Voting is open for the National Soccer Hall of Fame class of 20201Read more about the process and eligibility and all that by clicking here., and I’m once again blessed with a ballot. That means you get to read about who I’m voting for and why, just as you have been for the last decade plus. You may agree or disagree with my choices or rationale, but I believe the responsibility we’re entrusted with is a serious one and demands reflection and transparency.
There are 42 players on this year’s ballot, but one overshadows the rest: Mercurial goalkeeper Hope Solo is one of 14 first-timers, and she’s the one that will no doubt generate the most discussion and debate. (Not because of her accomplishments, but because of her legendary off-the-field issues.)
I’ll leave the Solo discussion ’til the end. First, because I voted for nine players last year (we’re allowed to vote for 10) and Abby Wambach got in2With a ridiculously low vote total. What were you people watching?, I only have two available slots if I vote for everyone else again. (SPOILER ALERT: I’m probably voting for everyone else again.)
Herea are the other 13 players up for consideration for the first time, with my thoughts on each, and more.
- Nat Borchers – Had a professional career to be proud of, with 340 MLS appearances and two MLS Cup wins. Recorded only two caps for the US National Team, which, as we have seen, is big for voters3Only one man – Preki – has been elected since 2004 without at least 81 appearances for the Nats.. I can’t see Nat as a Hall of Famer at any level.
- Jen Buczkowski – Like Lauren Cheney Holiday, retired at 31 after very good college and club careers. Never played for the senior Nats4Which is not necessarily a knock – lots of talented players struggled to break into the USWNT during that period., which means she’s not getting in.
- Conor Casey – Enjoyed a long career in MLS and abroad and had a moment of glory with the US Nats in the game that put us through to the 2010 World Cup, but didn’t rise to the level of a Hall of Famer.
- Brad Davis – Davis had a very good MLS career, especially for the Houston Dynamo. Saw action in 17 games for the National Team, including inclusion in the squad for the 2014 World Cup5Our last appearance to date. Did I say that out loud?. He’s not going to get in.
- Whitney Engen – A solid defender who was in WPS’ Best XI once, but otherwise had an up-and-down club career. She did make 40 appearances for the US Women’s National Team, but was released after the US failed to medal at the 2016 Olympics. She stepped away from the game at age 28 and never returned. Not a Hall of Famer.
- Herculez Gomez – Herc was good player, had an interesting career and was a hard-working, fun player to watch. He had much more goal-scoring success in Mexico than he had in MLS, and only had a brief window of opportunity with the national team. I liked him but won’t be voting for him.
- Clarence Goodson – Tall, but not going to the Hall.
- Mike Magee – A really good MLS career with no national team component means he’s not getting in, but for a brief moment, he was super. (Not only for winning MLS’ MVP in 2013, but for this sick Twitter burn, too.) Did you know he was once traded for someone else on this year’s ballot?
- Justin Mapp – When he first came up in MLS, watching him was both a joy and exasperating. He possessed superb skill, but interspersed moments of seemingly effortless brilliance with times that made you wonder why he couldn’t achieve more with his ability. Still, he managed to play more than 300 MLS games in 15 years, and while his few national team caps (just eight) will keep him out of the Hall, he can be proud of his pro career.
- Jamison Olave – A very good MLS player, he was the kind of strong, solid central defender that can form the spine of a successful team. (He won an MLS Cup, a Supporters’ Shield and, as a coach, the USL Championship title.) Foreign players who get on the ballot as a result of their MLS careers never get a whole lot of ballot support, and Olave will be no exception.
- Robbie Rogers – A skilled player who contributed to some championship teams and was not out of his depth at the international level, Rogers is also known for coming out at a time when that was much harder than it would be today. (And perhaps that’s the point – it’s easier today because of what Rogers and Jason Collins – who came out two months later – did.) He’s not a Hall of Famer, though he is an important figure.
- Carlos Ruiz – Had a terrific international career, which, unfortunately for purposes of this discussion, came for Guatemala. Peaked as an MLS player at age 24, though he played for years after that. It stands to reason that if Jaime Moreno isn’t getting in, Ruiz has no shot.
- Kelly Smith – A fabulous player whose career never reached its potential because of injuries, and admitted struggles with depression and addiction. Starred for England, but not likely to get a lot of support for the American Hall of Fame.
So that’s a “no” on those 13. The rest of the ballot consists of players I’ve discussed before and won’t re-hash, but I will make one concession to the vagaries of voting: this is the final year on the Player Ballot for six individuals, and I’m already voting for three of them (Hejduk, Moreno and Markgraf). I’m going to add Steve Ralston to my ballot this year, even though he’s never garnered more than a third of the vote and even though his national team career wasn’t what he or we hoped. The guy played 411 MLS games (at the time the most in first-division leagues in this country), retired as the league’s all-time assist leader and is a solid Level II Hall of Famer. I don’t expect he’ll get in this year, but there’s always the Veterans Ballot, which has a different set of voters.
Which brings us to Hope Solo.
Without wading into the equal pay dispute6My default position is that I support anyone and everyone in getting as much as they can from their employers. That said, you signed off on a collective bargaining agreement., I’ve long said that many of the accomplishments of US Women’s National Teamers have come in barely competitive money-grab friendlies on US soil. It turns out nearly half of the US team’s games since 2013 (71 of 160, or 44 percent) have been home friendlies7Or send-off tours or victory tours, whatever, they’re put on with only one objective. This wasn’t the case in years past: from 2005-2009, the US played just 40 of 99 games at home. Since coming back from the 2012 Olympics, they’ve played 110 of 169 games on US soil, or 65 percent., and that 90 of Solo’s 202 caps came in home friendlies.
But what she did in games that really mattered – home or away – is impressive. If you subscribe to the notion that the Women’s World Cup and the Olympics are the two most important competitions for the US Women, followed by World Cup8And the two-legged playoff with Italy they needed just to get into the 2011 Women’s World Cup. and Olympic qualifiers, then maybe the Algarve Cup9A tournament so important, the US hasn’t played in it since 2015. and then everything else, take a look at Solo’s performance in Games That Mattered:
|Year||Competition (*USA won)||G||GS||Min||Sh||SOG||Sv||Pct.||GA||Sho||GAA||W||L||T||USAG||Avg.|
|2007||Women’s World Cup||4||4||360||50||18||16||88.9%||2||3||0.50||3||0||1||8||2.00|
|2011||Women’s World Cup||6||6||600||89||36||29||80.6%||6||2||0.90||3||1||2||13||2.17|
|2014||CONCACAF Women’s Championship*||4||4||360||10||1||1||100.0%||0||4||0.00||4||0||0||15||3.75|
|2015||Women’s World Cup*||7||7||630||68||18||15||83.3%||3||5||0.43||6||0||1||14||2.00|
|Major Competitions Only||G||GS||Min||Sh||SOG||Sv||Pct.||GA||Sho||GAA||W||L||T||USAG||Avg.|
|Women’s World Cups||17||17||1590||207||72||60||83.30%||11||10||0.62||12||1||4||35||2.06|
That’s fifty big games, and she won 42 while losing only two (plus two penalty shootouts in three tries), with a 0.52 Goals Against Average and 33 shutouts. The US scored almost three goals a game for her (just over two per game in the World Cup and Olympics), but she didn’t need them all. She was almost as good in just the two major competitions, where the opposition gets tougher and the lights brighter.
In case you’re curious, here’s how the US’ other goalies performed in World Cups, Olympics and qualifiers for both from 2002-2016 (shots and saves data isn’t readily available):
Briana Scurry obviously got the lion’s share of the work, with Nicole Barnhart either playing after qualification was assured or filling in late in 2010 while Solo (who had taken over by then) rehabbed from shoulder surgery. (Still, Barnhart shut out Italy twice in the crucial two-legged playoff to secure the Americans’ passage to the 2011 Women’s World Cup.)
But, still, then-coach Greg Ryan‘s decision to start the 36-year-old Scurry over an in-form and 10 years younger Solo in the semifinals of the 2007 Women’s World Cup, based (apparently) on Scurry’s having beaten the Brazilians twice in two weeks in the Olympics three years prior, was head-scratching then and looks worse knowing what we know now10It was Ryan’s only loss at the helm of the US, and it got him shown the door..
Solo’s club career was not quite as stellar, and injuries and national team commitments keeping her from playing a full season in most of her eight seasons stateside. She did win a Goalkeeper of the Year award (in 2009 in WPS), was second team Best XI in the NWSL in 2014 and played in two championship finals (2014 and 2015, losing both by the odd goal). Here’s what we have on Solo’s club career:
|2005||Oympique Lyonnais||French 1st Division|
|2009||St. Louis Athletica||WPS||17||17||1530||99||84||84.8%||14||8||5||4||8||0.82|
|2010||St. Louis Athletica||WPS||6||6||540||37||29||78.4%||8||2||1||3||1||1.33|
|2012||Seattle Sounders Women||W-League|
|2013||Seattle Reign FC||NWSL||14||14||1260||100||81||81.0%||19||5||7||2||0||1.36|
|2014||Seattle Reign FC||NWSL||20||20||1800||83||65||78.3%||18||13||2||5||5||0.90|
|2015||Seattle Reign FC||NWSL||11||11||990||29||20||69.0%||9||5||2||1||1||0.82|
|2016||Seattle Reign FC||NWSL||8||8||720||26||22||84.6%||5||3||2||3||5||0.63|
Had she not gone off on Ryan in 2007, and had she not accused Boston fans of racism (accusations which were seemingly never resolved) while playing in Women’s Professional Soccer, and had she not been fined and suspended for criticizing the integrity of officials and had she not been arrested for assault (The charges were eventually dismissed, but it wasn’t a good look.), and had she and her husband not made off with a team van in which he was later arrested for suspicion of DUI, and had she not whined about Sweden’s tactics in 2016 and if she hadn’t been told to get out and stay out, and had she not claimed that was in retaliation for her outspokenness on equal pay, this would be a far shorter and less dramatic conversation. Solo would be a pretty obvious first-ballot choice11Which would spark more discussion of why it took four ballots for Scurry to make it., with a ballot percentage that might have approached Mia Hamm‘s current record of 97.16 percent, set in 2007.
But she did all those things. And I’m just curious now how an electorate – almost 20 percent of which found a reason not to vote for Abby Wambach12Whose only transgression appears to have been the Jonestown-like endorsement of Dan Borislow. – will approach Solo’s candidacy.
There’s a thing in hall of fame balloting where voters will sometimes withhold their blessing or make a candidate sit in time-out for a year or a few because of some wrongdoing or slight (real or perceived). I know I (and, apparently, some others) withheld votes from Thomas Dooley because of his undermining of Tom Fitzgerald while both were with Columbus, but Dooley was not as overwhelmingly qualified based on his play as Solo is based on hers13Dooley finally got in on his seventh year on the ballot, with 71 percent of the vote.. I can see a certain percentage of this electorate doing that this time around.
But in this case, it would feel to me like a disservice to the game and its history14As Billy Sparks said to Prince in Purple Rain, “The stage is no place for your personal shit, man!”. Everyone knows the baggage Solo toted along with her immense talent, and that will come up in every conversation and, likely, will be in the first line of her obituary one day. I can’t in good conscience let that get in the way now, when she’s so obviously deserving of induction15Plus, let’s be honest, no one wants to be that guy. and it’s going to happen at some point anyway.
Plus, her induction speech16Assuming we ever have a ceremony, or any public gathering again. will probably be a hoot.
So here’s my final 2020 ballot:
- Carlos Bocanegra
- Shannon Boxx
- Lauren Cheney Holiday
- Steve Cherundolo
- Kevin Hartman
- Frankie Hejduk
- Jaime Moreno
- Steve Ralston
- Kate Sobrero Markgraf
- Hope Solo
As always, your mileage may vary. But, as I said, I take this duty seriously and give it what I feel is the necessary reverence and respect. Part of that is laying out my thought process, and I’ll continue to do that as long as I am fortunate enough to have a ballot.