Column: U.S. soccer gets a place to honor its history and the people who made it
When former Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2015, the ceremony took place at Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry.
But at least that’s a building. When Soccer America editor Paul Kennedy was in the spring of 2017, he received his award in a damp tent outside San Jose’s Avaya Stadium.
Hours after the ceremony, the tent was dismantled and carted away, leaving Kennedy to wonder if it had been a dream.
Dan Hunt has heard those stories countless times. So he and his family decided to do something about it, pushing for the construction of a permanent Hall of Fame attached to the suburban stadium that is home to FC Dallas, the MLS team the Hunt family owns.
The building officially opened its doors for the first time on Saturday to honor MLS commissioner Don Garber, former U.S. Soccer president Bob Contiguglia, former players Tiffeny Milbrett, Brad Friedel and Cindy Parlow, and veteran broadcaster JP Dellacamera.
Their induction ceremony took place not in a drafty tent but in the club suite of a modern 19,350-square-foot museum and exhibition space overlooking the south goal of Toyota Stadium.
“The big focus of this exercise was to make sure that we recognize those from the past that helped contribute to the game, those that are currently changing the game and those that, in the future, will make the game even greater here in this country,” Hunt said. “I’m just happy they have a home. To see the smiles on some of the Hall of Famers’ faces has been pretty amazing.”
The issue is a personal one for Hunt. His father, the late Lamar Hunt, was one of the founders of Major League Soccer and its predecessor, the North American Soccer League, and is widely credited with helping save MLS when he joined with Galaxy owner Philip Anschutz and Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Revolution, to rescue the league from certain bankruptcy.
That earned him induction into the Hall of Fame.
But four years after Hunt’s death in 2006, the Hall, then housed in an oddly shaped building in Oneonta, N.Y., ran into financial troubles of its own and closed for good. More than 80,000 artifacts were boxed up and moved to a warehouse basement in Hillsborough, N.C., and though inductions continued, the recipients’ exploits were mainly honored online.
“It didn’t sit right with me or my brother Clark that there wasn’t a Hall of Fame open,” Hunt said. “But it wasn’t just about Dad. It was about all the people that have the conviction to grow the game.
“It pained me when it closed. It just did our game a disservice.”
Soccer, he said, needed “a place to go visit. A place to see names, honor the greats of the game.”
The result is a $56-million museum that houses 400 artifacts — some more than a century old — as well as numerous interactive exhibits and the names of every Hall inductee. It will open to the public Nov. 2.
“It’s extremely important,” executive director Djorn Buchholz said of the effort to preserve and display that history. “When you look at soccer in this country, in some respects it’s been around longer than football. There is some rich history. We want to tell those stories.”
Dellacamera, who provided America’s soccer soundtrack for a generation, certainly has some stories worth telling. He was in Frisco to call last week’s Women’s World Cup qualifiers for Fox Sports and got a sneak peek inside the Hall — though he refused to go look at his name, which had just been added to a list of other media honorees beneath a photo of Brazilian legend Pele.
“I think it would be too emotional,” said Dellacamera, 66, who finally took a look Saturday, when he gave his induction speech.
Dellacamera was honored as much for his tenacity and dedication to the sport as for his broadcasting talent. Eschewing more lucrative offers to work other games, Dellacamera did soccer for more than three decades, much of the time in obscurity from remote studios or the empty arenas of outfits such as the Major Indoor Soccer League and Women’s United Soccer Assn.
His 1989 call of Paul Caligiuri’s goal that qualified the U.S. for its first World Cup in 50 years remains a classic — even if the taped broadcast of that historic game wasn’t shown until days later. He also narrated Brandi Chastain’s winning penalty kick and partial striptease in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final and nine consecutive men’s World Cups.
Those calls live on the Internet, but now the Hall of Fame has given those games — and other iconic moments — a physical place as well.
“The Hall of Fame, for the last eight years, has kind of lived in the cloud,” Buchholz said. “To finally have a home again, it just further solidifies where the sport is going in this country.
“We need a Hall of Fame. We need to honor the people that have gotten the sport to where it is today.”
And perhaps just as important, a place where those pioneers can continue to be honored.
“This is good fortune, right?” said Dellacamera, sitting on a folding chair in the club suite last week as dozens of workers prepared for Saturday’s induction ceremony. “If it was a year ago, there was no ceremony. There is no plaque to show your wife or daughters and your grandson. Or anybody. It’s going in storage somewhere.
“So yeah, the timing was right.”