By Ridge Mahoney
I’d have preferred to see more than two former players inducted to the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame, yet it’s good that both selections are utterly deserving.
You can read elsewhere of the career highlights registered by Joe-Max Moore and Peter Vermes, and certainly debate that other male players and perhaps one or two women should have also made the cut. Both Moore and Vermes were raised in the dark days post-NASL and pre-MLS, when Americans started their pro playing careers in minor league ball at home or found a place with a club overseas, and both were steered by their fathers in very different ways.
Vermes grew up in New Jersey during the Cosmos era, and as the son of a former professional player always had the itch to make it as a pro himself if not a clear idea of the path he might take. Before leaving his native Hungary, Vermes’ father played for Honved alongside such greats as Ferenc Puskas, and from an early age the son would listen to his dad’s stories of legendary players and memorable games. Moore was a completely different case, the son of an Oklahoma wild-catter renowned for betting huge sums on college football games and building a soccer field in the backyard for his precocious young boy. When Carl Moore realized the limitations of Tulsa-area soccer would restrict Joe-Max’s development he moved the family to Southern California.
Both played in college -- Vermes at Loyola (Md.) and Rutgers, Moore with UCLA -- and scrapped for a time with foreign teams while representing the USA. Vermes, 46, played for Raba ETO in Hungary, FC Volendam in the Netherlands and then Figueras in Spain before joining up with the MetroStars for the start of MLS in 1996. Along the way, he also played domestically for the New Jersey Eagles, Tampa Bay Rowdies and New York Fever.
Moore, four years younger, scored 21 goals for Saarbruecken and Nuremberg in Germany before signing with the New England Revolution during the 1996 season. He left in 1999 for Everton long before Brian McBride and Landon Donovan made England a favored destination for U.S. players, then returned to the Revs in 2003 to play his final two MLS seasons.
The tales of Moore and Vermes are somewhat typical of players in their era, when players didn’t have the domestic option of MLS nor enhanced opportunities overseas, but what isn’t typical is the perseverance they showed. Unquenchable desire carried them through some tough times, times when Americans on foreign teams were regarded as curiosities if not outright anomalies. Coaching changes, poor results and roster overhaul regularly brought fresh challenges, and both had to toggle between positions rather than settle into a consistent spot.
During his time in Spain, Vermes would play up top during home games but on the road would be deployed as a defensive midfielder. That the man who started at forward against Italy in the 1990 World Cup and bounced a shot off keeper Walter Zenga’s left buttock would win an MLS title (in 2000) as the defensive linchpin of Coach Bob Gansler’s Kansas City team might astound observers but not Vermes. He represented the USA 67 times from 1988 to 1997, and so impressive was he during the 1991 Gold Cup – he belted a screamer into Mexico’s goal during an amazing 2-0 semifinal win – that a Televisa announcer
labeled him, “El Superman!”
Moore labored for much of his career as a "tweener,’:not quite forward and not attacking midfielder, per se. Sorting out where and how he should play occasionally confounded national-team head coaches Bora Milutinovic, Steve Sampson and Bruce Arena, yet they wanted him on the field regardless. From 1992 to 2002, they provided him with 100 caps (during which he scored 24 goals).
He should be credited with 25 goals and would hold the U.S. record for goals in a game with five, except for a shot that slipped through a hole in the El Salvador net during a 7-0 romp in 1993. Instead he shares the record with four, though his dad called the Soccer America offices demanding we credit a fifth goal to him and lobby U.S. Soccer to do the same. As flattered as we were, we couldn't comply.
So in saluting these two additions to the Hall of Fame we also salute their moms and dads, relatives, coaches, teammates and support groups. Nobody gets there on their own, and these two men are shining examples of sticking it out.