The National Soccer Hall of Fame voting process is broken. That’s not news to anyone paying attention.
When Abby Wambach, only the all-time leading international goalscorer at the time of voting, barely cracks 80 percent of the vote, you know something’s not quite right. When she’s the only player from a decorated, diverse, deserving class to get the requisite two-thirds of votes … well, Sports Illustrated’s Brian Straus said it best:
“Something has to change. Because now, the museum constructed to honor and celebrate the best of American soccer risks silencing the very story it’s supposed to tell.”
Something does have to change: the voting process, the voters, the categories (player, veteran, builder), perhaps all three. Sunil Gulati said as much upon joining the Hall as a builder last year, and nobody’s beat this drum harder or longer than Straus. I’m just another voice in the chorus, but I want my 10 votes to mean something. Our soccer history is far richer than the trickle of inductees indicates. Our Hall of Fame doesn’t yet reflect that richness, in volume or variety.
Since I believe every voter’s ballot ought to be public, it’d be hypocritical not to share my own. Nothing about my thought process changed from last year. This year, even more than last, when deciding between two players, I chose the player who I thought had the best chance to get the requisite two-thirds of votes. Almost doesn’t get a bust in Frisco. Electability mattered to me.
So did the two groups of players I believe are underrepresented in the NSHOF. I knew before I even looked at the ballot that, at minimum, half my votes would go to players in the following categories, in order of importance:
- Women. There are 304 total inductees in the Hall (154 players and veterans). Only 18 are women. Fifteen were voted in as players/veterans. Three were selected as builders. We’ve got a long, long way to go to address the massive gender gap that’s exacerbated even further by the outsized accomplishments (four stars, anyone?) of the American women. The resumes and accomplishments speak for themselves.
- 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. There’s precedent here, a sizable group of stars from the American Soccer League, NASL and various indoor leagues who’ve been inducted.
Below are my 10 player votes for 2020. The first seven are repeats from my 2019 ballot, in alphabetical order. The final three are new faces. There were many more deserving candidates I could not include.
Carlos Bocanegra in action for the US men's national team | USA Today Sports Images
- 64.6 percent of votes in 2019 (full voting results for 2019 can be found here)
UCLA Athletics Hall of Famer. Back-to-back MLS Defender of the Year (2002, 2003). Fulham cult hero with nearly 300 games in Europe, in four different countries and three first divisions (England, France, Scotland). Long-time US men’s national team captain who played in two World Cups. That’s as good as it gets for Americans at every level of the sport.
Bocanegra should be in the Hall. There can be no debate about this point. He was five votes short of enshrinement in 2018, his first year of eligibility, and four votes short in 2019. Hopefully, the third time’s the charm.
- 51.7 percent of the vote in 2019
The Mayor of Hannover should be in the Hall, too. His legendary one-club career (370 appearances, most in the Bundesliga) with Hannover 96 ought to be enough on its own. What other American has done anything like it at that level? Add three World Cups to the mix – Cherundolo is arguably the best right back in USMNT history – and I can’t understand how only half the voters see fit to give just one of 10 votes (!!!) to him. Maybe this year?
- 41 percent of the vote in 2019
This vote was between Hejduk and Clint Mathis, who is in his final year of eligibility before graduating to the Veteran ballot. Both are deserving, in my opinion, but my vote went to Hejduk for a second straight year because he’s got a clearer, if still unlikely, path to two-thirds of the votes. "Hey Dude" is a happy marriage of USMNT (two World Cups, including four starts in 2002) and MLS success (Crew legend with a Shield and MLS Cup) for me.
- 30.9 percent of the vote in 2019
She walked away before she turned 30, but my goodness what a decade of sustained excellence. Between UCLA, the US women’s national team and WPS/NWSL, she did more in less time than most do in their entire careers. Holiday 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. Club and country, there are no holes in her case for induction.
- 41.6 percent of the vote in 2019, final year of eligibility
There is one 1999 Women’s World Cup starter for the US who isn’t yet in the NSHOF. It’s Markgraf, and this isn’t a complete-the-set vote in any way, shape or form. She has 201 caps, a couple of Olympic gold medals and the aforementioned historic 1999 triumph on her resume. She might go in as a Builder when it’s all said and done.
She got 60.22 percent of the vote in 2018, then dropped nearly 20 percentage points a year later. This is her final year on the Player ballot. I doubt enough voters will do the right thing.
- 36.5 percent of the vote in 2019, final year of eligibility
Voters ought to be ashamed that they either 1) clearly don’t know anything about Moreno’s career or 2) know what he accomplished and still don’t care to vote in a man who gave 15 insanely productive, collectively excellent years of his life to the game in this country.
The Bolivian is fourth all-time in MLS 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 near-insurmountable margin. Four MLS Cup championships. Four Supporters’ Shields. Two US Open Cups. Moreno is a leading character in MLS’s history.
I don’t hold out much hope that enough voters will recognize what’s right in front of them. It’s a shame.
- 24.2 percent of the vote in 2019, final year of eligibility
Had Ralston and those Revs teams won an MLS Cup or two, maybe he’d catch the eye of voters. But, alas, they didn’t. Still, it shouldn’t matter. There’s no MLS Hall of Fame, so the NSHOF is the only mechanism we’ve got to honor the players who stand atop the professional men’s game in this country. For more than a decade, Ralston was one of the best attacking players in the league. He played more than 400 games and sits second all-time in assists to Landon Donovan.
It's unlikely enough voters will agree with me. We need a new category to honor professional standouts — American and otherwise.
The following players are new to my ballot.
- 42.1 percent of the vote in 2019
If Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and Pele are in, I don’t see how Beckham can be out. He changed Major League Soccer all by himself, both on the field (Designated Player rule, anyone?) and off (helllllllllllo expansion boom times!). His effect on the professional game in the United States will be felt for decades to come, and my bet is he’ll get in either as a Player or Builder thanks to his ownership stake in Inter Miami.
This was also a vote for electability. Beckham deserves it, in my opinion, and I have confidence he can win the wide-scale popularity contest that is the Player vote.
- 42.1 percent of the vote in 2019
We’ve just got to acknowledge the US women’s national team are on a different planet from the men’s program. You have no choice but to create two distinct criteria to judge each side’s international and club resumes.
Boxx’s resume goes something like this: helped lead Notre Dame to their first national championship, nearly retired, but stuck it out in the US and Germany in the years before WUSA, all-WUSA and all-WPS performer, WPS champion with FC Gold Pride, earned more than 200 caps for the USWNT, played in three World Cups, won three Olympic gold medals and finished third in the 2005 FIFA World Player of the Year voting.
Sound like a Hall of Famer to you? Me too.
Hope Solo representing the US women's national team in 2016. | USA Today Sports Images
- First year of eligibility
She was the best goalkeeper in the world for a decade. I’m going to go one step further: Solo is the best the women’s game has ever seen. She should absolutely be a first-ballot inductee and it’ll be just another glaring failure in the voting process if the USWNT standout somehow falls short.