For National Soccer Hall of Fame, 2023 class of prominent women highlights voting overhaul – Equalizer Soccer

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Kate Markgraf won a World Cup and two Olympic gold medals as a player for the United States women’s national team, for which she is now the general manager.

When she would attend her daughter’s ice hockey games, however, she kept getting asked the same question by parents who didn’t know about her career: Are you a hall of famer?

“I always said, ‘no,’ and it’s just like, ‘oh she was probably decent but whatever,'” Markgraf said. “Now, I say yes.”

Markgraf will officially be inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame on Saturday in Frisco, Texas, as part of a class loaded with talent and unique in an important way: it is predominantly made up of women.

Entering the Hall on Saturday alongside Markgraf from US women’s soccer are three other familiar names: former national team coach Jill Ellis and former US women’s players Lauren Holiday and Hope Solo (Solo was selected in 2022). They will be joined by former men’s players Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Steve Zungul. The late Grant Wahl will also receive the Hall of Fame’s media award.

The recent addition of more former women’s players comes following drastic changes to voting procedures in recent years that were made to strike greater equality and honor more US soccer figures who had previously missed out due to voting technicalities. The system was flawed in such tangible ways that Abby Wambach, who was at the time the world’s leading international goal-scorer, was inducted in 2019 but received only 81 percent of votes cast. (Full disclosure: I have been part of the Hall of Fame candidate screening and voting process since 2020.)

Of the starting 11 players from the 1999 World Cup final, which the US won on home soil, only Markgraf did not enter the Hall of Fame as a player. She was voted this year in the “veteran” category, which is where former players move to if they go through 10 years of eligibility without being inducted.

“With this Hall of Fame, it was really hard, actually,” Markgraf said. “I did volunteer to be on the board two years ago after I had not made it through as a player because I know what that’s like. I didn’t want any other women to have to go through that validation.”

Holiday is a real-time example of those changes taking effect. She was an exceptional player for club and country whose career ended early by choice — to start a family — after winning the 2015 World Cup. Holiday was among the best players in the early years of the National Women’s Soccer League, winning the inaugural league MVP award and a pair of championships with FC Kansas City.

Her national team career alone was worthy of induction: a pair of Olympic gold medals and a World Cup title, all of which were campaigns she was prominently involved in. But the success of her club career, which dated back to the now defunct Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) also made her eligible for the National Soccer Hall of Fame. That is a change beginning to take place now that the NWSL has sustained itself for a decade.

“It’s huge for the next generation,” Holiday said. “I remember growing up and I was obsessed with Michelle Akers, Shannon MacMillan, Mia Hamm. I got to watch that. I got to be a part of that. I felt like a part of a community. For young girls to see like, ‘Wow, they’re hall of famers too. These women are just as good as the men.’ I feel like it’s just really big for our next generation. I think that women’s sports in general is going to keep growing and women’s soccer, I’m honored that I feel like we’ve kind of taken the lead.”

Holiday’s career overlapped with the end of Markgraf’s, and Ellis served as Holiday’s coach in college, at UCLA, and towards the end of Holiday’s national team career. Ellis remembers meeting with Holiday to commend her professionalism ahead of the 2008 Olympics, a breakout tournament for Holiday that she only attended at the last minute due to Abby Wambach breaking her leg. (Holiday remembered a more comical moment: Ellis throwing her out of practice at UCLA for not wearing shinguards.)

Ellis, like Markgraf, is now involved in the reformed voting process for the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Ellis enters the Hall in the “builder” category, which honors those involved in growing the game. The new rotation of voting meant that only coaches were eligible for induction as builders for the class of 2023.

In 2019, Ellis became the only female head coach to win two World Cups. She guided the US to the 2015 title, with Holiday and Solo featured as prominent starters, followed by the 2019 World Cup title. Ellis now serves as president of the NWSL’s San Diego Wave FC.

The run of women inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame includes Shannon Boxx in 2022 and Christie Pearce Rampone in 2021.

“I think it’s just such an important statement that we acknowledge both genders and now to see a predominantly female class coming in,” Ellis said. “I think it just tips its hat to the pioneers and the great tradition that we’ve had. We’re just such an important part of the global women’s landscape, not just here in this country, in terms of the statements we’ve made continuously of supporting women’s football, women’s soccer. It’s a great moment for us to just take stock of how rich our tradition is on the female side of the sport.”

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