We old-timers in the soccer community have an annual complaint.
Why are so many soccer legends of our time kept out of the Hall of Fame?
If you’re unfamiliar with the discussion, catch up with my September piece for Soccer America, written after Hope Solo was the latest player to join Kate Markgraf, Jaime Moreno, Steve Cherundolo and Shannon Boxx in that inexplicable limbo-land of non-inductees.
National Soccer Hall of Fame voting system needs a complete overhaul -- here's how
"I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Democracy simply doesn't work," fictitious TV anchor Kent Brockman said on…
In that piece, I suggested a voting overhaul, broadening the pool of voters to include rank-and-file U.S. Soccer members and fans, while emphasizing experience in the media or club management.
The Hall did indeed do an overhaul, not quite along those lines but with a few good innovations:
- The new voting committees will meet to discuss selections, which means voters won’t be able to hide behind total anonymity. The people who’ve gone public with their ballots, like me, have always voted for several people — often the limit of 10. Clearly, a lot of people were turning in blank or idiosyncratic ballots, and the peer pressure of a discussion should force a rethink.
- The committees have been picked with diversity in mind. Women and the women’s soccer media are well represented on the selection committee for Players (the biggest and most-scrutinized pathway into the Hall), though I think women are still underrepresented on the Veteran and Builder committees. Including historians like Tom McCabe, Brian Bunk and Zach Bigalke is a nice nod to the resurgent Society for American Soccer History. (Frankly, I wouldn’t mind if SASH took over the voting process in its entirety.)
The committees will also rotate. I wasn’t selected this year, which means I won’t cast a ballot for the first time in about 15 years, but I’m guessing they needed to hold some people out for future rotations. Some of the selections were perplexing, but a lot of good, knowledgeable people are in the mix.
But the Hall did not address the biggest problem:
It’s still too hard to get in.
Each year’s induction class is limited to some combination of the following:
- 2 Players, 1 Builder, 1 Veteran. (The Hall requires Players to earn 50% of the vote, but it’s unfathomable that they won’t have at least two meeting that criterion.)
- 2 Players, 1 Builder or Veteran. This would happen if either the Builders Committee or the Veterans Committee fails to vote someone in AND the Players Committee doesn’t give 66.7% of its votes to at least three players. That’s possible.
- 3 Players, 1 Builder or Veteran. Same as the last option, but with the three players meeting the 66.7% threshold.
- 3 Players, no Builders or Veterans. If the Builders and Veterans committees turn up their noses at the nominees AND at least three players get 50% of that committee’s votes, the top three are in.
(The Colin Jose Media Award, bestowed upon Andres Cantor in 2010, may or may not be given in a given year.)
That’s simply not enough, especially now that the Hall is including “extended” national teams — Paralympics, beach soccer and futsal.
And the best way to demonstrate it is to pretend I’m on the committee(s) and keep up my annual list of those who deserve to be at an induction ceremony headlined by … Willie Nelson? Wow!
A quick reminder of my vote from last year: Carlos Bocanegra, Shannon Boxx, Lauren Cheney Holiday, Steve Cherundolo, Thierry Henry, Clint Mathis, Jaime Moreno, Kate Sobrero Markgraf, Kelly Smith, Hope Solo.
Bocanegra made it. Mathis, Markgraf and Moreno have joined the logjam of worthy applicants for the Veteran spot, along with Eddie Lewis, Chris Klein, Kristin Luckenbill and Steve Ralston. The other athlete to drop off the list was Smith, who probably didn’t get many votes aside from mine.
So I’m carrying over Boxx, Holiday, Cherundolo, Henry and Solo.
In the new selection process, the Player Screening Committee comes up with 20 players to submit to the Player Voting Committee. To do so, each member ranks deserving candidates 1–20.
Here’s one opinion:
- Hope Solo. The difference between snubbing baseball players for their steroid use and snubbing Solo for her off-field issues is that the steroids directly affected baseball players’ play. Solo slammed the door in the 2008 Olympics, took another gold medal in 2012 and won consecutive Golden Gloves in the 2011 and 2015 World Cups on her own merits.
- Steve Cherundolo. In 2013, U.S. Soccer selected an All-Time Best XI. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan are not yet eligible for the Hall. Everyone else is in — except the “Mayor of Hannover.”
- Christie Pearce. After making her debut in 1833, she played in 47 World Cups and 46 Olympics, winning gold in 65 of those tournaments. (OK, so it’s actually 311 caps between 1997 and 2015. She was captain for the 2008 and 2012 Olympic gold medalists and the 2011 World Cup team.)
- Shannon Boxx. Same question applies to her and Kate Markgraf — how many caps, how many World Cups and how many Olympics have to be on your resume before you’re allowed in the Hall? In her case, she has 195 caps, four World Cup appearances (16 games, four medals), and three Olympic golds. She was named to the Best XI in 2003 and 2011.
- Lauren Cheney Holiday. Another overloaded WNT resume — 133 caps, 2008 Olympic gold, 2011 World Cup runner-up (Best XI), 2012 Olympic gold, 2015 World Cup champion. Equally adept at scoring and setting up goals, she was one of the best players in the first three years of the NWSL.
- Thierry Henry. MLS now has a lot of European legends who’ve come over to play, but has anyone done any better than Henry, who made the Best XI three times in five years?
- Josh McKinney. The numbers for the Paralympian are through the roof — 81 goals in 124 caps over a 19-year career, starting with five goals at age 17 in the 1996 Paralympics, where the team took fourth.
- Frankie Hejduk. His play in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinal run was the international highlight for a dynamic outside back who was among the least ineffective players in the disastrous 1998 World Cup. He also captained the Columbus Crew to the 2008 MLS Cup, occasionally joining supporters to chug beer and sing Columbus Til I Die, all memorialized in song.
- Heather Mitts. You know competition for the Hall is brutal when someone with 137 caps and three Olympic gold medals is this far down the list. She wasn’t just a passenger — her play in the 2008 Olympic final was one of the reasons the USWNT shut out a Brazilian team that had run them off the field (with Mitts out injured) in 2007.
- Aly Wagner. Like Mitts, she lost some years to injuries, but she is one of the best playmakers the USWNT has ever had.
- Cat Reddick Whitehill. Another starter on multiple World Cup/Olympic runs for the USWNT, including Olympic gold in 2004.
- Josh Wolff. Still causing Mexico nightmares. He also won an MLS championship in Chicago’s awesome inaugural year.
- Gavin Sibayan. The high school soccer player moved to Paralympic play after being wounded by IEDs multiple times while serving in Iraq. He made 21 appearances, scoring twice in the third-place game of the 2014 Americas Cup to lift the USPNT to bronze, and was the 2014 U.S. Soccer Athlete with A Disability honoree.
- David Beckham. If you want “fame,” you want Beckham. He didn’t play too badly in MLS, either.
- Oguchi Onyewu. Dominant player in World Cup qualifiers and part of the center-back tandem that led the USMNT to the 2009 Confederations Cup final.
- Pablo Mastroeni. A powerful, skillful midfielder on the 2002 World Cup team and a 16-year MLS star.
- Jeff Cunningham. 134 MLS goals should count for something.
- Carlos Ruiz. 105 MLS goals and an MVP award should count for something.
- Brad Davis. 132 MLS assists should count for something.
- Gregg Berhalter. Another player whose crowning achievement is the 2002 World Cup quarterfinal against Mexico. Went into coaching, apparently.
Veterans: Like Clark Griswold asking to have his boss wrapped up and brought to him in Christmas Vacation, I’d like to have a word with the voters who snubbed Kate Markgraf in all the years she was on the Players ballot. She’d better go in this year from the Veterans committee. Then change the rules to let in Jaime Moreno, Carlos Valderrama and Marco Etcheverry.
Builders: Ideally, this committee would pick no one this year so that we’ll have a chance to get three players in the Hall. But legendary referee Esse Baharmast needs to get in someday.
I see 10 people who have to be in the Hall — Solo, Cherundolo, Pearce, Boxx, Holiday, Markgraf, Moreno, Valderrama, Etcheverry and Baharmast. At some point, voters need to recognize MLS careers just as prior generations recognized NASL careers — if Pele is the Hall, why not El Pibe? If Karl-Heinz Granitza is in the Hall, why not Moreno?
Pearce will get in. I’m optimistic about Markgraf with the revised Veterans committee. I have no idea what the Builders committee will do, so maybe they’ll pass and let us get Cherundolo and Solo in the Hall in the same year.
The conversations won’t get any easier over the next couple of years, with Dempsey, Donovan and Heather O’Reilly due to join the ballot.