Landon Donovan set new standards. He played in the 1990 World Cup and played with minor-league U.S. teams and in Switzerland, England and Scotland before retiring in 1995.

The Hungary-born Gansler, 69, was the U.S. coach in Italy in 1990, the Americans' first World Cup in 40 years. He also was head coach of the Kansas City Wizards from 1999 to 2006.

Among those passed over were Chivas USA head coach Robin Fraser and assistant coach Carlos Llamosa, former U.S. national team stars Joe-Max Moore (Irvine/Mission Viejo HS) and John O'Brien (Playa del Rey/Brentwood School), and Galaxy legend Mauricio Cienfuegos.

Induction will take place this summer; details on the ceremony have not been finalized.