I’ve made every one of my National Soccer Hall of Fame ballots over the years public, and it’s time to do it again.
But first, a quick digression/exposition:
Despite what this dipshit1Believed to be Tinfoil Ted himself. would like you to infer, there is no quid pro quo when it comes to eligibility for the NSHOF ballot. The criteria have been spelled out for years2Though there have been some tweaks. This year they added a codicil that players who spent at least five years in the original MISL between 1984-1992 and were a first-team postseason all-star at least once were eligible, which, thanks for nothing, Soccer House, because such a player would have had to have retired no later than 2008 and there wasn’t anybody playing indoors in 2008 who had played in the MISL from – at a bare minimum – 1988 to 1992. This qualifier should have been in place for the last 15 years and should have been expanded to include all of indoor soccer..
If you believe his implied conspiracy theory, not only did Carlos Bocanegra, Stuart Holden and Lori Lindsey cunningly time their retirements for 2014 so they’d be eligible for this year’s ballot, thus making it look like it was on the up and up, but Brian Ching, Kate Sobrero Markgraf and Aly Wagner managed to time theirs so they’d show up on the ballot last year, before Sunil Gulati even decided not to run again and before the US failed to qualify for the World Cup.
Here’s my ballot and the rationale for each choice:
There are nine first-timers on this year’s ballot, so that’s where I’m going to focus. (If you want to see my opinions on the 23 holdovers, click here, but I voted for Steve Cherundolo, Kevin Hartman, Frankie Hejduk and Tiffeny Milbrett last year and see no reason not to vote for them again. We’ll get back to that list, though, in a bit.)
The nine newcomers are, in alphabetical order, Juan Pablo Angel, Carlos Bocanegra, Bobby Convey, Jay DeMerit, Brad Friedel, Thierry Henry, Stuart Holden, Eddie Johnson and Lori Lindsey. Let’s examine each one’s candidacy:
- Juan Pablo Angel: I loved watching him play. He’s probably my second-favorite MLS player ever (after Jesse Marsch), and I wish ( a ) we would have had a dozen more players with his skill level in American soccer over the years and ( b ) that we could have had him longer. He played six years stateside, but the first four, with New York, were the ones you probably remember. He scored 61 goals in those four years, including 16 in 2008 when the Red Bulls were MLS Cup finalists. All that said, while he was a favorite of mine to watch play, his career here was relatively short and not transcendent. I can’t in good conscience give him a Hall of Fame vote.
- Carlos Bocanegra: I’ve written before about Hall of Fame “levels.” Bocanegra, to me, qualifies as a Level II Hall of Famer: “An outstanding player who had a very long career, contributed to championships and to the growth of the game in this country, and had some success internationally (either at the club or country level, or both), but who may not have been considered one of the very best ever.” Bocanegra was the US National Team’s regular captain from 2007-2012 and made the USMNT’s All-Time Best XI in 2013. The US won the 2007 Gold Cup, reached the finals of the 2009 Confederations Cup and the second round of the 2010 World Cup while he wore the armband. His club career was short in this country because he was good enough to play in England, France, Scotland and Spain for a decade, but his MLS career was very good, too. Rookie of the Year, twice Defender of the Year and once MLS Best XI, he captained a Chicago team that went to MLS Cup twice and won a US Open Cup. While not one of the greatest to ever play the game, he was outstanding for club and country and, I think, a Hall of Famer3I’m going to guess he doesn’t garner as much of the vote as Eric Wynalda or Tony Meola did, but that he reaches the Hall with more support than Joe-Max Moore, who hung around the 40-55 percent mark before winning what amounted to a desperate runoff in 2013, his seventh year on the ballot..
- Bobby Convey – When he signed with DC United in 2000 at 16, he was MLS’ youngest signee ever4He’s since been passed by 22 younger guys. and he had a 16-year pro career, including 11 seasons in MLS and five in England with Reading. His 46 caps for the US included two of the three games at the 2006 World Cup5On second thought, maybe that’s not a point in his favor, as no one save Brian McBride really distinguished themselves there.. It’s the type of career a 16-year-old American kid would love to have. It’s not enough to get him onto my Hall of Fame ballot, but you have to admit, it was a really nice career.
- Jay DeMerit – While neither his international (25 caps) nor North American club (four years in Vancouver) careers were particularly auspicious6Injuries played a part in that., his story is the type they make movies about7Okay, one movie, which is one more movie than most of us get made about us. and he’s a legend at Watford. That will have to suffice.
- Brad Friedel – Yup. C’mon. Level I Hall of Famer. Was unlucky to be born just 18 months after Kasey Keller, with whom he split time in goal from 1992-20058From the effective end of the Tony Meola Era in the Round of 16 loss to Brazil in the 1994 World Cup (though Meola did come back for a dozen caps from 1999-2002 early in Bruce Arena‘s tenure, only one in a World Cup qualifier) through the 2002 World Cup (in which Friedel played all five games), Brad started 53 US games, while Kasey started 51.. And while Friedel’s club career stateside was short (only 38 games for Columbus in 1996-97), that’s because he was good enough to (eventually) play nearly 500 games in England. He should be a fairly easy choice for the voters.
- Thierry Henry – A very interesting thought experiment because, while he only played five years in MLS, they were five really good years. He was Best XI in three of those five seasons and is, arguably, had one of the very best MLS careers of any of the Just Past Their Primes players MLS has signed in nearly a quarter-century of play. The Red Bulls – who had recorded only five winning seasons in their history prior to his arrival – were over .5009I know, soccer doesn’t use that. You know what I mean. in each of his five seasons, though they only reached the semifinals in his final year (and did it again without him the next). Ten years of that type of production (and grace) and the whole “No MLS Player Without A Significant US Nats Career Gets In” thing might have been tested. But as his time here wasn’t transcendent, I’m unable to vote for him.
- Stuart Holden – Ah, what could have been. Injuries robbed him of what could have been a terrific career.
- Eddie Johnson – Showed, at times, Hall of Fame-level ability, but never really was a consistent, reliable force10Though he did score 74 goals in 216 MLS and playoff matches and is one of the few players in any sport to win multiple “Comeback Player of the Year” awards – which he did in 2007 and 2012. The18.com called him a “living legend11The18.com says a lot of shit.,” but I can’t go that far. He did give us the sobriquet “Grown-Ass Man,” though, for which we are all thankful.
- Lori Lindsey – Lindsey’s probably one of the greatest players ever produced by the state of Indiana, and I know this because she started her high-level career for the W-League team for which I worked, the Indiana Blaze. She was good enough to play for the Blaze while still in high school, had a very good pro club career in the States12Not easy to do, given the shifting nature of the women’s pro game here, but she managed to play in all three iterations of WoSo going back to 2001. and garnered 31 caps for the USWNT. Unfortunately for her, there were a lot of great players in front of her, and several of them were Hall of Famers. I can’t give her my vote, but I should give her back her Indiana Blaze jersey, which, at last report, was in a box in my closet. If anyone knows how to reach Lori, let me know.
So, with two “yes” votes from the group of nine newcomers and four holdovers from last year’s ballot, I have six spots spoken for and I’m allowed 10. Is there anyone I’ve overlooked or could give a Just Because I Have Room vote13I have, in the past, voted for people like Frank Klopas – a fine player and a good guy – on such a basis, but no one I would have been embarrassed to help elect.?
I examined David Beckham‘s candidacy last year, and don’t see any reason to change my vote there. Jaime Moreno gets brought up a lot, but no MLS player has been enshrined without a significant US National Team career. (That also hurts fine MLS players like Taylor Twellman, Jason Kreis, Pat Onstad and Steve Ralston14So why have I voted for Kevin Hartman? Level II Hall of Famer, in my book. He’s second to Nick Rimando – who is also going to be an interesting case study in a few years – in most major goalkeeping records in MLS and played at such a high level for so long it seems silly not to, though only 23 others agreed with me last year. Likely because he only had five caps. It’s also likely that if he continues to get less than 20 percent of the vote, I’ll stop voting for him, too..) Fair or unfair, that’s where the electorate has decided this thing goes.
So my final 2018 ballot is:
- Carlos Bocanegra
- Steve Cherundolo
- Brad Friedel
- Kevin Hartman
- Frankie Hejduk
- Tiffeny Millbrett
History tells us that most players who are going to get in will do so early on. I expect Friedel will go in this year, Bocanegra within the first couple of years and Cherundolo, Hejduk and Millbrett hopefully soon.
Agree, disagree? You won’t be the first on either count. I’ve tried to lay out my rationale as best I can, and I’m just one voter. The consensus usually carries the day. But let me know what you think in the comments below.