Who belongs in the National Soccer Hall of Fame this year?
It’s been easy in recent times, what with marquee candidates such as Claudio Reyna, Tony Meola, Eddie Pope, Cobi Jones and Earnie Stewart gaining eligibility after exemplary service to club and country.
This time around, Joe-Max Moore is, in my opinion, the only one who passes all criteria. He’s not a slam-dunk candidate like the previously mentioned inductees, a player slightly ahead of his generation who lacked premier status for part of his career. But his broad portfolio is worthy for induction. (More on JMM later.)
As a Hall voter, I am allowed to vote for 10 of the 22 candidates. A player needs to appear on two-thirds of all ballots submitted to gain entry. The USSF will announce the inductees in late February or early March. A formal ceremony will take place later this year.
Who votes? Current and former U.S. men’s and women’s national team coaches; several MLS and NWSL coaches; MLS and NWSL management representatives; MLS Commissioner Don Garber; NWSL Executive Director Cheryl Bailey; U.S. Soccer Secretary General Dan Flynn; U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati; designated reporters; and all of the Hall of Famers.
So let’s begin…..
Four of the top 10 scorers in MLS history are on the ballot: Ante Razov, Jason Kreis, Taylor Twellman and Roy Lassiter. None were prominent national team players, but Twellman, on the ballot for the first time, stands out because he had the highest scoring rate per 90 minutes (.60 on 101 goals in 174 regular season matches) and would have remained a force if not for career-ending head injuries. He appeared in four MLS Cups and, like Kreis, won an MLS MVP trophy. Has there been a more dangerous MLS striker over an extended period than Twellman?
Kreis (108 goals, 74 assists in 305 games) receives bonus points for transitioning into coaching and winning a league title. Lassiter, a 27-goal scorer in 1996, is in his final year of eligibility and, if not chosen, would move into the veteran category.
Next, let’s look at candidates who were longtime pros and served on the U.S. national team:
Moore played in two World Cups, served on a third roster, and went to the 1992 Olympics. He earned 100 caps (tied for 11th in U.S. history), scored five goals in qualifying and 24 overall (fifth best behind Landon Donovan, Eric Wynalda, Clint Dempsey and Brian McBride).
He was in Germany’s second division before Europe became a fashionable destination for U.S. players and later had three years and eight goals with Everton. Moore completed his career quietly in MLS.
Tony Sanneh (first-time on ballot): Played every minute during the improbable run to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals, earned 43 caps, scored in two MLS Cups, played eight years in MLS and five in Germany with Hertha Berlin and Nuremberg. Bonus points: Since retirement, he has traveled the world on behalf of his foundation to assist at-risk children.
Chris Henderson: Winger with 317 MLS regular season appearances over 11 seasons, 79 caps and, at age 19, the youngest member of 1990 U.S. World Cup squad.
Robin Fraser: Center back served in MLS for 10 years and earned five Best XI selections and two defender of the year awards.
Chris Armas: Industrious midfielder with 12 years in MLS and five Best XI teams, plus 66 caps, but was injured before the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.
Ben Olsen (first time): Heart and soul of D.C. United for a decade, Olympian, MLS rookie of the year, 37 caps, World Cup appearance in 2006. Ankle injuries hampered him through much of his career.
John O’Brien: 32 caps and played an important role in the 2002 World Cup success. Eight years with Ajax, but career derailed by injuries.
The trickiest group involves MLS stars from other countries: Marco Etcheverry, Raul Diaz Arce and Mauricio Cienfuegos. If there were an MLS Hall of Fame, they would all be first-ballot entries, no questions asked. But none represented the United States and spent only a portion of their careers here.
Etcheverry (Bolivia) makes the best case, guiding United to three of the first four MLS Cup titles, winning an MVP award and making a lasting imprint on a fledgling league. He was called “El Diablo” and he played with unrelenting fire. Diaz Arce (El Salvador) was a pure finisher in MLS’s early days, recording 64 regular season goals in 82 matches in his first three seasons. He won two titles with United before moving five times and ultimately landing in the lower tiers, then turned to coaching.
Like Diaz Arce, Cienfuegos (El Salvador) drew big crowds everywhere he played and helped build the league’s foundation. The little playmaker, in his last year of eligibility on the player ballot, spent eight years with the Galaxy and won an MLS title.
The top two female candidates are Cindy Parlow and Shannon MacMillan. Parlow, a target forward, notched 75 goals in 158 international matches and won a World Cup and two Olympic championships. MacMillan, the super-sub at the 1999 World Cup, had 60 goals in 176 games and scored in both the 1996 Olympic semifinal and final.
The wild card on the ballot: Victor Nogueira, who played in the NASL for six years but spent the bulk of his career in the indoor leagues, spanning from the mid-1980s through 2004. He was a four-time MVP: two in the MISL and two in the NPSL. The indoor game is not nearly as popular or respected as the outdoor game, but between the collapse of the NASL and launch of MLS, it’s all we had.
As for my picks, the process allows for up to 10 on the ballot. Do 10 belong in the Hall this year? No. For me, the intangibles are special qualities or contributions. In other words, did this player stand out through scoring rates, impact, longevity or heroics on the international stage? Here goes…..
Your picks and opinions are welcome in our comments section…..