Thursday, June 02, 2011

Class of 2011: Bruce Murray

By Clemente Lisi – Bruce Murray has achieved a lot in his career. The former National Team star was a pioneering member of the 1990 World Cup squad who later played in England. This Saturday, Murray will add Hall of Fame inductee to his long list of accomplishments.

“I’m honored to be placed in such a category,” Murray said. “It’s really amazing. I’m really grateful.”

Murray will be inducted during a ceremony prior to the USA-Spain friendly in Foxborough, Mass, alongside National Team alums Cobi Jones, Eddie Pope and Earnie Stewart as well as former National Team coach Bob Gansler.

Only 18 when he made his US debut, Murray was in college when he was called up to start against England in a friendly at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The USA lost 5-0, but for Murray it was the beginning of a stellar career. Murray, who would go on to score 21 times in 86 games for the National Team, credits Paul Caligiuri’s goal that won the game against Trinidad & Tobago to qualify for the 1990 World Cup as the instant that allowed Americans to pursue soccer as a pro career.

“None of us would be playing soccer today,” he said. “That goal was a launching pad for an entire generation and future ones. I played with the older generation alongside Arnie Mausser and with the newer one with Cobi Jones. I was the generation between the young and the old.”

By the time Murray played his last game for the National Team in 1993, he was the all-time leader in both caps and goals. A former college star at Clemson, Murray led the school to two national titles in 1984 and 1987. At Clemson, Murray won the Hermann Trophy as the top men’s soccer player in 1987. Murray is sixth in school history in total points with 142 (48 goals and 46 assists). Despite his personal successes, Murray said qualifying for Italia ’90 remains “the highlight” of his career.

“It has to be. It was a monumental feat,” he said. “We were under a lot of pressure. Bob Gansler went with college players over the old pros of the time. We then faltered and were able to pull it out in the final game. All those factors – including us hosting the 1994 World Cup – were all at play. We showed everyone we were legit and we proved it on the field.”

Murray was an essential part of that 1990 team. He played in all three games during the finals in Italy -- where the young Americans went 0-3 that included just a 1-0 loss to the hosts -- and all 10 Qualifiers. Murray credits Gansler for believing in him throughout that two-year journey.

“It was a different time. I give Bob Gansler much credit for sticking with me and with his game plan,” Murray said. “Now, a coach will pull the plug on a striker if he has one bad game. With me, (Gansler) gave me the confidence and trust to succeed.”

Murray scored the USA’s goal against Austria in its last World Cup game at Italia ‘90, joining Caligiuri as the only American goal scorers. Murray also represented the USA at the 1988 Olympics, 1991 Gold Cup and 1993 Copa America. Murray said winning the Gold Cup at home was important because it was the first time the National Team had won a trophy.

“I remember the crowds were great,” he said. “It was a major morale-booster for us going into the ’94 World Cup. It definitely spilled over for us.”

Murray also credits former US coach Bora Milutinovic with helping the team improve during the early 1990s.

“The reality is that Bora was the kind of guy who studied detail. We’d watch hours of film before a game and he’d find for us what went wrong,” he said. “With him, we started from scratch. I remember our first practice with him. He was showing Eric (Wynalda) and (John) Harkes how to kick a ball and what part of the foot to use. You could see that those guys were not happy. But Bora allowed us to focus on the fundamentals and move forward. We became a better team because of it and our morale grew.”

Morale may have grown, but Murray said he and his teammates never lost their sense of humors despite Milutinovic’s unwavering disciple. Hours before the USA was to play England at US Cup ’93 in Foxborough, Murray recalled a laid-back attitude.

“We had this ongoing card game with a big pot. We played after every team meeting and this was just a few hours before we had to play England,” he said. “Here we are playing cards in Joe Max-Moore’s room at the Needham Sheraton and Bora is going all over the hotel looking for eight players. He was out of his mind. He was screaming, “Preparation! Preparation! Preparation!” We finally got on the team bus, went to the stadium, warmed up before the game, and beat England 2-0. That’s it!”

Murray had been one of several players to sign a contract to play exclusively with the National Team at a time when European clubs weren't banging on the doors of many American players. Murray did get a chance to play overseas at age 27 during the 1993-94 season with Millwall in the English First Division, one rung below the Premiership. A teammate of a young Kasey Keller, Murray made eight appearances and scored three goals as Millwall failed to win promotion.

“I played for coach Mick McCarthy and it was a great pro experience for me,” he recalled. “I got professional exposure over there and I became a better player. I could have stuck around, but I realized it was time to go. My knees were bad and I had suffered a few concussions. It was time to pull the plug. I didn’t want to stick around and become a piñata.”

Murray retired in 1995 and is still involved in the game. A former Harvard assistant coach, he currently coaches at Carolina Elite Soccer Academy in Greenville, SC.

“It keeps me involved with young players and connected to the college game. I would never say that I wouldn’t go back to coaching college, but the role I have now allows me to stay in touch with all college coaches. My goal now is to help future players see where they fit so that they can succeed.”

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