My votes for the Soccer Hall of Fame class of 2008

A soccer player

For the third straight year, I’m honored to be one of the voters for the National Soccer Hall of Fame. I take it very seriously, and have always shared my thought process (both here and in the basically terminal Emerald City Gazette). Whether you agree with my selections or not (and there’s no such thing as unanimity in any hall of fame debate), I’ve tried my best to think them through.

I’ll go through the 35 players on the ballot alphabetically. Some are obvious picks, a great many are obvious pans and a few are on the bubble. Here are my thoughts on everybody and then we’ll regroup at the end and get to the maximum of ten players for whom you’re allowed to vote.

Jeff Agoos: Some are going to remember the guy who couldn’t get out of his own way in Korea (though he played three more seasons in MLS after that), but let us not dwell on that. The guy played ten MLS seasons and won five league titles (and a US Open Cup), garnered 134 caps for the US and was a key part of qualifying for the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. Somehow found time to play indoors as well. I think he’s what you want in an American Hall of Famer. He gets my vote.

Brian Bliss: Very good player, should make a very good head coach. 34 caps and was part of the Breakthrough Boys in 1990. Also played in Germany. Not a Hall of Fame player. This is his last year on the ballot.

Mike Burns: You have to admit, his body of work is impressive. 75 caps (though he only got into two games in France in ’98), 1992 Olympics, seven MLS seasons. Very good player, had a long pro career. Just not a Hall of Famer to me.

Mark Chung: Always liked him, too. Very skilled player. Started his career as an indoor guy (and was CISL Rookie of the Year in 1995). One of the longest-running careers in MLS history (310 total games) and was quiet and classy. A three-time All-Star. Hard for me to leave him off just because I liked his game and his demeanor so much, but this is a crowded ballot and I’m not sure he ever truly stood out enough to have been considered among the all-time greats.

Mauricio Cienfuegos: Was a no-brainer for me the first time he popped up on the ballot, but he only got 24 votes the first year and 35 last time. I must be missing something. I thought the guy was not only an absolutely tremendous player, he was a leader of some great teams. I voted for him automatically, and I’m inclined to again, but his lack of support is troubling.

Troy Dayak: Should go in with Doyle on the first ballot of the NorCal Soccer Hall of Fame, assuming there is one. Indoor, outdoor, he played and played hard. The whole Cowboy persona was colorful. I just don’t think he’s a Hall of Famer.

Raul Diaz Arce: Obviously a very, very good player (aren’t they all?) in MLS, though he bounced around a bit. First three years in the league, he was deadly. Then again, the first three years of MLS, defending was dreadful, so make of that what you will. Not voting for him.

Thomas Dooley: Twice before his name has come up for me, and twice I’ve deferred voting for him (I know that will piss Dan Loney off bigtime). Dooley was obviously a US mainstay at a critical period in the team’s rise. I’ve made him wait these last two years because I felt that, as captain, he should have done more to keep the 1998 team’s trip to France from being such a disaster. Also, his backstabbing of the late Tom Fitzgerald and walking out on the Crew before a playoff series with the MetroStars didn’t sit well with me. Now that I might be ready to cede those points, other players have come up who I just think are better. I’ll put him in the “maybe” pile for further study at the end.

John Doyle: I think he was a fine player, really good defender. Just doesn’t rise to the level of Hall of Famer for me.

Marco Etcheverry: Yeah, I’m voting for him. Truly one of the great players this league has ever seen or is likely to see for a while. Unquestioned leader of those great DC United teams.

Joy Fawcett: Should have been in last year, and nearly was. Should be this year, you’d think. 239 caps, 23 World Cup games, two-time winner. The official bio sheet that came with the ballot said she “played four seasons in the WUSA between 2001 and 2004 for San Diego,” which is even more amazing when you consider the league folded in 2003. She even managed to play for a team that had ceased to exist. I’m guessing it was a pretty good team, even if she was the only one on it.

Danielle Fotopoulos: Whatever happened to her? I thought for sure she was going to be a great, great player for a long time. Had a hard time breaking into that USWNT lineup, only averaging a handful of appearances a year for ten years, but she scored 15 goals in just 29 games for the US (a better strike rate than anyone not named Wambach, Akers or Hamm). Good, solid player. Not a Hall of Famer. Could have been. Just didn’t get the career to match the talent.

Robin Fraser: Only earned 26 caps, so you have to base his candidacy largely on his MLS play, where, as a five-time All-Star, he was absolutely one of the best defenders in the league’s first decade. Is that enough, though? I’m going to put him in the “maybe” category and check back.

Brian Kamler: I looked at his bio just to be sure I wasn’t missing anything. I wasn’t.

Dominic Kinnear: Building a legacy as a coach that may see him get in via that route. As a player, got the most out of his abilities. Always liked him. Can’t vote for him as a Hall of Famer.

Frank Klopas: Frank’s a mate and I always vote for him as an indulgence. But his strike rate at the international level (12 goals in 46 games) is better than everybody who played a decent number of games for the US except Landon Donovan, Eric Wynalda, Brian McBride and Eddie Johnson, so it’s not a completely unreasonable pick. Next year will be his last year of eligibility, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to get nearly enough support. Sorry, Frank. You get my vote, but I don’t think it’ll help.

Manny Lagos: Manny loved the game, no question. Comes from a great soccer family. I’ll have great respect for him for the way he carried himself, and for how he came down from Chicago to the A-League to play a game for the Indiana Blast when we were shorthanded in 1999. But he’s not a Hall of Famer.

Roy Lassiter: Roy’s record 27 goals in the first season of MLS were 31 percent of his career total and he wasn’t a consistent difference-maker after that (for either club or country). Being a malcontent doesn’t hurt you if you’re a truly great player, but it doesn’t help you when you’re on the bubble. He received fewer votes last year (22) than Cindy Parlow (26).

Shannon MacMillan: Another one of the stars of the Golden Era for the USWNT, she was playing some of her best soccer when she suffered a torn ACL that could have cost her a chance at the 2003 Women’s World Cup. It didn’t. She was back in four months from an injury that usually takes a minimum of six to heal. 176 caps and 57 goals (only five women have scored more goals for the US). I’d say she’s a probable pick, so we’ll get back to her.

Pato Margetic: I am glad Pato’s outdoor career was enough to get him on the ballot because I always vote for him for his indoor career. The Magic Man was a great indoor player and he gets my vote, partially as a way for me to stick it to The Man.

Joe-Max Moore: I’ve always liked Joe-Max. Twenty-three goals in 100 appearances for the US (none bigger than the penalty that sent the team through to the 2002 World Cup). Three-time World Cupper (might have made four if he hadn’t blown out his knee and retired in early 2005), played three years in England, two more in Germany and 100 MLS games. Was named on nearly half (48 percent) of the ballots last year. I’ll give him a “maybe” for now and come back to him.

Victor Nogueira: Another indoor legend that I’m glad sneaked onto the ballot for his outdoor work. The Hall doesn’t want to recognize indoor play (though they do mention those accomplishments in the official bios included in the ballot package, so go figure). You have to be an indoor wonk like me to know how truly game-changing this guy was. The greatest goalkeeper of his era indoors (and won an NASL title outdoors in 1984). Plus, he played until he was like 75 years old and, to this day, looks like he’s 35. You bet I’m voting for him.

Peter Nowak: I’ve voted for him before on the strength of his absolute ability as a player (and for what he meant to the Fire teams of 1998-2000). I can understand how, as we get farther and farther away from the last time he was a truly difference-making player for a full season (2001), he’ll get overshadowed. I think he’s one of the very best players ever to play in our little domestic league, but I can see the point of those who say his effective window was pretty short. Rates high on the intangible scale for leadership and class and looks like he’ll have a long coaching career. Not an automatic “yes,” but not an automatic “no,” I’ll put him on the “maybe” list and revisit it at the end.

Oscar Pareja: Only his MLS All-Star selection in 2002 gets him on the ballot. I’m guessing he won’t stay long. Not because he’ll get elected, but because they kick you off if you don’t get enough votes.

Cindy Parlow: She and Venturini-Hoch (and players like them) get hurt by the fact that they had a few teammates who were dominant stars, so they’re overlooked. A three-time Olympian and two-time World Cupper, Parlow had a terrific strike rate (73 goals -fifth-best in USWNT history – in 154 games) she still didn’t garner a lot of support last year. She may have a case as far as being deserving, but it’s tough when there are so many of your contemporaries who did what you did, too, and were flashier about it.

Preki: Yes, please. Some say (not without merit) that if you can’t instantly make up your mind, the player isn’t a Hall of Famer. I don’t know that there’s anyone on this ballot who isn’t as instantly divined as pantheon-worthy as Preki. Indoors, outdoors, club, country, here, there, everywhere. Just a great, great player and I’d be stunned if he didn’t get near-unanimous support.

Mike Sorber: Also a very good player, who earned 67 caps (Seven in qualifying and four in the ’94 World Cup) and played 128 games in MLS. Not a Hall of Famer to me.

Earnie Stewart: Certainly had a long pro career and a distinguished one for the US Nats. Was money in qualifiers. Three-time World Cupper, managed to squeeze in two seasons stateside and won a title in one of them. Sixteen years in Holland. I don’t know how you can not vote for the guy.

Steve Trittschuh: Played in almost every league he could have (APSL, MISL, NPSL, MLS) in this country and in a couple of other countries. Key part of the US team in the run up to Italia ’90. Always liked the way he played. Not enough to vote for him for Oneonta, though.

Carlos Valderrama: The league hasn’t seen anybody like him since he last played in 2002. No, he didn’t play defense. No, he didn’t range too far out of the middle of the field. But, man, was he something to watch. Seven years in the league, three-time All-Star, the first MVP. He was also petulant, had the whole Miami brouhaha on his resume and his teams never won anything. On sheer ability and style, he’s an obvious choice. All things considered, he’s going on the “maybe” list.

Tisha Venturini-Hoch: 132 caps is impressive – until you see how many USWNTers are over 150 (11). Was a very, very good player and one of the Golden Girls. Played all three WUSA seasons. I just don’t think she was one of the all-time greats.

Peter Vermes: When I first thought through his candidacy a couple of years ago, I thought “no.” Then I looked more deeply and found myself drawn to voting for him for the overall quality of his game, his body of work and his reputation. I will give him a tentative “yes” and get back to him at the end.

Roy Wegerle: As a former Rowdie, Wegs has a place in my heart (not as big a place as his brother, Steve), and he was obviously a very good player. Played in the Premiership. Clinched the US’ place in France (yeah, thanks for that, Roy) with a couple of late goals in a qualifier in Canada. Two-time World Cupper for the US, but not a Hall of Famer. Also in his last year on the ballot.

Evan Whitfield: Will do a lot of good in the world in his second life as a lawyer. Smart guy, great guy. Showed flashes of being a really good player. Wasn’t able to stay in the league long enough to really build Hall credentials and never played for the National Team, so there we are.

Richie Williams: Sure had a long career for a guy a lot of people thought couldn’t play. A testament to hard work and intelligence. Will be a longtime coach and a successful one, I’m willing to bet. Just won’t be enshrined in Oneonta.

If you’ve been following along, you see I have eight definites (Agoos, Etcheverry, Fawcett, Klopas, Margetic, Nogueira, Preki, Stewart), 19 nos and eight maybes (Cienfuegos, Dooley, Fraser, MacMillan, Moore, Nowak, Valderrama and Vermes). That gives us seven players for two spots.

I’ve voted for Cienfuegos, Nowak, Valderrama and Vermes before, so, obviously, I think they’re Hall-worthy (they didn’t become lesser players in the last year). Timing becomes an issue, unfortunately, when you can only vote for ten people at a time. None of the seven maybes are in danger of falling off the ballot anytime soon (Dooley is next up, eligible until 2010), so there’s no pressure to get someone on before they slide to the Veteran Ballot.

So it comes down, for me, to “Which two of these players are the most deserving?” All things considered, it’s probably Cienfuegos and Nowak for me. Nowak (shorter career, but led his teams to glory) edges out Valderrama (who had a longer career, but didn’t win anything). Dooley is likely to get in eventually, as are Fraser and MacMillan.

And while I subscribe to the notion that a player either is or isn’t a Hall of Famer from the get-go, the unfortunate truth is that “making them wait,” either consciously or unconsciously, is the final referendum on a player within the context of every Hall of Fame. As much as we’d like it to be pass/fail and for (to make a baseball analogy) Rabbit Maranville to be on equal footing with Babe Ruth because they’re both in Cooperstown, life just ain’t that simple. Add to that the fact that you can only vote for ten players and no more than three are going to be elected in any one year, and you can see the problems that can occur.

So my final, official 2008 ballot reads:

  • Jeff Agoos
  • Mauricio Cienfuegos
  • Marco Etcheverry
  • Joy Fawcett
  • Frank Klopas
  • Pato Margetic
  • Victor Noguiera
  • Peter Nowak
  • Preki
  • Earnie Stewart

You can (and will, I’m sure) argue against the inclusion of Klopas, Margetic and Nogueira, who are on here for my own selfish reasons, and that’s fine. Just let me say this in my defense:

Only two or three people are going to get in anyway (my man Jack Huckel at the Hall reminds me that the rules have been changed and that the top two don’t necessarily get in, that a player must be named on 75 percent of the ballots), and the first two are usually fairly obvious (I think it’s Agoos and Preki this time, maybe Fawcett). In any case, the actual, final voting isn’t going to go ten deep in terms of widespread support (last year’s #10 guy, Cienfuegos, got less than 25% of the vote). Anyone who’s outside the top few is just in that interchangeable mass of players who are really good, but who don’t overwhelm the electorate.

So in a lot of cases, you’re voting for your favorites. Given that there are hundreds of voters (theoretically – only 141 actually cast ballots last year), the cross-section allows for that and I’m not really mucking things up that much by voting for my friend Frank Klopas and for two indoor guys because the Hall and I have a difference of opinion about indoor play.

The Hall also conducts a couple of other elections, which only Hall of Famers can cast ballot for, but I’ll give you my opinions on them anyway. The first is the Veteran Ballot, which includes the following players:

  • Desmond Armstrong
  • Barry Barto
  • George Best
  • Hubert Birkenmeier
  • Teofilo “Nene” Cubillas
  • Steve David
  • Linda Hamilton
  • John Kerr, Jr.
  • Bill McPherson
  • Bruce Murray
  • Glenn “Mooch” Myernick
  • John “Harp” O’Connell
  • Hugo Perez
  • Bob Rigby
  • Kyle Rote, Jr.

I voted for Bruce Murray when he was on the regular ballot, because he was the captain of the team while it was just emerging (as well as its all-time leading scorer at the time of his retirement) and I didn’t want tomorrow’s fans to think US Soccer history started in 1996. I also voted for Linda Hamilton for similar reasons. Myernick is a sentimental choice and there are worse players to vote for. George Best was a great player, but you could argue all day about his actual impact on American soccer. Teofilo Cubillas was an outstanding player as well. Bob Rigby was a great, great goalkeeper for a long time (considering goalkeepers grow on trees now in this country, it’s hard to imagine a time when that wasn’t the case). And while it’s chic to say that Kyle Rote, Jr. wasn’t that great a player, he was a very, very good player who did have quite an impact on the American game. There’s something to be said for the “fame” part of “hall of fame,” and Rote had that in spades. If I could only vote for one of these guys, though, I’d probably go for Steve David, who was a superstar scorer (and an NASL MVP) when nobody paid attention to the NASL (pre-Pele).

Then there’s the Builders Ballot, for those who have made great off-the-field contributions:

  • Bruce Arena
  • Esse Baharmast
  • Chuck Blazer
  • Robert ‘Bob’ Contiguglia
  • Bill Cox
  • Gino D’Ippolito
  • Anson Dorrance
  • Bob Gansler
  • Robert Kraft
  • Frank Longo
  • Joe Machnik
  • Francisco Marcos
  • Fritz Marth
  • Thom Meredith
  • Kevin Payne
  • George Strawbridge

Like his personality or not, Bruce Arena‘s probably a Hall of Famer at some point for his coaching at the college, professional and international levels. As a (football) official, I have great respect for the work of referees and think their accomplishments often go under-respected, so Esse Baharmast wouldn’t be a bad choice. I’m still pissed at Gino D’Ippolito for an offside call in Soccer Bowl ’79, but he did have a very long officiating career. Anson Dorrance‘s coaching accomplishments may be overshadowed by the unseemly allegations made against him. Bob Gansler was definitely a very big influence on the game in this country, as a player and a coach (I’ve heard that some hold Italia ’90 against him, which is ludicrous. Just getting that bunch of mulletted muppets to the World Cup is a major chip in his favor). I don’t know how you can vote for Robert Kraft. I just don’t. Joe Machnik is somebody I quite like, though I know there are many who don’t. Kevin Payne has been one of MLS’ great visionaries since the beginning. And I’ll always be grateful to George Strawbridge for his ownership and vision with my beloved Tampa Bay Rowdies.

But my pick (if I had one) would be Francisco Marcos. I realize that’s not going to be a tremendously popular pick, either, but in the aftermath of the NASL’s demise, when soccer in this country resembled the set of Mad Max, he started a tiny, regional indoor soccer league in his garage. For all of its warts, the USL is still around 22 years later and features more than 100 teams across the country. He epitomizes what American soccer has been in the latter half of the twentieth and first part of the twenty-first century: a survivor, scraping out an existence in the face of incredible odds and meeting resistance at every turn. For perseverance alone, he deserves to be recognized.

I don’t know when I’ll ever make it to Oneonta (you can’t get there from here, I’m told). I’d like to do that and Cooperstown on the same trip sometime, but God knows when that will be. I also don’t know how much longer they’ll keep giving me a ballot, but as long as they do, I’ll keep sharing my thought processes with you. If you’ve made it this far, you deserve some hall of fame-sized recognition yourself.

Kenn Tomasch

Kenn Tomasch