Once again, the heavy doors of the National Soccer Hall of Fame have opened just a crack, wide enough perhaps to let in a sliver of light plus a single inductee from a pool of accomplished but under-appreciated former players.
This year, the retired legend deemed worthy of entry into a museum that’s evolved into the most impenetrable fortress this side of Fort Knox and Helm’s Deep is longtime U.S. national team captain Carlos Bocanegra. His competitive savvy powered him to 110 caps, two Concacaf Gold Cup titles and a club career that spanned MLS, the Premier League, Ligue 1, Spain and Scotland.
Bocanegra, now Atlanta United’s technical director, clearly is a deserving inductee. But it’s impossible to talk about the Hall of Fame without mentioning how insanely difficult it is to get in without buying a ticket. The attention that siphons away from an honoree like Bocanegra is but one piece of collateral damage caused by a defective voting process that routinely slams those heavy doors on worthy candidates.
For the fifth time in the past six years, just a single person has been elected from the player ballot—there were no veterans or builders chosen in 2020—in voting by media; Hall of Famers; MLS, NWSL and present and former senior national team coaches; and MLS, NWSL and USSF representatives. Voters can select up to 10 nominees, who must be included on 66.7% of submitted ballots to be inducted. Bocanegra, in his third year on the ballot, was named on only 68.5%. He barely made it.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m really proud to be elected,” said Bocanegra, who scored more international goals than any other U.S. defender.
“It’s a huge honor. I loved representing the country, especially on the global stage, being able to play in the World Cup,” he continued. “I have so many memories with that. And yeah, being able to play soccer for a job—made so many friendships, got to see the world, experience new cultures, learn about myself—just kind of grew up through the game.”
The stinginess of NSHOF voters is becoming stupidly legendary. Last year, Abby Wambach was the sole player elected after appearing on 80.9% of the ballots. She easily cleared the bar for induction. But 80.9%? That means that one in five voters believed that a player who, at the time, was the leading goal scorer in the history of international soccer didn’t belong in the American soccer hall of fame. It’s an incomprehensible (and should be disqualifying) opinion.
At the top of the list of this year’s baffling and/or enraging snubs are Steve Cherundolo, Jaime Moreno and Hope Solo. All should’ve been first-ballot Hall of Famers. Cherundolo is the best at his position (right back) in USMNT history, played in three World Cups and captained a club in a “Big 5” European league (Hannover 96). This year, his fourth on the ballot, he garnered just 57.3% of the vote.
Solo almost surely was the best at her position (goalkeeper) in the history of the women’s game, and she was a Women’s World Cup and two-time Olympic champion. But that’s not enough for the NSHOF voters. She was named on only 57.3% of the ballots.
And then there’s Moreno, whose exclusion is an infuriating insult both to the domestic pro game and to the contributions by foreign-born players to American soccer. He was the top player in MLS’s first decade, is one of only two to tally 100 goals and 100 assists and won every club trophy available. But somehow that’s not enough. Moreno was listed on 50.6% of the ballots, and his eligibility on the players’ ballot has now expired.
Here’s a breakdown of the athletes who appeared on more than 10% of the ballots:
Carlos Bocanegra - 68.5%
Steve Cherundolo - 57.3%
Hope Solo - 57.3%
Kate Sobrero Markgraf - 52.2%
Shannon Boxx - 52.2%
Jaime Moreno - 50.6%
Frankie Hejduk - 46.6%
David Beckham - 45.5%
Steve Ralston - 30.9%
Lauren Cheney Holiday - 27.0%
Clint Mathis - 24.2%
Gregg Berhalter - 21.9%
Heather Mitts - 21.9%
Aly Wagner - 21.9%
Eddie Lewis - 21.3%
Pablo Mastroeni - 20.8%
Josh Wolff - 17.4%
Brian Ching - 14.6%
Chris Klein - 12.4%
Thierry Henry - 11.2%
Stuart Holden - 11.2%
Cat Reddick Whitehill - 10.1%
Even though U.S. Soccer and the NSHOF have been successful in increasing eligible voter turnout (from a low of approximately 35% to more than 80% this year), it hasn’t had a noticeable impact on results. So, the organizations are currently working on implementing a revised voting structure and procedures that they hope will be in place next year. It may be too late for Moreno, but it’ll be designed to limit the number of egregious snubs and hopefully open the door just a little bit wider.
The whole point of a Hall of Fame is to tell the story of a sport and celebrate its history. Soon, Bocanegra’s career—from his early days with the Chicago Fire to his seasons at Craven Cottage and two World Cups—will be appropriately honored. Fans of his, or of his teams, can visit, see a jersey or watch a video and learn more or reminisce. That’s the idea. It’s nice that he’s in. But it’s a lingering shame that voters continue to turn away deserving peers, and their ticket-buying supporters, with an ignorant inflexibility that damages both the museum and the sport.