The View: The fame game
the sign that, yes, new Hall of Famers had been elected. I even got up there early because I expected a massive crowd of pilgrims to be there and I wanted to get a good place for my lawn chair. Alas, empty. No one was there except a family from Albuquerque in their shinguards and some college kid selling "Waldo is My Homeboy" T-shirts.
Luckily, when I got back, the names Marcelo Balboa, John Harkes, and Tab Ramos were scrolling at the bottom of the screen while I watched the U.S. Leafblowing Championships. I determined that the conclave of soccer cardinals had made good decisions.
(Wouldn't it be fun if our presidential elections were like papal elections and every four years the entire country kept a vigilant eye on the White House chimney rather than 20 hours of Wolf Blitzer?)
I have to admit, though, that after yesterday's Hall of Fame announcement that Balboa, Harkes, and Ramos were in, I'm feeling a little bittersweet. I'm happy for them, of course, these guys that I've known for 15 years, watched on TV and in stadiums around the globe, these MLS pioneers who, for a couple of glorious years, I had the honor of competing with.
But there's something wistful in their election to the Hall of Fame, just as there was when Paul Caligiuri and Eric Wynalda were inducted last year. This marks another inch forward toward the end of an era I like to call the Postmodern Era of U.S. soccer. This is my English degree rearing it's ugly head: Joe Gaetjens and the game of their lives belonged to the Romantic Era; Chinaglia, the Cosmos, and the NASL to the Modern Era; and the boys of '94 to the Postmodern Era.
These Postmodernists led U.S. soccer's third wave in the early '90s and then through their efforts in MLS and with overseas teams, carried it into the next millennium. And now, for the most part, they're gone. The few left standing, such as Cobi Jones, Kasey Keller and Jeff Agoos, are pretty much on their last legs.
And that's the other dose of bittersweetness -- being elected to the Hall of Fame is kind of like being put out to pasture. Your career is over. Your glory days are behind you. We thank you for your contributions. Here's a red sport jacket, a very adult garment given to someone who has devoted his life to a kid's game.
Or maybe they've just been put out to stud. (Can you tell I'm getting excited for the Kentucky Derby?) Because they're still going to be producing results within the U.S. soccer world -- Balboa is basically the GM in Colorado, Harkes is on the technical staff at D.C. United, and Ramos is producing future Kearny Scots in New Jersey.
But in reality, they'll be forgotten. And that's how it should be. The irony for U.S. soccer's Postmodernists, who spent their entire professional careers trying to gain recognition from the wide world of sports and become household names, is that their names need to disappear. Why do they need to? Because for their legacy to really take hold, they must fade into the vague past. They must become nameless myths. For this game and league to thrive in the future, guys like Balboa, Harkes, and Ramos, at least as players, must belong to the past.
It will be a great day when a 13-year-old kid in Peoria or Annandale or Haleiwa goes to the Hall of Fame and has no idea who Marcelo Balboa, John Harkes, and Tab Ramos are. By then, his heroes will hopefully be members of the Neo-Postmodernist Era, players like Eddie Gaven or Freddy Adu or Nik Besagno.
But at least the old-timers' names will exist someplace other than in the mind of some sentimental Greek-American fool in Brooklyn, N.Y. Soccer, more than any other sport in the USA, must memorialize the past because, honestly, the future's so bright we gotta wear shades to keep moving forward. Forget the Hollywood heartstring crap. Forget the 10th season video packages. This game has a very real history in this country, and the fact that Balboa, Harkes, and Ramos have now been put out to pasture is testimony to the huge roles they played in that history's most recent chapters.
Gentlemen, I raise a glass of ouzo to you.
Greg Lalas played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution in 1996 and 1997. Send e-mail to Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.