Defender Steve Cherundolo (6) grabs Brazil forward Neymar (11) during the second half of a men’s international friendly in 2012. (Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
First of all, a hearty congratuations to Carlos Bocanegra for getting elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame. A well deserved honor for the former U.S. men’s national team captain internationally and domestically.
Saying that, I should be saying congrats to a pair of other former U.S. internationals today, namely Steve Cherundolo and Hope Solo.
Instead, they are looking at the Hall from the outside after not accruing the needed votes for election.
Mind-bloggling, given their star-studded careers.
Now, I have been voting for Hall of Fame players for more than two decades. It’s a job I take seriously.
I have written about players being overlooked for years, which seems to have become an annual exercise. I campaigned for the fabulous Tiffeny Milbrett, despite the fact she was ignored by too many voters for years. She finally was inducted in 2018.
And now, this.
Cherundolo did not play a “sexy” position for the national side, performing at right back for most of his career. When he was available and healthy, the Rockford, N.J. native did a fantastic job in a spot in which the national side has struggled to find consistency. Nicknamed the “mayor of Hannover” because of his fine play for Hannover 96 in Germany, Cherundolo retired from international soccer in 2012.
Game in and game out, you knew what you were going to get from Cherundolo, a hard-working outside back who would deny his opponent a shot on goal. True, he did not fill the net, but he did what he had to do for U.S. teams that participated in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
Then there’s Solo, the best women’s goalkeeper ever. She backstopped the USWNT to the 2015 Women’s World Cup crown and to Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012. She also made 202 international appearances. That’s good enough for me, and for some other non-voters as well.
When Concacaf held a women’s soccer symposium at the 2012 Women’s Olympic Championship in Vancouver, a video about Solo’s goalkeeping ability and saves was shown. I didn’t time it, but it seemed to have run for about five minutes, perhaps more.
Now, Solo’s off-the-field activities and police record is too long to list in this piece.
But I don’t care what a player does off the field, only on it. If that was the case, then the Baseball Hall of Fame would have to bounce many of their early inductees because they weren’t particularly good people.
Pete Rose, who did a very stupid thing by betting on baseball games, including the ones he managed (he always bet on the Cincinnati Reds to win), has not been allowed to run for election to the Baseball Hall. I disagreed with that verdict. Rose undoubtedly enjoyed a Hall of Fame career, finishing with more than 4,000 hits. He belongs in the Hall despite that stupid, stupid mistake as a manager (he wasn’t going to get into the Hall for his managing, anyway).
But this column isn’t about cancel culture. It’s about inclusion culture. And, Solo belongs in the Hall.
I have never allowed a player has said to me during the course of his or her career to get in the way of giving them a Hall of fame vote.
In South Africa during either the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup or the 2010 World Cup, I asked Bocanegra what I considered a pretty simple question. A decade later, I can’t remember exactly what I asked, but it was more middle of the road. Bocanegra refused to answer it, claiming I was looking for something controversial or a headline on a story. That wasn’t my intent.
Was I unhappy and disappointed that he refused to answer my question?
Of course I was.
Did it affect what I thought of him as a player and my vote for him for the Hall?
He was on my 2020 ballot.
That’s the way it should be for all voters in any Hall of Fame election.
Steer away from personal feelings and what a player did off the field and worry about whatever they accomplished on the pitch.