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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.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season preview ]

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.

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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!

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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.

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.

 

Abby Wambach makes history, breaks Mia Hamm’s all-time goal scoring record

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HARRISON, N.J. — She scored with her left, she scored with her right and she scored with her head.

By the end of the first half at Red Bull Arena on Thursday, Abby Wambach had four goals and sole possession of the all-time scoring record in international women’s soccer with 160 career goals for the United States, breaking former teammate Mia Hamm’s old record of 158. The U.S. women scored a convincing 5-0 win in the process.

“It’s special. I could tell my teammates were trying to get me those goals,” Wambach said.

The record-breaking goal came in classic Wambach fashion — on a header — just like her 158th career goal to tie the record.

Wambach finished a shot with her right foot in the 10th minute for her first goal, pulling within one goal of the record. She nearly tied it two minutes later, but Korea Republic goalkeeper Kim Jungmi stuck out her right foot to deflect the open shot.

The second goal, however, came in the 19th minute when Wambach headed in Lauren Cheney’s cross from inside the 6-yard box. Ten minutes later, Wambach emphatically headed in a Megan Rapinoe corner kick giving her a third.

Her fourth came when she used her left foot to tap-in a low cross from Alex Morgan.

[MORE: Wambach praises teammates for help in breaking record]

“I can’t say enough about how much I look up to Mia, and how amazing the record that she set was,” Wambach said.

Wambach reached the milestone in 68 fewer games than Hamm, who played for the United States from 1987-2004. Hamm is still the all-time leader in points, having accumulated 144 assists along with the goal scoring mark. Hamm has 460 points all-time. Wambach, who now has 382 points.

Hamm was not at the game, but offered her congratulations to Wambach in a statement made through U.S. Soccer.

“I’m just so proud of her. Just watching those four goals, that’s what she is all about. She fights for the ball, she’s courageous and she never gives up. Her strength and perseverance is what makes her so great and it’s what defenders and opposing teams fear. From being her teammate early in her career, I know all she ever wanted to do was win and she continues to do that. I’m just glad I got to share 158 with her. It was short, but it was fun.”

Wambach began her career in 2001 but did not score until the next calendar year, when she finished 2002 with five goals. The Pittsford, N.Y., native increased her output marginally in 2003 before exploding onto the scene in 2004 with 31 goals.

One of Wambach’s 31 goals in 2004 – still her most productive year to date – was the Olympic gold medal winning header vs. Brazil. Wambach tucked away a corner kick from Kristine Lilly, who remains the leading assist provider on Wambach goals with 15. The win gave Hamm, along with fellow legends Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain a happy ending to their career.

Last year proved to be the second-most productive for Wambach (27 goals). It coincided with the full-scale emergence of Alex Morgan as a world-class forward. In 2012, Morgan joined Hamm as the only U.S. player to score 20 goals and add 20 assists in a calendar year. Thirteen of Morgan’s 28 all-time assists have been on Wambach goals.