At Home and Abroad, Hall of Fame Duos Grew American Soccer
As the newest members of the National Soccer Hall of Fame spoke during the 2021 induction ceremony, the luncheon gave way to a heartfelt celebration of two of the American game’s most impactful pairings.
Together again were Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo — Captain America and the Mayor of Hannover — the durable, feisty defenders who anchored the back line for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, building a lasting bond as “Roomies for Life.”
Celebrating along with them were Kevin Payne and Jaime Moreno, the team executive who built an MLS dynasty in the nation’s capital and the Bolivian striker who delivered trophy after trophy for the club in domestic and international competitions alike.
Their love and respect for one another — and for the Beautiful Game itself — flowed throughout the October afternoon, a celebration that felt long overdue after the 2020 induction was canceled because of the pandemic.
Bocanegra, the lone member of 2020’s class, had to wait an extra year for his induction. The timing allowed him to pick up his red Hall of Fame jacket at the same time as Cherundolo. It seemed a fitting way to commemorate their relationship, which began when they were youth-league rivals in Southern California — Cherundolo with the Nomads and Bocanegra with Arsenal.
They would soon become teammates, first in the National Team’s youth program and eventually on the first team. When they were together on the pitch, either in training or on the world’s biggest stage, they were so in sync they seemed to read each other’s minds, overlapping their runs to balance each other’s positions or reading the other’s movements to anticipate the next pass.
Their careers away from the USMNT took different paths, however. Bocanegra started and ended his club career in MLS with stops along the way in England, France, Scotland and Spain — playing with seven clubs over 15 years. Cherundolo played for one team over his 15 years, leaving Hannover 96 as a fan favorite — the so-called “Mayor of Hannover.”
It was their time together on the National Team, though, that brought them together in the Hall of Fame. The memories flowed easily — especially the stoppage-time 1-0 victory over Algeria in the 2010 World Cup that vaulted the U.S. into the Round of 16 in South Africa. After 90-plus scoreless minutes, Landon Donovan drove home the winning goal on a breakaway that started in the back, with a throw from goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Cherundolo described that match as the highlight of his career: “Carlos and Tim and I played Under-18s together and moved up from there, so it was a long time coming. It was a very long relationship that came together in that one moment and it was really special for us.”
It was a special moment for the whole of American soccer as well.
“A couple days later, we started seeing these fan videos come out and all the excitement,” Bocanegra said. “And you’re going, ‘Holy cow.’ One game lifted the whole country. It was cool.”
That moment also stands out among the decades of memories that define the career of Andrés Cantor, who was honored at the ceremony as the 2020 winner of the Colin Jose Media Award.
“I almost fainted at the end because it was a very, very tense game,” said Cantor, known worldwide for his “GOOOOOOOOOOOL!” calls. “I had nothing left in the tank.”
D.C. United fans fondly remember Payne and Moreno as the key figures in building the first MLS dynasty. Payne deserves some of the credit for helping keep the league alive through its darkest hours as well.
United didn’t get off to a great start in 1996 — the league’s inaugural year — but the team found new life when Moreno arrived in the middle of the season, joining an attack that included Marco Etcheverry and Raul Diaz Arce: “Our team and the league would never be the same again,” Payne said.
In short order, Moreno led United to lift the first MLS Cup, then followed that with two more in the next three years. The first player to reach 100 goals and 100 assists in MLS play, Moreno helped the team win four league titles during his time in the nation’s capital, along with Lamar Hunt U.S. Open titles in 1996 and 2008, a CONCACAF Champions Cup and the InterAmerican Cup.
“We’ve talked about his goals and his assists, but that’s not even half of the story of what he meant to our team on the field,” Payne said of Moreno. “His combination of speed and strength and grace and technique — I’m not sure there’s been anybody else in the league who kind of has the whole package the way he did.”
While the United trophy case showcases the spoils of Moreno’s play and Payne’s devoted leadership, what’s less visible to the casual fan is the role Payne played behind the scenes in growing the league — and the sport itself in the United States.
Starting with his work in leadership roles at U.S. Soccer and Soccer USA Partners, Payne was heavily involved in evangelizing on behalf of the National Team in the early 1990s. And in addition to building D.C. United on a solid foundation — including the hiring of legendary coach Bruce Arena — Payne dedicated himself to the sport’s future in this country.
“The things Kevin did for this league, I think this is well deserved,” Moreno said. “Sharing this moment with him is very special.”
At one point, when MLS had dwindled to a handful of owners, Payne was in charge of six teams: LA Galaxy, Colorado Rapids, Chicago Fire, MetroStars, San Jose Earthquakes and, of course, D.C. United. Payne worked closely with the league’s most dedicated leaders to ensure its future.
“Most of the credit for that needs to go to Phil Anschutz and the Hunt family and the Kraft family, but I did my part,” Payne said. “Our objective was to try to create stability and predictability so that we could try to bring in new investors and buy those teams — and we did that in a relatively short period of time.”
His advocacy for MLS continues today, and Payne points to Moreno’s election to the Hall of Fame as a point of pride.
“You know, when Landon was retiring, they asked in several interviews, ‘Who’s the best player you ever played against?’” Payne said of Donovan. “I think they were looking for a defender, but he kept saying Moreno. I hope Marco [Etcheverry] gets elected next year, and there’s a lot of other players that I think deserve to be in who didn’t necessarily have National Team credentials but did have credentials playing in the league.
“Jaime is the first to really be inducted strictly on his MLS career, and that means a great deal to me.”