The National Soccer Hall of Fame: It’s so exclusive, it doesn’t even exist.
That’s not to make light of the Hall’s current plight. It’s a real pity to have so much soccer history stored away in North Carolina warehouses instead of in display cases somewhere. If the Hall can’t have a permanent building, perhaps we can at least build a “Virtual Hall” with all that memorabilia on a good website, then scatter some of it in various soccer facilities across the country. We do have a few people making tremendous efforts to keep the history alive — I bumped into Jack Huckel at Indianapolis, and Roger Allaway regularly posts mini-histories at BigSoccer. The U.S. soccer history movement is reeling, though, not just from the loss of the Hall but the loss of David Wangerin, whose two books are essential reading.
But as with other Halls of Fame, we have elections to honor people of tremendous accomplishment. And all such elections are controversial. Baseball writers, dealing with a decade or so of inflated numbers through drug use, has elected no one to the Hall this year. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally listened to fans (and musicians) and will welcome Rush to Cleveland at long last.
I’ve been a Hall of Famer voter for nearly a decade, and I usually use most of the space on my 10-player ballot. So do most writers who go public with their picks. Yet even with the bar for election lowered from 80% to 66.7% (after people like me whined, and after we had no players inducted in 2008), we’re still electing two or three people per year.
This year, I’d like to offer a challenge. If you have a Hall of Fame ballot, and you’re listing three or fewer people, explain why. Don’t just return a blank ballot and hide out. Tell us why.
In the meantime, let’s go through the annual rite: I’ll list all the players for whom I’m voting, then I’ll guess at which two or three will actually make it …
RETURNING (good data source: Kenn Tomasch’s archive of vote totals)
Last year, I voted for Tony Meola, Claudio Reyna, Marco Etcheverry, Roy Lassiter, Shannon MacMillan, Carlos Valderrama, Joe-Max Moore, Robin Fraser and Jason Kreis. And I hesitated to omit Peter Vermes, Cindy Parlow, Chris Armas and Mauricio Cienfuegos.
The election results: Reyna (96.08%) and Meola (90.20%) got in. That’s it. The rest, in order: Etcheverry, Moore, MacMillan, Valderrama, Parlow, Vermes, Armas, Kreis.
Vermes and Valderrama are no longer on the ballot — they’re up for the veterans committee to consider. That leaves these groups:
– Early MLS international stars (Etcheverry, Cienfuegos). The NASL is represented in the Hall not just by Pele, Beckenbauer and Chinaglia, but also by Willey, Granitza and Child. If Etcheverry and Valderrama don’t make the Hall, it’s going to be impossible to make a case for any foreign player who has played in MLS to date. Including David Beckham. We’ll have to see what the veterans do with Valderrama this year.
– Overshadowed national teamers (Moore, MacMillan, Parlow). Not “the” stars of their national team eras but important players nonetheless. Moore was crucial to several World Cup qualifying campaigns; MacMillan was a supersub who changed the course of vital games for the U.S. women in 1996 and 1999. I left Moore and MacMillan off the ballot a few years ago, but as years go by, I think their accomplishments stand up. I haven’t voted for Parlow, and I hesitate to say that because she’s already teasing me mercilessly about going to Duke and having to be the reporter to ask her about her own goal in the NCAA Tournament one year. Seriously, I’m reconsidering, and I’ll toss it up for discussion: What do you all think of Parlow’s case?
– MLS but not U.S. standouts (Armas, Kreis, Fraser, Lassiter). Ill-timed injuries cost Armas dearly — he was a sure starter before missing out on what turned out to be a great run in 2002. Fraser was one of the best defenders of his MLS years, then in and out of the national team. Kreis is still fifth on the MLS career goal-scoring list, but he never had much of an impact on the national team. I’m at a loss to explain how Lassiter isn’t in the top 10 — maybe the extra publicity from Chris Wondolowski’s pursuit of his scoring record will give him a boost.
I’m once again voting for Etcheverry, Lassiter, MacMillan and Moore. I’ll consider Fraser, Kreis and Parlow.
It’s a small group of nominees: Wade Barrett, Angela Hucles, Ben Olsen, Tony Sanneh and Taylor Twellman.
Olsen and Twellman had injury problems that robbed them of their prime years. Twellman still scored 101 goals in only 174 MLS games, but the Hall hasn’t been forgiving of other members of the league’s 100-goal club who didn’t break through on the World Cup scene. (See Kreis.)
Hucles and Sanneh had solid careers and one spectacular tournament each. Hucles was a defensive midfielder who moved up to forward after Abby Wambach’s injury in 2008 and became a scoring machine to the shock of everyone but Pia Sundhage. Sanneh bumped around between positions and suddenly became a lockdown defender in time for the 2002 World Cup.
I have room on my ballot for at least three of these players, but I’m not sure I see one who stands out. As with MacMillan and Moore, I could be persuaded. That said, next year’s vote is going to be a logjam — as Roger Allaway points out, we’ll be considering Brian McBride, Kristine Lilly, Briana Scurry, Kate Markgraf, Jaime Moreno, Steve Ralston, Clint Mathis and Eddie Lewis. Yikes.
So what will happen this year?
Like Thomas Dooley and Earnie Stewart before him, Etcheverry is overdue, and I sense that people get that. MacMillan has surged from 27.34% in 2008 to around 50% each of the last three years, and this is an ideal year for her to bump up over the threshold. Moore has been steadier in the high 40s and 50s, and he’s probably a little less likely to make it. That leaves us with yet another class of two or possibly three players from the general voting pool.
I’ll also guess that the veterans committee, which tends to elect U.S. national teamers of the early 90s, will continue the trend and elect Peter Vermes.
– If you’re a voter who hasn’t been voting for Etcheverry, can you explain why?
– Out of the MLS-but-not-U.S.-standout group (Fraser, Kreis, Armas, Sanneh, Olsen, Twellman), who would get your vote?
– Is the 2008 gold medal run enough to get Hucles in the Hall?
– Parlow’s World Cup resume: Two Cups, 11 games, four goals — the most meaningful being the first goal in the USA’s 2-0 win over Brazil in the 1999 semis. Overall: 158 caps, 75 goals. Also a decent run in the WUSA with Atlanta. Is that enough?