History Without A Hall of Fame

Friday, January 21, 2011 | View Comments
-Jason Davis

In the aftermath of Robert Jonas' musings this morning on the legacy of the NASL (this is also partly the new Cosmos' fault) as it relates to contemporary American soccer, two distinct Twitter conversations popped up on the subject of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Specifically, the back and forth was on what physical location makes sense for the Hall with the Oneonta, New York location unsustainable from a financial standpoint (it closed for good in February of last year). Red Bull Arena, situated next to Kearny, New Jersey (an area just about as steeped in soccer history as a town in American can be) was mentioned. If it was possible to establish the Hall there with a reasonable expectation that it would remain in operation for decades, it's as good a place as any. More creative ideas involved sending the Hall's collection around the country on display, though I'm not a fan of that one myself.

No feasible idea should be shot down. Any hall of fame worth its salt is more than a place where the greats are honored; it's also a museum, an archiver of history where various generations of fans can learn or relive that which might otherwise be forgotten. Cooperstown and Canton (notice that those two towns have become synonymous with the Halls located in them) have a mandate to work as chroniclers of baseball and football in the present even while most people thing of them as housing the past. American soccer needs a place like that, one that isn't going to find itself stretched by budgetary concerns every few years and constantly risking another shut down.

The actually location of the Hall matters less than that it has a location at all. Though inductions continue, a National Soccer Hall of Fame without an accompanying brick and mortar museum is nothing but nice list populated by some names we know and some we don't. Honored greats, the men and women who made a mark on the game here, deserve better. We don't honestly have enough history to go shoving it into a closet.

History can have a reinforcing, skeletal effect on what's happening in the present. MLS seems flimsy and plastic on occasion, lacking in weight because its history is less than twenty years long. A bit of historical underpinning can provide some heft, and a revived National Soccer Hall of Fame and Museum in a stable location can be an integral part of that historical injection. We seem to be coming into some kind of historical revival with all of this NASL legacy and Cosmos business, and it would be much easier to integrate it fully if a visitable repository of American soccer's past existed again.

Of course for that to happen we'd need someone with some pull to take an interest in finding a new home, and someone with access to cash get things started. Location shouldn't be an issue of history and merit, but a function of cost and sustainability. Oneonta couldn't last long enough to become a mini-mecca in the mold of Cooperstown and Canton, so perhaps the Hall-as-destination concept should be thrown out in favor of a location with built-in traffic. Better to trade good feelings for a chance at longevity considering recent history.

It will probably take a coalition people will to operate the Hall of Fame at a loss in order for it to be revived as a physical destination. It would be easy to name a few parties (MLS, US Soccer, various teams and their owners) and suggest they should step up. But if the commitment isn't "forever", or something practically the same, it's probably better to wait for demand to rise enough to make the operation less risky. We need a National Soccer Hall of Fame and Museum, but we also need it to last.

Until we can be sure it will, maybe that traveling exhibit idea isn't so bad.
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