One man, one ballot: my 2006 votes for the Soccer Hall of Fame

Voting

This originally ran in the April 2006 issue of the Emerald City Gazette, and is reprinted here without permission, because I wrote the damn thing. Some footnotes have been added well after the fact to provide some context or updates as necessary.

I became a National Soccer Hall of Fame voter this year (through some unfortunate clerical error, I imagine). This means I’m one of just over 100 folks who get to decide who’ll be inducted into the shrine in Oneonta, New York (motto: “Slightly Harder to Get To Than Cooperstown”) this August. Because the Soccer Hall, like the sport it honors, is probably one of the least-recognized in our sporting culture, I thought I’d give you a little insight into the nomination/election process and the thought process of a voter.

The Hall’s eligibility rules say an eligible player must have been retired for at least three, but no more than ten, years and must either have played 20 full international games for the United States (10 if they were prior to 1990) or played at least five seasons in an American first-division pro league, with a league or US Open Cup title or league all-star recognition at least once. The top two vote-getters (or three, if the third gets at least 80 percent of the vote) earn induction. There are other ways to get in (through the Veterans Committee or as a Builder), but here we’ll deal strictly with the garden-variety ballot that went out in early March.

There are 56 players on the 2006 ballot. As I went through it, I found I could safely and easily eliminate around two-thirds (39, to be exact), that a small number were automatic in my mind, and that a few others went into a “maybe – let’s examine further” list. From there, I had to make a decision as to which ten players would be on the final ballot I’d turn in to Jack Huckel, the Hall’s Director of Museum and Archives.

The 56 names are listed alphabetically, so I’ll run them down that way and give you my thoughts on each of them. Then we’ll deal with the “maybes” and reveal my final ballot at the end.

  • Desmond Armstrong – A solid defender with 81 caps for the USA from 1987-1994. Suffers a bit from the fact his international career came before the US became a major player on the world stage and before most of its games were readily available on television. He also played three MISL seasons and five pro outdoor seasons. By all accounts, he’s a good guy and this is his last year on the primary ballot. I’m willing to put him in the “maybe” category for more study later.
  • Geoff Aunger – A Canadian defender who was a part of DC’s early dynasty in MLS, he also played for New England and Colorado, as well as in the A-League in his native Vancouver. He received no votes last year, and he’ll likely continue to receive no votes until he comes off the ballot after the 2011 election. He’s not getting mine.
  • Brian Bliss – A hardworking, intelligent player who’s likely to be a head coach in MLS before too long1As it turned out, he did three stints as an interim coach in MLS., Bliss the player picked up nearly a third of his 34 US caps in the run-up to World Cup 1990. He also played six seasons in Germany, three years in MLS, two more in the APSL and one in the MISL before retiring in 1998. I don’t think he’s a Hall of Famer.
  • Paul Bravo – I always liked Paul Bravo as a player. He had an MLS-career high of 13 goals for San Jose in the league’s inaugural season, then tallied 11 for Colorado two years later. He also won a US Open Cup title in 1994 with the San Francisco Greek-Americans after starring for the APSL’s San Francisco Bay Blackhawks. One of those guys who was pretty good at the pro level, and just good enough to get a handful (four) of caps for the US, he’s also not a Hall of Famer to me.
  • Mike Burns – Got some support last year, finishing tied for 13th in the balloting with 22 votes. Was a regular for the Nats between the 1994 and 1998 World Cups and played 169 games in MLS in seven seasons. As he was an automatic choice for the US (75 caps) when the team was starting to make its mark, he did enough to at least earn further study, so he goes on the “maybe” list.
  • Jeff Causey – On the ballot solely because he played enough years in MLS and won a US Open Cup title (with Richmond in 1995). Get used to seeing his name, as he’s on the list until 2011, but like last year, don’t look for much, if any support from the voters. Was only a regular one year (2000 with New England, when he started 21 times) and had a 34-44-8 record in MLS.
  • Mauricio Cienfuegos – The first really obvious choice. The Salvadoran midfielder was one of the great playmakers in MLS history and was the heart and soul of the Galaxy teams that went to four MLS Cup finals, finally winning in 2002. I can’t see how he doesn’t make it this year2As it turned out, he never did..
  • Mike Clark – Going into the 2006 season, Clark is tenth on the all-time list of regular-season games played in MLS. A solid, hard-working defender who embodied what Columbus’ self-styled blue-collar persona was all about, he just wasn’t a star or quite good enough to be considered a Hall of Famer.
  • Thomas Dooley – Finished fourth in the balloting last year, and will likely garner a significant number of votes this year. Mine won’t be one of them. Even though he played more games for the US than Burns (81) and played in two World Cups, I can’t even put him in the “maybe” category this time around, as I did with Burns. Besides his captaining the shipwreck that was the 1998 US World Cup team, his backstabbing of the late Tom Fitzgerald and walking out on the Crew before their final playoff game in 1999 mean I can’t in good conscience vote for him. I’m sure others will, though3Dooley did eventually get in, on his final try, in 2010..
  • John Doyle – Should absolutely be in the Northern California Soccer Hall of Fame, if there is one. I don’t think he makes the cut for the one in upstate New York, though.
  • Tracy Ducar – Not a regular for the US + not a regular in WUSA = not on my ballot.
  • Ted Eck – Good indoor player. Decent enough outdoor player to get 13 caps for the US. Not a Hall of Fame-caliber player.
  • Eric Eichmann – This will be his last year on the ballot. Not because he’ll get elected, but because they eventually take you off.
  • Richard Farrer – One of the all-time steals in MLS Draft history, he was the 113th player taken in 1996 and was still playing six years later. Should be honored in Dallas, where he played his entire MLS career (he had also played four USISL seasons and one each in South Africa and England). Can’t vote for him for Oneonta.
  • Adam Frye – A good college player and an MLS original, he had one season (2001) as a regular in the league. That’s not going to get you into the Hall.
  • Wendy Gebauer – Helped the US get to and win the first Women’s World Cup in 1991, and kept playing until 2000. She also made a 17-minute appearance for the (men’s) Raleigh Capital Express of the A-League against the Boston Bulldogs in 1999. Later became a television commentator, teaming with JP Dellacamera on WUSA telecasts, where I thought she did a decent job. As I think the women are under-represented in the Hall, I decided to put Gebauer on the “maybe” list and examine her career in more detail later.
  • Mario Gori – Some buddies of mine and I liked to go to Crew games when Mario was playing there and we took a liking too him for reasons that remain unclear. We would yell “Mario!” at him, and he would always look up and smile and wave. If that’s the best I can do on the guy, do you think I’m voting for him? Oddly enough, someone did last year.
  • Mary Harvey – Yeah, she belongs. The sad part is, this is her last year on the ballot and she received less than 20 percent of the vote last year, so I don’t think it’s looking good for her. But she was one of the absolute key players in the US’ 1991 Women’s World Cup win, recording three shutouts in six games after being a late addition to the roster. She was one of the first American women to play professionally overseas (in Germany and Sweden) and was on the gold-medal winning 1996 Olympic Team. I like pioneers. Mary Harvey was a pioneer and an excellent player and I’m voting for her.
  • Zak Ibsen – Amazingly, has more championship rings (1998 US Open Cup with Chicago and 2001 MLS Cup with San Jose) than he got votes last year (0). That 2001 ‘Quakes team was the only one he ever started more than half of the time for. Somehow managed 15 caps with the US.
  • Mo Johnston – I like Mo. We have mutual friends who say he’s a great guy. I believe it. His international career is impressive, with 37 caps for Scotland (including three at the 1990 World Cup) and the distinction of being the first player ever to appear for both Rangers and Celtic. On these shores, though, he was a forward who only scored more than six goals in a season once (with 11 in 1998) and he deserves a place in the heart of Kansas City Wizards fans for helping them win MLS Cup 2000. I’m not sure he’s a Hall of Famer, but I’ll put him on the “maybe” list for now.
  • Debbie Keller – Let’s take the lawsuit out of play for a minute – she could play. She was a terrific high school player, a terrific college player and did well for the USWNT before a foot injury left her behind as the Golden Girls were gaining steam. A key part of the 1995 Women’s World Cup team, Keller came off the bench to score the goal that clinched the group for the US. The last time I saw her was with Rockford of the W-League in 1998. Maybe she could have been a great player, but her timing was off and then the lawsuit pretty much blew everything up. Let’s call her a “maybe” for now.
  • John Kerr, Jr. – Perhaps better known by today’s generation for his role in the MLS players’ infamous lawsuit against the league, he had a pro outdoor career on both sides of the Atlantic. He’s only on this list because most of his 16 caps for the US came in the mid-1980s. This will be his next-to-last year on the ballot, and I wouldn’t expect him to get significantly more support than last year (when he received four votes).
  • Dominic Kinnear – His international career fits in-between World Cups, as he debuted for the US in November of 1990 and got his last cap right before the 1994 event. Had a solid MLS career and is well on his way to leaving a greater legacy as a coach than he did as a player. But I’ll put him as a “maybe” for meritorious service for now.
  • Frank Klopas – Okay, I have to admit there’s some bias at work here, but not a lot. Klopas coaches the MISL’s Chicago Storm, the team for which I’ve broadcast games the last two seasons. But he had a fine career in this, his adopted country. Signed right out of high school by the NASL’s Chicago Sting, he broke his leg and never played outdoors for the club. He was a force for the Sting indoors, though, before returning to his native Greece to play for AEK Athens and Apollon. When MLS was formed, he returned stateside (the “matinee idol” – type photos of him in the early Kansas City Wizards guides are classic) and brought his career full circle by playing for the Chicago Fire in their first two years. He scored his 12 international goals in just 46 appearances, which is still one of the better strike rates in USMNT history. His overtime goal gave the Fire the 1998 US Open Cup title. Now he’s back in Chicago as a coach. I’ll move him to the “maybe” list for now, though I’m leaning towards him.
  • Jena Kleugel – A terrific athlete, Kleugel was all-state as a cross-country runner in addition to being a three-time All-American in soccer in high school, before she even got to North Carolina where she starred for the Tar Heels. Somehow only recorded 24 caps for the US, all between the 1999 and 2003 World Cups.
  • Alexi Lalas – Sometimes the problem with a Hall of Fame is that the “fame” part of it can get in the way. You almost never saw a reference to Lalas in print during his playing career without some note about how “recognizable” he was, but was that because of his play or because of his rockstar persona and the hair and goatee? I imagine he’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but I wanted to put him in the “maybe” pile for now, just to explore his career further before making a final decision.
  • Mike Lapper – Nice player. Not a Hall of Famer.
  • Roy Lassiter – This will be an interesting referendum on ol’ Roy. His league-record 27 goals in MLS’ debut season were nearly a third of his career regular-season total. He was also a malcontent. I’m sure he feels he deserves at least the maximum number of votes, but I’ll hold off on giving him mine until I examine his career more closely and make sure I’m not putting too much emphasis on his personality rather than his playing ability.
  • John Maessner – A solid pro. Unfortunately for him, this isn’t the balloting for the Hall of Solid Pros.
  • Holly Manthei – Holly actually played briefly for the W-League team I used to work for, the Indiana Blaze. She was just 19 when she made her USWNT debut, and I can’t figure out why she didn’t have a better international career. She was a terrific college player and was obviously good enough to play internationally, just not for very long. I don’t think she did enough to be considered a Hall of Famer and apparently not many other people do, either, as she didn’t garner any votes last time around.
  • Pato Margetic – Primarily indoor players are under-represented in the Hall, in my opinion, and “The Magic Man” deserves to be there. After beginning his career outdoors with the NASL’s Detroit Express4Whose home games were played indoors in the Silverdome, actually., he helped the Chicago Sting to a pair of titles outdoor and was a three-time All-Star. But it was indoor where he really shined, dishing out more than 700 assists in a 15-year career on carpet. Finished tied for thirteenth in the last voting, and may have to wait for the Veterans Committee when he comes off the ballot after the 2009 election. But I’m voting for him.
  • Chad McCarty – On the list of eligibles because he played six seasons in MLS and won a US Open Cup title (with Columbus in 2002). Not on my list because that was about the extent of his career.
  • Matt McKeon – I guess I knew he was retired. Kind of. Just like I guess I was aware when he was playing. Kind of. Something tells me this is a pretty easy decision.
  • Janusz Michallik – Went from the NPSL to the national team (which isn’t something you see every day) and earned 44 caps for the US from 1991-1994. The Polish-born Michallik played three seasons in MLS, only the first as a regular (for Columbus) and won’t be in the Hall of Fame anytime soon.
  • Bruce Murray – I’m perplexed by this one. He received 34 percent of the vote last year and with the others coming onto the ballot for the first time, it doesn’t look good for him. But when he retired, he was the US’ all-time leader in caps (86) and goals (21). From the late 1980s to the early 1990s, he was Captain America5How many guys have had that nickname? Ricky Davis, Murray, Claudio Reyna, am I missing anyone?, a star on a team that was just emerging on the world stage. Because I’d rather not have today’s young fans think that US soccer history began with MLS, I’m voting for Murray, even I fear not enough of the other voters will, too.
  • Peter Nowak – Okay, let’s be honest here: Nowak only played five seasons in MLS, and was only a part-time player his last two years. But he was so brilliant in that time that it’s surprising to me he didn’t get more support last year (just 26 percent of the vote). You could even have made a case for him for MLS MVP in 2002, when he only played half the year because of the injuries that would eventually end his career. He’s still revered here in Chicago – I just wonder if he’ll have to wait a bit until the rest of the country catches up.
  • Uche Okafor and Francis Okaroh – I’m putting these two together because of the remarkable similarities between them. Both were Nigerian defenders whose MLS careers ran from 1996 to 2000. Both had played in Belgium professionally before coming to America. Both won an MLS Cup title (Okafor in 2000 with the Wizards, Okaroh in 1998 with the Fire). Okafor played 119 MLS regular season games, Okaroh played 114. Both played in seven MLS playoff games. Both were born in August (Okafor on the 8th in 1967, Okaroh on the 25th in 1963). Okaroh got one vote last year, Okafor got none. Neither are getting my vote this time around.
  • Carla Overbeck – First year on the ballot, and she shouldn’t stay too long. Earned 168 caps for the US women, captained the 1995 and 1999 World Cup teams and the 1996 Olympic gold medalists and was a regular on the 1991 WWC squad. Played all three WUSA seasons with Carolina. She may not be the first of the Golden Girls to get in, but she’ll get in, and most of the rest will follow.
  • Hugo Perez – Yes, I have a bit of a soft spot for former NASL players, and Perez started way back in 1982 at the age of 18. With 16 goals in his 78 caps for the US, he was a key player just as the Nats began to make noise. Injuries kept him out of the 1990 World Cup and by the time the 1994 event rolled around, he was 30 and no longer a regular, though he did start against Brazil in the Round of 16 match. I’ve put Perez in the “maybe” category to devote more study to later. This is his last year on the ballot.
  • Brandon Pollard – On the list because he played five years in MLS and was on a US Open Cup winning team (with Dallas in 1997). Not a Hall of Famer.
  • Tom Presthus – Solid ‘keeper. Not a Hall of Famer.
  • Mark Santel – Played six seasons in MLS and was Pollard’s teammate on the 1997 US Open Cup-winning Dallas Burn. Also managed eight caps and won an APSL title in 1993 with the Colorado Foxes. Was a useful player as a pro. Not a Hall of Famer.
  • Mark Semioli – His 1994 US Open Cup title with the San Francisco Greek-Americans gets him on the list and it’s the only reason. Nobody voted for him last year, nor are they likely to do so anytime soon.
  • Nikki Serlenga – Very good player, with 30 caps, and played in the 2000 Olympics, then went to a pair of Founders Cup matches while with Atlanta in the WUSA. I don’t think she’s a Hall of Famer.
  • Mark Simpson – Perennial backup goalkeeper who split time with Jeff Causey (also on the ballot) for the 1996 double-winning DC United team. Also played eight indoor seasons. Not a Hall of Famer.
  • Diego Sonora – Squeaks onto the ballot under the “five seasons” rule by virtue of having played four games for the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 2001. Won an MLS Cup title in 1999 with DC United and was with four teams in five seasons. Not a Hall of Famer.
  • Mike Sorber – Had a nice little career, with five seasons in MLS, two in Mexico’s First Division and 67 caps for the US between 1992-1998. Got 15 votes a year ago. Won’t be getting mine this time, but he was a pretty good player.
  • Steve Trittschuh – Another pioneer and I guy I always liked. Was a US Nat in the late 1980s and early 1990s and played one game at Italia ’90 after playing in all ten qualifiers leading up to it. Became the first American to play in the European Champions Cup (with Sparta Prague of Czechoslovakia). Also played in the Dutch first division and the A-League before spending six seasons to wrap up his career in MLS. It may seem strange, but Trittschuh makes the cut to at least be looked at more closely.
  • Carlos Valderrama – Yeah, I know he didn’t play defense. So what? He was magic with the ball, the kind of international player MLS doesn’t usually get anymore. He’s still the league’s all-time assists leader (though Steve Ralston could pass him this year). MLS Most Valuable Player in 1996. For great skill and ability, I have to vote for him.
  • Perry Van der Beck – Perry’s another one I have a soft spot in my heart for, as he played for the Tampa Bay Rowdies teams that I cheered for as a kid. Came to the NASL straight out of high school in St. Louis and was a North American All-Star by the time he was 20. Along the way, he also played 23 games for the US (not including a season spent with Team America of the NASL) and was a good indoor player as well. He also coached indoor (the Terror) and outdoor (the Mutiny) teams in Tampa Bay, making him the last link to the glory days when the Mutiny was contracted in January of 2002. I’ll move him to the “maybe” list, just in case.
  • David Vaudreuil – Was my favorite player when he was with the Fire (my favorite players are rarely the best players on their teams) because he was hard-working, got everything out of himself, was a gracious interview and was very nice to my kids once. I don’t really expect him to get any votes (he got none last year), but he gets a tip of the cap from me as a guy I always liked.
  • Tisha Venturini – Was one of the lower-key members of the US Women’s National Team during its run to glory, playing 132 games between 1992 and 2000 and winning Olympic gold and the 1999 Women’s World Cup. Also played in the WUSA, where she won a title in 2001. Very good player. I think she’s going to be overshadowed by all the great players who were around her who were also better-known and flashier. But she was a very, very good player.
  • Peter Vermes – The more I looked at his career and thought about it, Vermes became a pretty easy choice for me. Moved from forward early in his career to defender late (he was the 2000 MLS Defender of the Year), he was good at both ends of the field. Was among the first Americans to play professionally in Europe, in Hungary, Holland and Spain and earned 67 caps for the USA (including all three games at the 1990 World Cup). Garnered considerable support last year (placing 6th with 46 percent), but may get squeezed out just because of the numbers he’s up against.
  • Robert Warzycha – Was obviously a player held in fairly high regard by the folks in Columbus, but he’s not a Hall of Famer.
  • Roy Wegerle – Was a Rowdie (and NASL Rookie of the Year in the league’s last year), and I always liked him. Was good enough to go from here to England where he played well for five different teams, and to get 41 caps for the US (including six World Cup games). I thought he underachieved in MLS. He did get 25 percent of the vote last time around, so I’ll put him on the “maybe” list and revisit him in a bit.
  • Sara Whalen – Nice player. I don’t think she’s a Hall of Famer.

So here’s where we stand after the first run through the list: Cienfuegos, Harvey, Margetic, Murray, Nowak, Overbeck, Valderrama and Vermes are on. Armstrong, Burns, Gebauer, Johnston, Keller, Kinnear, Klopas, Lalas, Lassiter, Perez, Trittschuh, Van der Beck and Wegerle on the “maybe” list. Everyone else is out.

You can vote for up to ten players, so I’m going to take advantage of that. I have two more slots available, and 13 players from which to choose. Lassiter has the stats (was MLS’ all-time leading goal scorer at one point) and it’s hard not to vote for him at some point because of the numbers. But I won’t do it the first time around. I think Lalas’ celebrity kind of overshadowed the fact that he was a very good player and his overall contributions to American soccer give him the ninth spot on my ballot.

That leaves one slot – and of the 11 remaining players, I think Frank Klopas was the best. A little bit of sentiment puts him over the top and into the tenth and final spot.

So my final ballot looks like this:

  • Mauricio Cienfuegos
  • Mary Harvey
  • Frank Klopas
  • Alexi Lalas
  • Pato Margetic
  • Bruce Murray
  • Peter Nowak
  • Carla Overbeck
  • Carlos Valderrama
  • Peter Vermes

This was an interesting process, and it’s fun to be a small part of shaping American soccer history. Perhaps it won’t be long before the annual selection process for Oneonta becomes a source of vigorous debate just like its cousins in Cooperstown, Canton, Springfield and Toronto.

Kenn Tomasch

Kenn Tomasch

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