History matters. It’s the roadmap to understanding our past, present and future. The only destiny I believe in is that we’re destined to repeat ourselves. What we repeat ought to tell you a lot about who we were, who we are and what we care about.
So what is American soccer? What do we celebrate? What do we value? What do we repeat? And how will that be reflected at the brand-new National Soccer Hall of Fame perched over FC Dallas’ home in Frisco, Texas?
Monday was the deadline for Hall of Fame voters to cast their ballots for the 2019 class of players, veterans and builders. If you want the nitty-gritty details behind the voting process, eligibility and the current pool of candidates, follow the links. Boiled down, every voter gets 10 votes, and players who appear on at least 66.7% of ballots earn election.
I am one of the media voters in the player category. In the spirit of transparency, my 10-player ballot is below. You can pore over the voting totals and inductees from previous years here. Before we get to the particulars, I’d better explain the rationale behind my voting method.
Fewer than two individuals, on average, have been elected from the player category since 2010. That snail’s pace is too slow when there are plenty of worthy candidates. Therefore, my votes went to players who I thought 1) were deserving and 2) had a plausible chance of garnering the two-thirds vote required for induction. In choosing between two deserving players, electability mattered to me.
In my opinion, there are two groups of players who are underrepresented. I decided that, at minimum, half my votes would go to players in the following categories:
- Women. There are 302 total inductees (153 players and veterans). Only 17 are women. Fourteen were voted in as players/veterans. Three were selected as builders. The gender gap has slowly been addressed in recent years, but we’ve got a long way to go given the outsized accomplishments of American women. I hope my votes make it three more in the Hall in 2019.
- Players whose primary accomplishments came in MLS. Plenty of MLS players who doubled as US men’s national team stars are in the Hall, but voters have thus far failed to recognize foreign-born stars as well as Americans whose best work on the club level came almost exclusively in the first division from 1996 to the present. In contrast, there’s a sizable group of stars from the American Soccer League, NASL and various indoor leagues.
I also gave slight priority to players close to aging off the player ballot and moving to the veteran ballot, provided their accomplishments on the field warranted admission. This year, Ben Olsen, Taylor Twellman and Tony Sanneh are in their final year of eligibility. One of the three got my vote.
Your beef/ballot goes in the comments. Just know I agonized over my votes and still feel guilty about leaving a whole host of deserving names off my list. Here we, in alphabetical order.
Bocanegra captained the USMNT for five years, including at the 2010 World Cup. His 110 caps are 10th all-time, and 14 goals (as a defender) rank him 13th in that category. He was the best player in his position in MLS with the Chicago Fire and had a decorated career overseas, one of the best for an American field player.
Bocanegra got 64.52% of the vote in his first year of eligibility. He will, almost certainly, enter the Hall this year.
The Mayor of Hannover has hovered just under 50% of votes in both of his years on the ballot. I’m not sure what half the voters aren’t seeing. He is, by most measures, the top right back in the USMNT history and was a member of three World Cups squads (87 caps).
Perhaps most impressively, Cherundolo played his entire career for Hannover 96 in Germany (15 seasons, 12 in the top flight). He finished his career as club captain and topped the their record books with 302 appearances. He ought to be in the Hall.
My 10th and final vote went to Hejduk. It was a tug of war between Frankie and Clint Mathis, and I am still not sure I made the right choice. Should Mathis miss out in 2019, he’ll have one final shot at the player vote in 2020.
I went with Hejduk because he has more caps (85), played a major role in two World Cup squads (including four starts in 2002 and he would have made 2006 if not for a torn ACL) and two Olympic teams, played overseas (though sparingly) for a very good Bayer Leverkusen team, won an MLS Cup and a trio of Supporters’ Shields and established himself as a club legend with the Columbus Crew.
Hejduk was a happy marriage of USMNT and MLS success for me.
Holiday is just 31 years old. She walked away from the game earlier than most, but her impact on the US women’s national team, WPS and NWSL is unquestioned.
She won two Olympic gold medals, the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, two NWSL championships and was the MVP of the league and top scorer in 2013. Between club and country, her impact was Hall of Fame-worthy in my book.
Lewis falls in the Sanneh category (more on that later): Basically, standout careers that were never quite appreciated the way they should be. For me, it was between Lewis (USMNT, overseas career and MLS) and David Beckham (MLS legacy). Beckham has time should he miss out in 2019. Lewis’ last year of eligibility is next year. His breadth of work is deserving.
Markgraf is the only 1999 Women’s World Cup starter who isn’t yet in the HOF. It’s time. She has 201 caps, a couple Olympic gold medals and the aforementioned historic 1999 triumph on her resume. She got 60.22% of the vote last year. Here’s hoping that number climbs above 66.67% in 2019.
This is the first of two “MLS votes” for me. The man gave 15 years of his life to the league and soccer in this country. He’s one of MLS’s most decorated players: fourth all-time in goals, sixth in assists, made the Best XI five times and owns just about every D.C. United record there is to own (games, goals, assists) by a wide margin. Add in the four MLS Cup championships (and other assorted silverware) and I don’t think there’s any doubt Moreno should be in the Hall.
Just about everything I said about Moreno applies to Ralston, apart from the MLS Cup triumphs. He’s an MLS icon. He played in more than 400 games, sits second all-time in assists and was one of the best attacking players in the league for his 14 seasons as a member of Tampa Bay Mutiny and New England Revolution teams that were powerhouses in their time. His MLS bona fides are elite, and he got 36 games with the US, too. I’m voting for Ralston on the basis of the former.
This is Sanneh’s final year of player eligibility, but I would have voted for the Minnesota soccer legend whether it was his first year or last. I’m frankly surprised by the voter apathy around his candidacy and don’t expect him to be elected, but perhaps the urgency will push voters to take another look.
Sanneh’s career, for both club and country, is wildly underappreciated and began during a limbo period before MLS arrived.
- One of three players to play every minute at the 2002 World Cup, the best finish in USMNT history, and finished with 43 caps
- Won two MLS Cups, a Supporters’ Shield and the U.S. Open Cup as a crucial member of the league’s first dynasty
- Played five seasons in the Bundesliga for Hertha Berlin and FC Nurnberg before returning to MLS to finish his career
- Starred in the A-League, USL First Division and indoor leagues before MLS began in 1996
Injuries robbed Sanneh of some of his prime years, which kept him from eye-popping cap numbers, but in my opinion he’s among the best players this country has ever produced … but he’s unlikely to be elected. I struggled with this one.
The definition of a first-ballot Hall of Famer.