By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (May 24, 2017) US Soccer Players - The 2017 list of player candidates for the National Soccer Hall of Fame hit email inboxes on Wednesday. Thirty-three names deep, the group is a fascinating mix of players who made a mark on the game in the United States via several different avenues. A few stand out as likely selections for the honor of enshrinement. Some are borderline candidates who have support in some quarters but don’t make the grade for others. A good portion of the list qualified for consideration but probably won’t come close to the 66.7% of total ballots needed to get in.
One name is likely to cause more controversy than any other. David Beckham, a man who made his name in England and did not arrive in America until he was 32. Beckham’s impact on soccer in America the young American top division is undeniable. What is less clear is if that impact makes him an appropriate induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
Let's be honest here. The criteria for what makes a hall-of-fame player is murky and malleable. This is especially true in the sport of soccer, where things like counting stats (goal, assists, perhaps saves) are only applicable to a handful of positions. Beckham is in the “player” category. Does that mean deciding solely on his on-field contributions? As good as he was at times for the Galaxy, especially in his final two seasons, there are a plenty of players not in the Hall of Fame who did much more in this league.
While the voters wrestle with the problem of Beckham, it’s worth pointing out that there are several other foreign names on the ballot. The National Soccer Hall of Fame isn’t just for Americans. Going back to the NASL era, there's a history of the Hall inducting players from abroad who came to the United States and performed at a high level in the club game.
The players hoping to join the likes of Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia, and Carlos Alberto (plus other, non-Cosmos players) are Jaime Moreno, Amado Guevara, and Pat Onstad.
None of that trio had Beckham’s brand power, but they can all point to longer, more productive careers in MLS. Moreno stands out from the group because of the sheer number of goals he scored in the league. The Bolivian racked up 145 goals between the regular and postseasons, and was a crucial part of four MLS Cup titles for DC United. Moreno was an MLS original who joined the Black & Red in their first season and remained in the United States for 15 seasons in total.
While the standards for entry have shifted over the years and it’s no longer enough just to have been a multiple time first team/Best XI selection (as is the case for a handful of the NASL-era players), it’s still somewhat surprising to some that Moreno remains on the outside looking in. Few players were as good, for as long, as Moreno.
Guevara’s argument is much lighter than Moreno’s. A Honduran playmaker who suited up for three MLS teams, he put together a pair of double-digit scoring years that stand out among his stats. Guevara meets the ballot requirements because he played the required five-plus seasons and made the league’s postseason Best XI in 2004, the same year he won the MVP award.
Canadian Onstad was the prototypical late-blooming goalkeeper. He arrived in San Jose in 2003, already 32 years of age, and proceeded to play nine seasons between the Quakes, the Dynamo (who were the Quakes, relocated) and DC United. Onstad stands out not just because of his two Best XI selections, two Goalkeeper of the Year awards, and 223 games played, but because he anchored the defense for championship teams in 2003, 2006, and 2007.
Onstand is on the ballot with two other MLS goalkeeping greats, Americans Joe Cannon and Kevin Hartman. All three men helped establish goalkeeper as one of the strongest positions in the league during the first decade of its existence, and then carried a high standard of play across a long period.
It’s a guarantee that a few American players will win election to the Hall on this year's ballot. Voters can choose up to 10 players for entry. While many won’t use the full allotment, any mix of votes is likely to focus on US players. Again, at least a few names stand out as having good enough records to convince the requisite percentage of voters to check their names. Recent years have shown just how difficult it is for players to get in through the process. A total of four players over the last three classes.
With that in mind, it seems doubtful a foreign player will make it. The Beckham question provides some intrigue in that area, at the very least. With the bar so high and no foreign players in any of the recent classes, much is working against the possibility.
“Who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame” is the kind of question that will always inflame passions and prompt lively debate amongst sports fans. For the National Soccer Hall of Fame, it's a divide between the USMNT, MLS, and elsewhere. That setup makes it even more intense when it comes to soccer.
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