Mia Hamm

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The Soccer Hall of Fame’s “Essential XI” is infuriating

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Let’s get this out of the way: The National Soccer Hall of Fame’s “Essential XI” ballot — vote today! –will make you want to massage a mannequin made of broken glass.

That’s not because the XI isn’t fun, or the NSHOF won’t be amazing, but because choosing the members of this particular 3-4-3 is improbably difficult.

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I’ve filled out the XI a bunch of times, and not once have I felt good with my picks. Even the positions which seem clear cut… just… aren’t.

There’s one tip I’d give anyone considering their ballot: DO NOT choose a foreign player who played in the old NASL or an import who spent the waning days of his career in a nascent MLS.

Franz Beckenbauer and David Beckham definitely deserve credit for their contributions to American soccer, but having one of them pop up in an all-time XI would be an embarrassment in my — and I’m assuming many others’ — eyes.

Also, don’t do the write-in… the candidate won’t win (I made an XI of Josh Wolffs, anyway).

So here are the main options I wrestle with when I look at the nominees. Having men and women in the same XI is also a headache given the USWNT’s success.

Goalkeepers

Brad Friedel
Frank Borghi
Hope Solo
Nick Rimando
Tony Meola
Kasey Keller
Brianna Scurry
Mary Harvey
Tim Howard

Respect to all of these players, but it’s hard not to immediately strip this to Keller versus Howard (with Friedel in third, which is insane given our soccer culture). There’s recency bias here, I’m sure, but Howard’s success with Manchester United and then at Everton, holding the No. 1 chair for 10 seasons? That’s nuts. Keller’s career is nearly as amazing, and his performance against Brazil in the 1998 World Cup is close to Howard vs. Belgium in 2014. Brutal choice.

Ultimately I went with… Howard.

Defenders

Franz Beckenbauer
Harry Keough
Alexi Lalas
Marcelo Balboa
Christie Pearce Rampone
Steve Cherundolo
Carla Overbeck
Paul Caligiuri
Carlos Bocanegra
Brandi Chastain
Joy Fawcett
Kate Markgraf

Let me say this first, as a (horrible) forward, for some reason my favorite players were always backs. Bocanegra and Cherundolo are in my Top Three USMNT players of all-time. That said, it’s impossible to avoid Chastain’s status of holding the most iconic moment in U.S. Soccer history (It is called a Hall of Fame, after all), and Rampone held her position through one of the most competitive times in USWNT history. Keough gets the nod for his status on a legendary USMNT team and a storied career in coaching, too. He’s an architect.

Ultimately I went with… Keough, Chastain, Pierce-Rampone.

Midfielders

Walter Bahr
Michael Bradley
DaMarcus Beasley
Heather O’Reilly
Megan Rapinoe
Cobi Jones
Kristine Lilly
Carli Lloyd
Earnie Stewart
Julie Foudy
Tab Ramos
Claudio Reyna
David Beckham
John Harkes

First off, you have to include Lilly. She owns 354 caps and scored 130 goals, the latter of which is insane for a midfielder.

Now if you include Foudy, Rapinoe, Bahr, or Harkes — the latter’s omission perhaps the most egregious — you’ll have to exclude three absolute icons of the American men’s game.

Cobi Jones is the USMNT’s all-time caps leader, and his record is safe for some time. His iconic dreadlocks also just trump Alexi Lalas as the top look in U.S. Soccer (apologies to all the bald GKs and Bradley).

To me, Reyna and Bradley are similar players, generals, and trendsetters. Given the World Cup qualifying failure of the 2018 cycle, there’s a temptation to look past Bradley but that’s asinine. He’s got 140 caps, 17 goals, memorable goals at Azteca and in a qualifier’s qualifier against Costa Rica. And Donovan against Algeria doesn’t happen if Bradley doesn’t equalize against Slovenia. This doesn’t include his exploits at Roma, Gladbach, and Toronto FC. He’s really good.

Reyna won three NCAA championships under Bruce Arena at Virginia, earned 112 caps for the USMNT, and opened doors for Americans in Germany and Scotland (winning a double at the latter) in addition to becoming a fixture for Man City, making a World Cup Best XI, and winning the freaking Hermann Trophy.

All this leaves out Earnie Stewart and a two-time women’s World Player of the Year in Lloyd. Wow.

Ultimately I went with… Jones, Lilly, Reyna, Bradley.

Forwards

Landon Donovan
Carin Jennings-Gabarra
Tiffeny Milbrett
Abby Wambach
Cindy Parlow-Cone
Eric Wynalda
Alex Morgan
Michelle Akers
Jozy Altidore
Brian McBride
Clint Dempsey
Giorgio Chinaglia
Mia Hamm
Pele

This one feels reason enough to demand separate XIs for the USMNT and USWNT. In order to include a male, you need to ditch either Abby Wambach, Michelle Akers, or Mia Hamm. You have to exclude two of those to get both Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey on the XI!!

Hamm scored 158 goals (second all-time) and 145 assists (first) in 276 caps. Even given the investment in American women’s soccer compared the rest of the world, that’s absurd. Akers scored 107 times in just 155 caps. That’s insane. Wambach, as dominant as she was, doesn’t touch that.

Which pretty much brings us to Donovan or Dempsey (Sorry, Eric Wynalda and Brian McBride). For me, the level of success Dempsey found as a flame-holder for American soccer in England tips the scales for me. He’s scored the same amount of goals in 16 less caps, though Donovan torches him in assists. If you forced me to take Donovan over Dempsey, I wouldn’t put up much of a fight.

Ultimately I went with… Hamm, Dempsey, Akers

Outrage as girls team punished for player “looking like a boy”; Wambach, Hamm voice support

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There’s outrage pouring into Nebraska from around the world of soccer after organizers kicked a team out of an all-girls final for a clerical error that listed a short-haired girl as being a boy.

The Washington Post’s Cleve Wootson tells the story of Milagros “Mili” Hernandez, 8, one of the better players on a team of mostly 11-year-old coached by her father. She also prefers to wear her hair short.

[ MORE: JPW talks with Pulisic ]

But when a pair of defeated teams complained that there “was a boy” on the other side of the field, organizers went through the paper work and found her incorrectly checked off as male on one of the forms. Another form listed her as a female, and she is a female, but organizers wouldn’t look at proof from her father. The team was out, and so was she.

The anger has been palpable around the world as this Washington Post story has circulated, even if organizers had the crutch of faulty paper work.

Hernandez will only grow in confidence by the support of the soccer community, including the below video from USWNT legend Abby Wambach and an invitation from none other than the “GOAT”, Mia Hamm, to attend a soccer camp as her guest.

Los Angeles officially given new MLS team; Magic Johnson, Vincent Tan among investors

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Is it possible the Los Angeles Galaxy could become the little brother in town when L.A.’s second Major League Soccer franchise comes around in 2017?

With the wattage of starpower on display at the “LA2” press conference on Thursday afternoon, they are sure going to get a run for their money. People involved in the ownership group are Magic Johnson, Nomar and Mia Hamm Garciaparra, Tony Robbins and… wait for it… Vincent Tan!

[ MLS: Playoff predictions/preview | Season-ending awards ]

In what will be called “Los Angeles Football Club” as it goes through its branding, MLS has announced that L.A. has officially been awarded another team.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“We are thrilled to welcome Henry Nguyen, Peter Guber, Tom Penn and their owner partners to Major League Soccer,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber.  “This visionary ownership group will chart a course that will further elevate the sport in this great city and, combined with a new state-of-the-art stadium, accelerate us down the path toward becoming one of the top soccer leagues in the world.”

Along with Nguyen, Guber and Penn, the new team’s ownership group includes: Ruben Gnanalingam, co-owner of the English Premier League’s Queens Park Rangers, Vincent Tan, owner of the Football League Championship’s Cardiff City and FK Sarajevo of the Premier League of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, former Los Angeles Lakers star, Chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises and an owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Mia Hamm Garciaparra, U.S. women’s soccer great, Tony Robbins, America’s #1 life and business strategist, best-selling author, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Nomar Garciaparra,former Major League Baseball star and SportsNet LA baseball analyst, Larry Berg, senior partner at Apollo Global Management and a co-owner of AS Roma, Allen Shapiro, CEO of Dick Clark Productions and managing partner of Mosaic Media Investment Partners, Chad Hurley, co-founder and former CEO of YouTube and the founder and CEO of MixBit, Rick Welts, President and COO of the Golden State Warriors Basketball Club, Bennett Rosenthal, co-founder and senior partner of Ares Management and a co-owner of AS Roma, as well as Kirk Lacob, Mark Leschly, Mike Mahan, Irwin Raij, Paul Schaeffer, Brandon Schneider, Jason Sugarman and Harry Tsao. A few additional prominent owners are expected to be added to this list shortly.

Those are some big, big names with Premier League and Championship connections. And there’s a pathway of sorts from the new LA to QPR and Cardiff City, much like DC United and Sunderland, and NYCFC and Manchester City.

Hamm, Wambach, Morgan lead U.S. Soccer’s all-time women’s best XI (but no Solo, Milbrett)

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Abby Wambach, Mia Hamm, and Kristine Lilly were among the icons recognized by U.S. Soccer today, the federation naming its all-time women’s best XI as part of their ongoing centennial celebration. Striving to honor players’ legacies,  longevity and overall performance, and contribution on the field (especially in World Cups), 11 players are chosen by a 56-member panel of media, administrators, and former players, with results leaning heavily toward the team that won the 1999 World Cup.

The top of the team’s 4-3-3 formation features one of the panel’s unanimous selections, with Hamm’s 275-cap, 158-goal career making the two-time World Cup-winner an obvious pick. Abby Wambach, having recently passed Hamm as the program’s all-time leading scorer (163 goals), garnered 52 votes, while Alex Morgan, the team’s youngest player (24), named on 15 ballots.

In midfield, Michelle Akers and Kristine Lilly each fell one vote short of unanimous selection, while Julie Foudy received 40 votes. Akers concluded her 16-year tenure in 2000 with 105 goals, having been considered the best player in the world for much of her career. Lilly is the most capped player in program history with 352 appearances, while Foudy played in four World Cups and three Summer Olympics.

At the back, Joy Fawcett was the team’s second unanimous selection, the 239-time international having played key roles in the 1995, 1999, and 2003 World Cups. She is joined by current national team captain Christie Rampone and fellow “`99ers” Carla Overbeck and Brandi Chastain. Rampone has featured at eight major tournaments (four World Cups; four Olympics), Overbeck made 168 appearances in her 13-year international career, while Chastain is best known for converting the final penalty kick in the 1999 World Cup final’s shootout.

The goalkeeper on that 1999 team, Briana Scurry, garnered 31 votes, the panel acknowledging a career that also featured two goal medals (1996 and 2004). Her selection over Hope Solo, however, maybe be a slightly controversial one, with some seeing the current U.S. No. 1 as the superior player. Given the criteria U.S. Soccer put forth, however, the selection makes sense. The panel was asked to give extra weight contributions to World Cups, and while Scurry has been part of a world champion, Solo is still waiting for her first World Cup winner’s medal.

A more controversial selection should be Alex Morgan’s, though with only 15 votes, the current star’s selection is more the result of a fractured vote than the product of some broad consensus. Why that consensus didn’t form around Tiffeny Milbrett, however, deserves some consideration. Milbrett’s 15-year international career ended in 2005 after 204 appearances and 100 goals. She made two Olympic teams, four World Cups, led the team in goals during U.S.A. 1999, and won a gold medal in 1999. Morgan has the bigger name now and, in 134 few games, a better goal rate, but honoring Milbrett’s achievements above Morgan’s four-year international career should have been a no-brainer.

But given the nature of these types of honors, it’s no surprise there’s a blemish in the results, particularly the one that acknowledges a player that’s had such a huge effect beyond the field. And perhaps the team leans a little too much toward the `99ers – players who performed in a less competitive international landscape. But with those careers having finished, it’s easier to evaluate their contributions. Players like Solo and Carli Lloyd are still building their legacies.

For a team being selected to celebrate a centennial, landing on the side of history is best. Given the huge influence the 1999 team has had on women’s soccer in the United States, nobody will fault the panel for defaulting to the those legends in selecting the federation’s all-time best XI.

The full team, as grabbed from U.S. Soccer:

Goalkeeper – Briana Scurry 1994-2008 (31 votes)

Defender – Brandi Chastain 1988-2004 (31)
Defender – Joy Biefeld (Fawcett) 1987-2004 (56)
Defender – Carla Werden (Overbeck) 1988-2000 (49)
Defender – Christie Rampone (Pearce) 1997-present (46)

Midfielder – Michelle Akers 1985-2000 (55)
Midfielder – Julie Foudy 1988-2004 (40)
Midfielder – Kristine Lilly 1987-2010 (55)

Forward – Mia Hamm 1987-2004 (56)
Forward – Alex Morgan 2010-present (15)
Forward – Abby Wambach 2001-present (52)

And again, copied from U.S. Soccer, here are all the eligible players and (in parenthesis) their vote totals:

GOALKEEPERS :
Briana Scurry (31), Hope Solo (24), Mary Harvey (1)

DEFENDERS :
Joy Biefeld Fawcett (56), Carla Werden Overbeck (49), Christie Rampone Pearce (46), Brandi Chastain (31), Kate Markgraf Sobrero (9), Lori Chalupny (5), Ali Krieger (2), Rachel Buehler (Van Hollebeke) (1), Linda Hamilton (1), Heather Mitts (1), Cat Reddick Whitehill (1), Stephanie Lopez Cox (0), Lori Henry (0), Amy LePeilbet (0), Kelley O’Hara (0)

MIDFIELDERS :
Michelle Akers (55), Kristine Lilly (55), Julie Foudy (40), Shannon Boxx (13), Carli Lloyd (13), Shannon MacMillan (8), Megan Rapinoe (6), Heather O’Reilly (5), Shannon Higgins (4), Tobin Heath (1), Tiffany Roberts (1), Tisha Venturini (1), Lauren Holiday Cheney (0), Lorrie Fair (0), Angela Hucles (0), Lindsay Tarpley (0), Aly Wagner (0)

FORWARDS :
Mia Hamm (56), Abby Wambach (52), Alex Morgan (15), Carin Gabarra Jennings (13), April Heinrichs (12), Tiffeny Milbrett (10), Cindy Parlow Cone (1), Sydney Leroux (0), Amy Rodriguez (0)

Legacies of Wambach, Hamm, Morgan intertwine — just as they’d like them to

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HARRISON, N.J. — The mark of many great goal scorers is the ability to be selfish in front of net.

Three of the best United States forwards ever must have missed that memo.

On Thursday at Red Bull Arena, Abby Wambach smashed Mia Hamm’s international goal scoring record. Wambach entered the game needing two goals to tie the record of 158 goals; she had those within 19 minutes. By halftime she was alone at the top and two clear with 160 goals.

Wambach now owns the greatest individual record in all of soccer – men’s or women’s. She said she would celebrate her record with family and friends on Thursday night, but the significance of Hamm’s name — one synonymous with women’s soccer to this day — bumping down to second on the charts isn’t lost on Wambach.

“If I were to end my career right now, I would have done it before breaking (the record),” Wambach said. “That’s how much respect I have for Mia – how much she’s done for me personally, how much she’s doing even for Alex Morgan, still. This is a personal thing. Mia wants players to break her records. I now want Alex to break mine and I just told Alex, ‘you better do it in much less time than I did.’”

Such is the relationship of three of the most prolific scorers in the history of soccer. Wambach and Hamm are atop the charts, while Morgan’s 44 goals in 68 caps (and at 24 years old) has her on a blistering pace to join the fray. But their ambitions always lie in seeing their apprentice succeed them. Hamm did it for Wambach, guiding the 5-foot-11-inch forward through her early professional years with the U.S. and the Washington Freedom and shaping Wambach’s raw talent into a more determined, more focused player.

[MORE: Wambach breaks Hamm’s mark with four-goal night]

“I’m just glad I got to share 158 with her. It was short, but it was fun,” Hamm said humbly in a statement issued through U.S. Soccer.

That’s it. No grievances. No ego. That’s Hamm’s nature. It’s Wambach’s too, and now she plays role model to Morgan. Their goals are to create each others goals.

Just as Hamm and Wambach became a dynamic duo in the three-plus years they played together in the early 2000’s, Wambach and Morgan have become inseparable on the field. Morgan’s assist on Wambach’s fourth goal Thursday was her 14th on a Wambach goal (Hamm also assisted 14).

[MORE: Wambach praises teammates in reaching milestone]

But the connection goes well beyond pinging crosses to each other. Find Abby Wambach in warm-ups and you’ll find Alex Morgan. Passing together. Stretching together. Even sitting next to each other on the bench after being taken out of the match (a 5-0 rout) early in the second half.

Postgame on Thursday, Morgan was beaming as if she just scored goal No. 160.

“I’ve looked up to Abby for so many years,” Morgan said. “She’s a great leader for this team, and to be able to be a part of this memory looking forward and breaking this record, Abby completely deserves it and I’m really happy for her.”

The relationship is triangular. Hamm helped Morgan train in the offseason to sharpen her skills through the dormant winter. Wambach said she was likely to speak with Hamm following Thursday night’s interviews.

Three greats at what can be the most selfish position in soccer, as unselfish as they come when it comes to each other. That they emerged for the United States in succession without any lapse in between is an unprecedented gift from the soccer gods. Greatness followed greatness, and Morgan is well ready to take the torch and sprint away with it.

“Alex is going to score tons of goals in the next few years,” Wambach said. “I think we have such a different kind of strength. When I’m having a great game, she’s probably going to be on the assisting end of things. But I want to be putting her in the positions to score goals, because my legs can’t move like hers. She can score goals in such random positions, like the Canada game.

“She’s going to be a threat for us. She’s going to be scoring the lion share of goals for our team over the next couple years, so if my role becomes assister, great. If I’m the set piece threat, fine. Whatever my role is to help this team win a World Cup title, that’s all I care about.”

That elusive World Cup – the only thing Hamm, and now Wambach, ever really cared about. Hamm won two.

Wambach gave Hamm the retirement gift of an Olympic gold medal. The best thank you Morgan could ever give Wambach is a World Cup trophy in 2015.