John O’Brien

U.S. federation announces another strong National Soccer Hall of Fame nominee class

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Another tough round of voting is ahead as the final list of nominees was announced for the National Soccer Hall of Fame Class of 2014.

In its release today on the nominees, U.S. Soccer says voting will begin immediately in three categories: Player, Veteran Player and Builder. Voting continues through Feb. 7.

Hall of Fame voters – including coaches and officials from the pro game, U.S. Soccer coaches and officials, designated media members and Hall of Famers – can list up to 10 candidates on their ballot. For the Player category, athletes appearing on two-thirds (66.7 percent) of voter ballots are elected. Players not appearing on at least five percent of ballots will be subtracted from the ballot (pending availability for the Veterans ballot.)

It’s not easy to gain the needed percentage. Two years ago only four players were selected: Tony Meola, Claudio Reyna, Tony DiCicco and Desmond Armstrong. A year ago only two made the cut: Joe-Max Moore and Peter Vermes.

These really are tough choices. On this ballot there are guys who were first to important MLS scoring mileposts (Jason Kreis), guys that surely would have caught up with them but for career-ending injuries (Taylor Twellman) guys who accomplished so much despite unfortunate injuries (John O’Brien), plenty of women’s players who won multiple World Cups or Olympic golds (Kristine Lilly and Brianna Scurry just to name a couple), guys who scored huge World Cup goals (Clint Mathis, Brian McBride — pictured above), huge MLS international stars (Marco Etcheverry) … and the list goes on.

In fact, here’s the entire list:

2014 National Soccer Hall of Fame Player Ballot

  • Chris Armas
  • Raul Diaz Arce
  • Marco Etcheverry
  • Lorrie Fair
  • Robin Fraser
  • Chris Henderson
  • Zoran Karic
  • Chris Klein
  • Jason Kreis
  • Eddie Lewis
  • Kristine Lilly
  • Kristin Luckenbill
  • Shannon MacMillan
  • Kate Sobrero Markgraf
  • Clint Mathis
  • Brian McBride
  • Jaime Moreno
  • Victor Nogueira
  • John O’Brien
  • Ben Olsen
  • Cindy Parlow Cone
  • Steve Ralston
  • Ante Razov
  • Tiffany Roberts
  • Tony Sanneh
  • Briana Scurry
  • Taylor Twellman

Which U.S. men have already gone from the little Gold Cup to the big ol’ World Cup?

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This is a companion piece to the last post, which explored who might make the fashionable jump this time around.

As we said before, the clear, important subtext of the Gold Cup for the United States is what it could mean for World Cup roster spots that will be announced in about 10 months. (Just 10 months from now! Ain’t that something else?)

With that in mind, here are four prominent U.S. men who used the CONCACAF Gold Cup as a launching pad for World Cup roster spots ahead.

(MORE: Four who could go exploit a Gold Cup launch)

There are more (Frankie Hejduk, Eddie Lewis and Clarence Goodson among them) whose Gold Cup appearances certainly assisted their cause. But for this foursome, the Gold Cup really was their coming out party:

Pablo Mastroeni: The young defender (he was a center back at the time) did not play a minute in qualifying for World Cup 2002. But he got into the second group match at the Gold Cup and kept his spot in the lineup through the final (which the United States won, prevailing over Costa Rica in the Rose Bowl final). A few months after that, Mastroeni was in the starting 11, alongside John O’Brien in the middle as Bruce Arena’s team famously whacked Portugal in that World Cup stunner.

DaMarcus Beasley: The young flanker had been in just one World Cup qualifier (off the bench, at that) but was also in the starting lineup against Portugal. Like Mastroeni, he used some credible performance in the Gold Cup as demonstration to Arena that he could cut it internationally.

Beasley’s first goal in a U.S. shirt came against South Korea as the 2002 Gold Cup opened. (It was a winter tournament back that. And, yes … South Korea. How unstable is that?)

Oguchi Onyewu: In 2005, Onyewu was just a big, intriguing fellow as far as most U.S. fans were concerned. But they grew to see what he could do in that summer’s Gold Cup; Onyewu rotated with Jimmy Conrad and Eddie Pope as the United States eventually downed Panama in the final.

A few months later, Onyewu was still in the middle (now partnering with Gregg Berhalter) and staring down Mexico’s Jared Borgetti. You do remember that moment (pictured above), don’t you? Because every self-respecting U.S. Soccer supporter simply must be able to name the venue (Columbus) and significance (World Cup qualifier) of Onyewu’s famous, career-making moment.

(MORE: Gold Cup preview of United States vs. Belize)

Stuart Holden: It wasn’t that long ago that Holden was just a steady MLS man. In 2009 he had 6 goals and 4 assists in 26 matches for the Dynamo. Not bad … but hardly sensational.

Of course, stats don’t tell all, and it was Holden’s work rate and steadily improving technical merit that, at 23 years old, made him such an intriguing figure at the time. Sure enough, Holden debuted in the U.S. shirt during the 2009 Gold Cup, scoring in a 4-0 win over Grenada to open the tournament. Later, his 92nd minute goal was the equalizer against Haiti (a big moment, even if the United States was already through to the elimination stage).

Today’s momentous anniversary in U.S. national team history; do you know the occasion?

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I just love asking the good, sweet, clean U.S. Soccer fans this question: Where were you in the wee smalls of June 5, 2002?

Did you even have your first cup of Get up and Go Juice before John O’Brien roofed that re-directed corner kick spectacularly against Portugal? (If you’re on the West Coast, I suppose it wasn’t so much the wee small hours … just more of an early, early rise.)

That was in the opening minutes of the stunning U.S. win over Portugal, a match that kicked off in Asia during the pre-dawn hours in our country. And it was O’Brien’s historic strike that set the wheels in motion for so, so much more.

I have noted before how ironic it was that such a momentous occasion in U.S. Soccer history would happen when so many drowsy American fans (and probably more than a few who couldn’t quite answer the alarm bell) didn’t quite have their senses about them.

The world was certainly alert as a 1-goal lead became a 2-goal lead. And then a 3-goal margin before the break, an absolute stunning turn against the vaunted Portuguese Golden Generation. Portugal was among the favorites at World Cup 2002; the United States was in a remarkable different place, coming off that crummy showing at France ’98, where Steve Sampson’s team had placed 32nd out of 32 teams.

In this piece, I called O’Brien’s goal the single most significant moment of the last decade for U.S. Soccer.

There would be other huge moments in Asia that June: every goal against Portugal would eventually be needed; So would Clint Mathis’ precision strike against South Korea, and both of the epochal strikes in one of the original “Dos a Cero” matches, the sweet Round-of-16 triumph over a wonderfully flustered Mexico that helped arrange a decade of U.S. dominance in the border series.

But that win on June 5, 2002, over Portugal put it all in motion, setting the table for the United States to arrive so tantalizingly close to a semifinal appearance.

And in the bigger, bigger picture, we could argue that June of 2002 did more to push soccer in the United States into greater cultural prominence than any other window. Ever.

Here is O’Brien’s landmark goal:

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jyvs6BLEvv0&w=420&h=315%5D