The annual Soccer Hall of Fame induction ceremony is the place grown adult soccer people come together to cry.
Wherever they hold it. Whoever is inducted. That’s just the way it is. There’s more magic than you would imagine at the event and the emotion flows without the least bit of inhibition.
It was OK if you shed a tear, as many of us did, during Tony Meola’s induction speech. You probably called your mom and dad later that night after hearing Desmond Armstrong address the crowd. And all of us dusted off our fondest soccer memorabilia item thanks to Grahame L. Jones, who used his time at the podium productively.
Read on for the best of the best moments from the 2012 Hall of Fame Induction ceremony at FedEx Field on Wednesday afternoon.
GET OUT OF THE CITY: Hank Steinbrecher, the chair of the Hall of Fame committee told the story of how Armstrong hung up on him when he made the call to give him the news that he’d be inducted. “I know Hank Steinbrecher. This is a joke,” were apparently the words that came out of Armstrong’s mouth. Steinbrecher’s cell was ringing moments later.
HOMECOMING KING: It was a special occasion for 1990 US World Cup member Armstrong, who was born in nearby Washington, D.C. The pride he has for his family was on show, specifically his seven kids who were on hand: “I have a whole team here. Let me clarify, a whole indoor team.”
HUMBLE PIE: Armstrong says that when news came of his induction he wondered “Did I really do anything? … We played during a time when we weren’t really recognized.” He called himself “a great athlete and not so much a great player,” who got turned down about six times in a row for youth national teams as a teen.
DIFFERENT TIMES: This is the generation Armstrong belongs to: He says that when he family moved to Wheaton, Md. they were the first black family in a white neighborhood, revealing in his speech that they moved right next door to a KKK member.
LOW-BUDGET OPERATION: Armstrong gave a snapshot into how times were tough for US national team players in the late 80s. “There were five stops to go from Washington, D.C. to New York because there was no money in the budget. The gear we had back then – for us it was just a white t-shirt with no U.S. soccer emblem. And we used to fight over that stuff … There I am a national team player with a white t-shirt that you can get at Walmart.”
NO CHARLES BARKLEYs HERE: Former US women’s coach Tony DiCicco, who Julie Foudy called the greatest women’s soccer coach in the history of the sport, said that his boys “didn’t have men as role models [growing up]. They had fantastic female athletes.” Unfortunately two of DiCicco’s sons missed the induction ceremony after their car broke down in Goodland, Kan.
SPITTING IMAGE: Anthony DiCicco presented his dad and the resemblance between the two is remarkable. The younger DiCicco told the story of celebrating a world title with the Under-20 women's team in 2008 but his dad instead was up at 4 a.m. with his coaches conducting a video session. “He works his ass off,” DiCicco junior said.
CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE: Who does this at their induciton? DiCicco went out of his way to give credit to his assistant coaches for one of the brilliant coaching moves during his USWNT tenure: subbing in Shannon MacMillan in the 1999 World Cup quarterfinal against Germany. The match took place in the same building as Wednesday’s induction – FedEx Field 13 years before. And it was DiCicco’s assistants who urged him to bring on MacMillan to take a corner kick that Joy Fawcett would head home for the game-winner a minute later. The rest is history.
MISSING REYNA: One 2012 inductee, Claudio Reyna was not present on Wednesday afternoon for personal reasons. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Claudio and his family for sure,” Meola said. He is expected to have a formal ceremony with a future class.
SECOND BEST: Did you know that US national team goalkeeping legend Tony Meola wasn’t the top goalkeeper in his own high school? His childhood friend Sal Rosamilia, who presented him on Wednesday, wore the No. 1 jersey.
TEARS: They were flowing when Meola paid homage to the late Lamar Hunt, who owned the Kansas City team which Meola led to a 2000 MLS Cup title. He struggled to get through these words: “I played for an owner who had a profound effect on myself and everyone in our locker room. He always wanted me not to use his name because it wasn’t about him. I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the impact on my life of the late Mr. Lamar Hunt. He was a gentleman, a role model in every sense of the word and through his actions he taught us all about humility. Thank you for your lessons and for your support, Mr. Hunt. “
MORE TEARS: Meola outdid himself with another story to tug at the heart strings. The subject? His son's Under-15 soccer team he’s been coaching for the last five years: “When I didn’t have a place in the game, there were a few months in my life I wanted nothing more than to walk away [from the sport] … I had an opportunity to coach an 11-year-old boys team, including my son Jonathan. That group of boys gave me more reasons to love this beautiful game than anything that ever existed.”
KUDOS KC: Kansas City supporters received a special mention from Meola. “I especially want to thank the fans of Kansas who supported me for seven years of my life. It’s not easy for a kid from New Jersey to move to Kansas City. I am honored to have shared an MLS Cup and a Lamar Hunt Open Cup with you and I’ll cherish it forever.”
TOAST OF THE TOWN: Reporters always have great stories and Jones, the retired former Los Angeles Times soccer writer who was inducted in the Hall of Fame for his contributions as a writer, told one about Mia Hamm celebrating her 21st birthday during the 1995 Women’s World Cup in Sweden with a glass of champagne at the team hotel. On Jones’s recommendation, his photographer picked up the glass when she abandoned it in the hallway. He still has it 17 years later.
VIRTUAL SOCCER MUSEUM: Jones left us with one final soccer commentary piece to close out his speech. “It would be really nice for US Soccer’s centenary year to have a virtual soccer museum where fans can donate memorabilia or just a photo and build it and find out more about the rich history of this country. There will be 10 to 12 new items every day and there’s a reason to come back to see what’s new. It wouldn’t be expensive. A virtual soccer museum wouldn’t be a bad idea.”