This is the seventh sixth year I’ve had a vote in the National Soccer Hall of Fame‘s player election, and the seventh sixth year I’ve made my ballot public. Some other voters do, some don’t, and I’m not going to call for transparency for everybody – I just believe in putting my thought processes on the record.
First, here’s the criteria for selection, according to the Hall:
CRITERIA: In order to meet the player eligibility criteria established by the Board of Directors, a player must have met No. 1 and either No. 2 or No. 3 of the following three criteria.
1. A player must have been retired for at least three full calendar years, but for no more than 10 full calendar years (for purposes of the 2011 election, this means that a player must have retired no later than 2007 and no earlier than 2001).
2. A player must have played at least 20 full international games for the United States. This 20-game requirement is reduced to 10 games if the games were prior to 1990.
3. A player must have played at least five seasons in an American first-division professional league and been a postseason league all-star (i.e. MLS Best XI) at least once.
Players who have met either No. 2 or No. 3 but have been retired more than 10 years appear on the Veterans Eligibility List. Players who have failed to be named on at least five percent of the ballots in any election have been removed from this ballot for subsequent elections, but will be added to the Veterans ballot when they have been retired more than 10 years.
Here’s who’s voting (or eligible to):
1. All past and present full Men’s and Women’s National Team coaches
2. All active MLS and WPS coaches with a minimum of four years as a professional head coach at the highest level in the United States
3. MLS and WPS Commissioners and select MLS and WPS management representatives
4. U.S. Soccer President and Secretary General
5. Designated media members
6. Hall of Famers
Last year, 117 voters cast ballots and sent Preki and Thomas Dooley to Oneonta. Or, more precisely, into the netherword of The Hall That Has No Halls At The Moment.
Here’s my personal philosophy on these things: I believe halls of fame should be reserved for the absolute greatest players ever in a given sport or discipline and/or those who had a profound impact. Ideally, inductees would be both, but we take what we can get. Sometimes a preponderance of the evidence makes selecting someone inevitable, even if you didn’t think of them as one of the all-time greats when they were playing. I’m less draconian than I used to be about my standard for “greatest players ever,” for the most part, and while I still believe that you either are a Hall of Famer or you’re not, until they tell us “You get one shot at voting on this person, in or out, and that’s it, choose wisely,” we’ll continue to make some people grow on us over time. Also, because of the condition that we have a period of time in which to vote someone in, you’ll often see voters give a nod to one player over another not because they think the former player is better than the latter necessarily, but because of the numbers game or because you know you’ll have ample time to consider someone later on.
Because the Soccer Hall ballot often includes those who made their fame in other countries before or after their play in the States, I tend to lean a little more towards the “profound impact” side. I’m not into just putting in the best foreign players who happened to spend time in the NASL or MLS because they were truly great players. (I love George Best and he might have been the most talented player ever, but I’m not sure he had a profound impact on American soccer. Some of these are tough calls.) I also lean toward using a vote (we can choose up to 10 players) as a symbolic gesture against injustice or to highlight an under-appreciated period or aspect of the game when possible.
So here’s this year’s list of 25 eligibles (*first year on ballot)
Raul Diaz Arce
I voted “yes” on five of those folks last year (Cienfuegos, Etcheverry, Fraser, Noguiera and Stewart), so I could vote for them again and just add five more people or I could look at each person individually again just to make sure I haven’t missed anything or if the passage of time (it’s been sixteen months since we last did this) has brought any new information or perspective. As 1s and 0s are cheap, you know which way I’m going.
Chris Armas: Will Armas’ Hall-worthiness be as hotly debated as his worth as a player was during his career? It’ll be interesting to see. I’ll say this: Chris Armas was a terrific player and an even better person. Unfailingly polite and magnanimous, his demeanor may have overshadowed his outstanding play despite less-than-stellar physical attributes (he was only 5-7 and 150 pounds). A five-time choice for MLS’ Best XI, he won one MLS Cup (1998 with Chicago), three US Open Cup titles, two CONCACAF Gold Cups and a USISL Pro League championship (with Long Island in 1995). My man Peter Wilt will tell you Armas was the guy he really wanted in the deal that shipped Kevin Hartman and Danny Pena to LA for Armas and Jorge Campos. Had Armas not been injured on the eve of the 2002 World Cup team’s departure for South Korea, who knows how he would have impacted that team and, by extension, history? He did play 66 times for the US, including 19 World Cup qualifiers in the run-ups to Korea and Germany but injuries kept him out of both big shows. I have to give him a YES.
Mike Burns: 208 words above on Chris Armas are balanced out by seven on Mike Burns: fine player; not a Hall of Famer. NO.
Mauricio Cienfuegos: I’ve voted for him before, and will continue to do so. A great, great player at a time when MLS needed exciting guys to watch. Great contributor to some excellent Galaxy teams. His support seems to be tailing off, though, as he got 30% of the vote in 2006 and only 25% in 2007, the last time he finished in the top 10. I don’t think it’s going to happen for him. YES.
Raul Diaz Arce: I mistakenly voted for him two years ago, the first and only year we could vote online. Was a very, very good player. I don’t think he’s quite there. NO.
Marco Etcheverry: For greatness and contributions to MLS’ first dynasty, I have to vote for El Diablo, as I have for several years now. He’s hovered around 50% of the votes the last several years, so his window may be closing. YES.
Robin Fraser: Hey, I think he was a great defender, and those guys are under-appreciated. Had the misfortune of a third of his career coming prior to MLS’ formation, but he was a star in the A-League, too. I voted for him last year and say YES again this time.
Chris Henderson: There aren’t a lot of players I liked and admired more than Chris Henderson. His work rate was fantastic, he’s one of a handful of guys to play more than 300 games in MLS, he won a ring with the Wizards in 2000 and was on the 1990 US World Cup team (though he couldn’t crack a World Cup squad the rest of his career). I really, really loved watching him play. But I can’t imagine calling him one of the all-time greats. NO.
Cobi Jones: This one’s pretty easy for me, though I’m sure there will be those who debate it. No one has more caps for the US Men’s team (164 in 12 years). He played in three of the biggest US victories of all time (vs. Colombia in ’94 and Portugal and Mexico in ’02). His club career included stints in the first divisions in England and Brazil before he became an MLS original. 351 regular-season and playoff games, two MLS Cup titles, two US Open Cup titles and a CONCACAF Champions Cup title later, he’s a no-question Hall of Famer to me. YES.
Jason Kreis: I have to admit, I never thought of him as an all-time great while he was playing, but he was MLS’ first American-born MVP and retired as its all-time leading goal scorer, so it’s hard not to vote for him on that basis. Had his international career been more robust, there wouldn’t be much ambivalence about him, I feel. Under-appreciated from the get-go (he was only a fifth-round pick by Dallas in ’96), he nonetheless earned great respect from his teammates, captained the Burn/Hoops and outworked and outlasted a lot of guys while playing 327 regular-season and playoff games for Dallas and Salt Lake (winning the ’97 Open Cup with the Burn). His sudden retirement to become a coach was looked at as a curious move at the time (but which has seemed to pay off, no?). Only played 14 times for the USA, with just one goal (against Jamaica in 1999). If I’m going to go on and on about MLS’ Euro-centrism, I can’t very well not vote for an American-born goal scorer who stayed in the league to coach and is red, white and blue through and through. So, YES.
Roy Lassiter: Was not a great player. Had a great year feasting on first-year MLS defenses. Good Nike commercial (which I wish I could find online). Not a hall of famer. NO.
Carlos Llamosa: Of course you know he was working as a janitor (but on his lunch break) at the World Trade Center on February 26, 1993 when it was bombed by terrorists. His route to playing on these shores after growing up in Colombia was a circuitous one, but his credentials are actually fairly impressive, with two MLS titles in nine seasons and 29 caps for the US (including the 2002 wins over Portugal and Mexico in South Korea) after being naturalized. Was a very good, steady player who deserves your applause but won’t get my vote. NO.
Shannon McMillan: Terrific player. I have said I think she’ll get in eventually, and she’s been picking up support in the last few elections, going from 27% to 32% to 54% last year. In her 176 caps for the US, she was involved in some big goals (scoring against North Korea and helping set up the winner against Germany in the ’99 World Cup, beating Norway in the Olympic semis in ’96 and scoring against China in the final) despite not being a regular starter much of the time. Her pro career included all three years of the WUSA plus a year in Japan and one in the WPSL. She’s one of five women on this ballot and the best player among them, so I am inclined to say YES.
Joe-Max Moore: I’ve said before I love Joe-Max. His goal against Jamaica in 2001 was critical in so many ways to soccer in this country, ways that aren’t even understood by everybody (my man Jack Edwards was prescient in that regard). His national team career lasted 11 years and 100 games and his club career prior to his body breaking down was very, very good. It’s close (he’s been hovering around 50% of the vote the last four years), but I’m not sure he’s quite at hall of fame level. NO.
Victor Nogueira: Here’s one of those, “Wait, you’re going to say Victor Nogueira is a Hall of Famer and Joe-Max Moore isn’t?” type of deals. Here’s why I’m voting for Noguiera, as I have as long as he’s been on the ballot and will continue to as long as he is on the ballot: I feel indoor soccer is an integral part of the history of the game in this country and I believe the Hall is undeservedly dismissive of it. My man Jack Huckel tells me it’s been discussed over the years, but that indoor hasn’t gained traction among the powers that be (or powers that were…are there any powers left? There’s no building left.) in terms of being recognized on its own merits. Nogueira only remains on the ballot because he was on it when the criteria was changed in 2008 (he doesn’t qualify under the new criteria) and that’s just wrong. He was one of the greatest soccer players ever in this country – the fact most of his success came indoors shouldn’t disqualify him. He was a four-time league MVP, was goalkeeper of the year in his league 11 times – the last at age 43! – and played until he was 45, retiring with eight championships. Voting for him (as I did for Pato Margetic) is my personal protest against the Hall’s policy with regard to indoor soccer. I know I’m tilting at windmills, I get that. But as long as we’re allowed 10 votes, if I want to use one of them in a symbolic gesture, I will. (As an aside, there’s a slowly-building movement to create an Indoor Soccer Hall of Fame, and it looks like I’ll be one of the voters for that, too, if it ever comes to pass. Then you won’t have to read about my protest votes anymore.) YES.
Peter Nowak: Fantastic player for a short time. Absolutely one of the greatest talents to ever play in Major League Soccer. Has had success (and controversy) as a coach. Captained the Chicago Fire to domestic success from the outset and was still impactful enough to be considered a potential MLS MVP in 2001 despite only playing a half-season. Outstanding overall playing career and his overall contributions to the sport have yet to be written in stone because he’s still coaching. That said (and this will bring the annual rebuttal from kropolski), I don’t believe he played long enough to have a Hall of Fame-type impact here, and the voters apparently agree: he’s received 25%, 28% and <30% of the vote recently (we don’t know, exactly, he’s not been in the top ten the last three years). Had he been able to play longer, maybe. But for now, NO.
John O’Brien: We’ll always have Suwon. NO.
Cindy Parlow: She was a good player. Not a Hall of Fame player. NO.
Eddie Pope: Given Pope’s propensity for not saying much, I’ll keep this brief: He’s simply one of the best we’ve ever had and gets an emphatic YES.
Tiffany Roberts: A very, very good, solid player. Not a Hall of Famer. NO.
Danielle Slaton: Injuries shortened her career when it seemed she was on the verge of becoming one of the best in the game. She was done as a player by age 27. Will be a successful coach. Won’t be in the Hall. NO.
Earnie Stewart: Voted for him last year, when he finished third with 58% of the vote. 101 caps, 30 World Cup qualifiers, a long career overseas before coming home to finish up with DC United. A big YES.
Steve Trittschuh: I quite like Steve Trittschuh. Not enough to vote for him for the Hall, though. NO.
Carlos Valderrama: I have voted for him in the past, and he was absolutely one of the greatest talents ever on an MLS field. Had a longer MLS career (though less accomplished team-wise) than Nowak and was magic to watch, but I’m not sure he had much of a true impact. So, NO.
Tisha Venturini-Hoch: A hard-working, largely overlooked cog in the machine that was the US Women’s National Team from 1995-1999. She played in all six games of the 1995 Women’s World Cup and all five Olympic matches the next year, and scored a pair of goals in the ’99 Women’s World Cup. Regardless of whether she’s overlooked because so many of her teammates from that era were fantastic players, she’s good but not Hall of Fame-worthy. NO.
Peter Vermes: I’ve given him a vote before when there weren’t 10 guys more impressive than him and around 30-40% of the voters have agreed over the last several years. I don’t think there’s much momentum for him, nor is there much evidence that makes him a really compelling Hall of Famer. NO.
So here’s my final ballot, then: Chris Armas, Mauricio Cienfuegos, Marco Etcheverry, Robin Fraser, Cobi Jones, Jason Kreis, Shannon MacMillan, Victor Nogueira, Eddie Pope and Earnie Stewart. I don’t see any huge injustices among the 15 players I had to leave off, but perhaps you do.
A player must receive 66.7% of the vote to be elected. Of the holdovers on this year’s ballot, Etcheverry (53%), Stewart (47%) and Moore (47%) have historically received the most support. With Jones virtually a lock and Kreis and Pope almost certain to get significant support, though, I’m not sure any of those three will be elected this year.