With the ever-growing export of American talent playing soccer overseas, it seems implausible that just 20 years ago, the thought of an American playing in the Premier League or Bundesliga would seem preposterous.
Joe-Max Moore was one of the first Americans to blaze that trail across the pond, opening the door for future Americans to receive the opportunity to play in the biggest and toughest leagues in the world.
But before gracing the rain-soaked fields of Germany and England, the 5-foot-9 striker would begin his playing days under the sunny skies of California. Moore moved out to California when he was 14 and began to get recognition at Mission Viejo High School. He would choose to play his collegiate soccer at UCLA, joining future national team teammates Cobi Jones, Chris Henderson and current Aston Villa goalkeeper, Brad Friedel on the Bruins' 1990 NCAA championship run.
Despite the collection of talent at UCLA, Moore never expected the quartet together on the men's national team.
"When you first play together coming out of high school, you never know where you stand nationally," Moore told YA. "It was great; considering we had a lot of quality players at the same time at UCLA...we had a good group of guys who liked to play hard and trained hard. I had a great time and being able to win [the national title] was a lot of fun."
Moore said that he isn't surprised by the success of his former teammate Friedel, who displayed fantastic goalkeeping attributes early on in college.
"I was blown by his athleticism, his work rate, his desire to be the best," Moore recollects. "I've thought for a long time that he was the top one or two goalkeepers in the world. When you're out training and playing with him, he's so hard to beat. He's deserved everything that's come to him."
Moore decided to forego his final season at UCLA and sign on with the USMNT in 1992. US at the time, the national team acted as a pseudo club in transfer dealings with other clubs around the world. As the team prepared itself for the 1994 World Cup on American shores for the first time, it was decided that the Tulsa-born striker would be loaned to Germany and 2. Bundesliga team FC Saarbrücken
Moore admitted that the change to Germany was tough at first, but a few goals scored helped him immensely in adjusting to the new league and lifestyle.
"I got my professional career really kicked off and started at Saarbrücken, and it was rough, to be honest," admits Moore. "The first six months, nobody seems to really want to welcome you and you have to prove yourself."
"I scored a few goals and was able to do interviews, and all of a sudden, everyone spoke English!"
Moore would end up leading Saarbrücken in goal scoring, tallying 13 times for the second division club in the 1994-95 season. He would spend just one season there, moving on to fellow second division club, FC Nuremberg, the following year. The style of soccer played in Germany suited Moore, as the game flowed through the midfield, instead of long punts up the field.
"Everybody is working very hard as a unit," he said. "We didn't just knock it forward and have me guess which way the [target forward] would flick it on. We had a really good system and kept the ball on the ground...I loved my time in Germany."
The speedy striker would be recalled to these shores and was apart of the 1994 US World Cup squad, one of the youngest players selected by then-head coach Bora Milutinovic.
"I think had to be one of the last players selected on the team," Moore guessed. "I didn't have much experience...I think Bora saw something that he liked and added me to the team."
The three-time World Cup veteran said that the '94 World Cup helped raise the prestige of American soccer abroad, opening the passage for Americans to play soccer overseas.
"Just experience of being on that stage and the way the team performed opened a lot of eyes," the 100-cap Moore commented. "I think, at that point, we earned a lot of respect for what we could do as players...After that, the [American] players were respected and well-received."
"Of course, it's tough in any country, especially Europe, making your mark. Players like Paul Caligiuri, Tab Ramos, Alexi [Lalas], Eric Wynalda, John Harkes...some of the early guys, without question, blazed the trail."
Moore would also be a part of the Americans in the late 90's to walk the trail after his stint in Germany and a four-year tour with Major League Soccer's New England Revolution. The MLS All-Star would have another crack at European soccer, this time with Premier League staples Everton, signing a reported $2.3 million deal with the Toffees in December 1999.
Above all else, the passion and support of the fans in the English enthralled Moore and in his opinion, the level of competition in England trumps any other league in the world, then and now.
"To be honest, the three years at Everton would be the highlight of my career," Moore beamed. "I learned a lot; every stadium you play in is full and they sing for 90 minutes. Without question, it's the best league in the world in my opinion, as far as the quality and the play...You got the best players in the world trying to get into the [Premier League], it's the atmosphere, it's money, it all comes together."
Despite a strong beginning to his career on the blue half of Merseyside, scoring five goals in his first five first-team games for Everton, Moore's chances at Goodison Park would be limited for variety of reasons. Injuries, changes in coaching and overall competition at the club made playing time difficult to come by. After suffering a knee injury at the 2002 World Cup that sidelined him for most of the year, Moore's contract was canceled by mutual consent with Everton in December 2002.
"I really have no regrets," Moore said. "I wish I had gotten a little more of an opportunity as far as minutes. At the end, [former Everton and current Rangers coach] Walter Smith got me in...there's 30 players at the club at 22 or 23 of them are internationals and they're spots for 16 on the field and on the bench."
"Once Walter Smith left, [current Everton coach] David Moyes, who tried to get me on loan at Preston North End, came in. I played 30 minutes for him in a game against Fulham where we were down to 10 men. After that, I never played a minute under David Moyes. It was weird how it finished and not the way I wanted it to, but that's the way it is."
After his time in England, Moore would return to the United States for a final run with the Revolution. His second stint with the Revs would be valuable, particularly for then-teammate Clint Dempsey, who would make his own trek over to England. Moore said he had become admirer of the talented Fulham midfielder and even assisted him on his move to England.
"I love watching Clint play," admitted Moore. "I think he's a great player. Right before he left and went onto Europe, it was [a decision] between Everton and Fulham. He and I talked quite a bit and obviously, he ended up at Fulham. He's scoring a few goals and it does not surprise me."
Moore would hang up his boots for good on January 27, 2005 with the Revolution. Now retired, Moore moved his family back out west, settling in Ladera, California. Moore now makes his living, promoting Mona Vie, a health and energy drink, as well as his own website, joemaxmoore.com.
Still, the game remains close to Moore. He sees the development of American soccer firsthand in his son's soccer training.
"We're getting more experience," he said. "I go to my son's training and I see kids all over the place, stepping on the ball and doing stepovers - stuff that 8-year olds weren't doing years ago."
"We're definitely headed in the right direction."