The list of candidates for the U.S. National Socccer Hall of Fame is out with two clear choices and many difficult decisions. Claudio Reyna and Tony Meola are in, no questions asked. Beyond them, the options require serious evaluation.
Voters are allowed to select as many as 10, but only those listed on two-thirds of the ballots cast by current Hall of Famers, select administrators and designated media members will be inducted.
To make the list, in my view, a player needs to meet the “special” threshold. Players such as Greg Vanney, Mike Burns and Tisha Venturini-Hoch had admirable careers, but were they ”special” players worthy of the Hall of Fame? No.
With 31 players on the ballot, a process of immediate elimination (14 players) and inclusion (Meola and Reyna) reduces the list to 15.
For much more and a readers’ poll.....
We’ll start with the top female candidates, Cindy Parlow (158 caps, 75 goals, 35 assists) and Shannon MacMillan (176, 60, 50). Toss aside the caps: Impressive numbers, but the women’s national team was, in the absence of a professional league for many years, a club with a full-time schedule. Both did go on to play in the WUSA.
Their production earns them serious consideration, but were they “special” players? Excellent players, yes. But special? The intangible here is their contribution to American women’s soccer, the world’s most successful female initiative. By my count, only eight of the 137 Hall of Famers (in the players’ category) are women. Now this can be largely attributed to the fact that women’s soccer barely existed until 25 years ago; the history of the men’s game dates back 100 years. And a new generation of female players — as well as one from the original group, Kristine Lilly -- will secure entry in the coming years.
Based on her strike rate (one goal in every two games), Parlow gets my vote.
The next group to assess is the MLS foreign players: Marco Etcheverry, Raul Diaz Arce, Mauricio Cienfuegos, Carlos Valderrama and Peter Nowak. Each meets the “special” criteria for their impact on the field, but none rose through the American system or represented the United States internationally.
Nowak has contributed immensely as an MLS Cup and Olympic coach, but for Hall of Fame purposes, we’re judging him as a player — and having played just four seasons in MLS, we’ll scratch him from the list. Etcheverry deserves the nod over Cienfuegos: Both played eight seasons, but El Diablo had more assists (104-80), won three MLS Cup titles and an MVP award, and was the influential force behind D.C. United’s early dominance. Valderrama was the face (or, rather, the hair) of the league and had 114 assists in seven well-traveled seasons. Diaz Arce was a pure goal-scorer: 82 in six seasons.
Give me Etcheverry for the Hall of Fame.
Next we move to the former MLS players who contributed, to varying degrees, to the national team:
Chris Henderson (12 MLS seasons, 79 caps)
Joe-Max Moore (six years in MLS, 29 goals with three European clubs, including Everton; 100 caps, 24 international goals)
Peter Vermes (seven MLS seasons, two years in Europe, 66 caps)
Jason Kreis (108 goals in 11+ MLS seasons, 1999 MVP, 14 caps)
Ante Razov (114 goals in 13 MLS seasons, 25 caps)
Chris Armas (12 MLS seasons, 66 caps)
Robin Fraser (10 MLS seasons, two-time defender of year, 26 caps)
Roy Lassiter (88 goals in seven MLS seasons, including record 27 in 1996, 30 caps)
You could make a compelling argument for many of them, also keeping in mind Valderrama, Vermes and Nowak will eventually move into the veterans’ category if they aren’t inducted this time. However, this year, I’ll go with just one: Moore.
I’ve set up a readers’ poll for you to pick your favorites. Please go through the entire list and move the names into your order of preference, 1-17.