Tisha Venturini-Hoch induction at National Soccer Hall of Fame
The induction ceremony for the National Soccer Hall of Fame was Saturday in Frisco. Courtesy Rush Olson

Maybe you watched some men’s English soccer Saturday on one of the NBC outlets or women’s on a CBS platform. Or perhaps you caught the NWSL on ION or MLS on Apple TV. You might have had to sandwich all that viewing around one of your kids’ games.

This deep soccer presence did not exist in the U.S. a few decades, or even years, ago. Its existence owes a lot to a quintet who, ironically, didn’t get to watch much of the sport on Saturday (at least, I didn’t personally observe any of them streaming the action on their phones).

The group in question assembled in Frisco, Texas Saturday for their induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame. The 2024 class consisted of Tim Howard, Francisco Marcos, Josh McKinney and Tisha Venturini-Hoch.  The ceremony also honored Amy Rosenfeld as the recipient of the Colin Jose Media Award.

The 2024 class consisted of Tim Howard, Francisco Marcos, Josh McKinney and Tisha Venturini-Hoch.
Courtesy U.S. Soccer

“This class represents diversity, equity, inclusion, resilience in the game,” Howard said. “Everybody had a story of hardships and their ability to overcome them.”

One could make the case that the inductees also represented a significant cross-section of the ways the game itself has overcome hardships to attain its current level of popularity in the U.S.

Howard had to cut out on his day job to accept his honor in person. His current profession involves watching soccer for NBC Sports and commenting on it on their broadcast, cable, and streaming services. It’s a gig he could scarcely have envisioned when he first got into the game.

“The game was so primitive back in the mid ‘90s. When I got into it, there wasn’t coverage. There wasn’t much media surrounding it. Our players were good, but not great,” he said. He did a lot to change the perception of American players, becoming a top goalkeeper in the English Premier League and showing out in big international performances for the U.S. Men’s National Team.

Rosenfeld echoed Howard’s observation when she noted in her remarks that “there was a time when nobody really cared about soccer and putting it on TV.” Her work as a producer for ESPN went a long way to improving the sport’s mass appeal. She cited the 2010 World Cup as an example of how the network allowed her to devote significant production resources to creating a best-in-class broadcast. The rising quantity and quality of exposure mattered in growing the sport.

“I think that having all the exposure that soccer now has in television has really opened people’s eyes to how beautiful the sport really is,” she said. “Now, all of the networks have soccer, all of the streamers have soccer, you can watch every league globally. I think once Americans really got access to the sport, that it elevated to the point where the discussion about the upcoming (2026) World Cup here in the United States will once again be one of the most epic sporting events in history.”

Venturini-Hoch praised Rosenfeld in her remarks: “Thank you for standing up and getting the women’s game out there.” Venturini-Hoch played a significant role herself as a national team player in the crucial decade of the 1990s. She played for the U.S. in the 1995 World Cup, the 1996 Olympics, and the 1999 World Cup. Victorious Team USA performances in the latter two tournaments brought women’s soccer to the forefront in the U.S. and, indeed, even helped the men’s game.

Venturini-Hoch’s brother Todd served as her presenter and suggested in his speech, “Tisha’s legacy is the thousands of young women and men who went through her camps or saw her speak.” Inspiration matters, as do role models. McKinney’s election and U.S. Soccer’s overall efforts in creating extended national teams provide some of both for athletes like him.

“Now they have that they have role models they can look up to. I mean, when I was growing up, because I was lefty Maradona was my role model. So But now kids with disabilities can look up and see someone kind of have similar struggles they did growing up and go, ‘Oh I can do this too.’”

McKinney, the first Extended National Team player to earn Hall of Fame election, fought through cerebral palsy to play on his high school team and later in the Paralympic Games and other international competitions for his country. Howard didn’t let his Tourette’s syndrome or being one of the first prominent Black U.S. players stop him from excelling.

“We both had to overcome our own struggles,” McKinney observed of himself and his fellow inductee. “We’ve worked at it. We’re passionate about kind of improving that stuff. We want to work and get better.”

Marcos provided opportunities for players throughout the U.S. who wanted to get better and rise to become professional players. He created the United Soccer League, a far-reaching organization that now has more than 200 clubs at multiple levels. He also created the first high-profile women’s league in the United States, the W-League, in 1995. Marcos told the crowd how USL teams now sell for millions of dollars and he wishes he had been able to charge those prices when he started out selling franchises for $1000 each.

Marcos took the risk of bootstrapping his league because he loved the game so much. He nurtured his devotion to it in his native Portugal and noted that he had watched every match his favorite club, Lisbon’s Sporting CP, had played this season until Saturday. Even without him, they beat Portimonense 3-0 to extend their lead at top of the Primeira Liga table.

Though he didn’t get to watch his team (at least I didn’t notice him huddled over a phone streaming it), a lot of soccer fans did have the opportunity to watch Francisco Marcos and his class receive their red Hall of Fame jackets. NBC livestreamed the ceremony via their Peacock and Telemundo Deportes social media channels. That a national sports entity would deem such an event worthy of coverage offers testament to how far the game has come, thanks, in no small part, to the men and women Saturday’s proceedings recognized.