Thursday, February 28, 2008

The case for Joe-Max Moore

It might take a miracle for Joe-Max Moore to make the list of inductees for this year’s National Soccer Hall of Fame enshrinement.

Although he gained an impressive 48.2% of the vote during his first year on the ballot, Moore will be hard-pressed to make the cut this year. Stacked against fellow repeat nominees Marco Etcheverry and Carlos Valderrama and newcomers Preki and Ernie Stewart, Moore will likely have to wait at least another year before becoming the second Revolution player to be fitted for a scarlet jacket (Alexi Lalas being the first in 2006).

However, there should be zero doubt that the fourth-leading scorer in US Men’s National Team history (24 goals), not to mention the second best scorer in New England Revolution history (41 goals) is worthy of such an illustrious honor. It’s simply a matter of time. For some perspective, look back at pro soccer’s landscape in the early-to-mid 1990s.

While the national team began to bloom internationally and the Revolution just birthed, Moore emerged as the man who successfully helped steer both ships during the mid-1990s. Moreover, Moore wasn't just a member of the first edition of the Revolution; he was a tremendous influence on professional soccer’s re-emergence in New England.The fantastic mixture of the Revolution and the thrice-named striker was first cast back on July 27, 1996.

The club was mired in mediocrity and was in desperate need of a goalscorer. Enter Joe-Max Moore. Freshly picked by MLS from the German club FC Nurnburg and allocated to New England, Moore made an almost immediate impact, scoring two goals in just his second game with the Revs, a 2-0 victory against San Jose in front of the Foxboro faithful on July 31st.

The following week, he was named FujiFilm Player of the Week, officially signaling the beginning of the Moore era along Route 1. Despite missing the first 18 games of the season, he went on to become the club's leading scorer, scoring an astounding 11 goals in 14 games.From 1997-99, Moore regularly launched balls into the back of the net, scoring 26 goals in 61 matches. A string of injuries and national team call ups limited his numbers during the 1997 and 1998 seasons, but 1999 saw Moore re-emerge as a premier striker.

Fully fit and rested, the Oklahoma kid tore through MLS competition with 15 goals and 8 assists, good enough to be named an MLS All-Star. After his monster ’99 season, Moore elected to return to Europe to play for Everton in the English Premier League, where the injury bug followed and limited him to only 27 league matches between 2000 and 2002.

By the end of the 2001-02 season, the series of injuries that dogged his career were beginning to take their toll. A knee injury sustained during the 2002 World Cup eventually led to his release from Everton at the end of the calendar year.Out of a contract and a shortlist of options, Moore contemplated a stateside return.

As if Disney had conjured up the script, the fan favorite was welcomed back by New England in 2003, although the toll on his legs had made him a noticeably changed player. With the remarkable scoring rate diminished, he somehow reinvented himself as a superb passer, allowing the goalscoring tandem of Taylor Twellman and Pat Noonan to shine. Yet, the thirst for the goal remained unquenchable, and Moore recorded four goals of his own in sixteen matches during the 2003 season.

But 2004 was a different story. He saw limited action in only three matches, as his ravaged legs finally began to betray him. Undaunted, he planned to make a triumphant return in 2005. Unfortunately, the final scene of his career had already been completed. The gifted, gutsy striker suffered the one final injury during the preseason that forced him premature retirement at the age of 34.

To this day, Moore's name is still synonymous with the Revolution. His tireless efforts and contagious energy brought the fans back to Foxboro clamoring for more. Nearly four years after his final match, navy blue jerseys bearing the familiar number nine are still sprinkled among the numbers worn by today's players. In fact, many Revs fans cite Everton as their favorite EPL club because of Moore, and many more are well aware that before Twellman, this club belonged to one Joe-Max Moore. When the club searched for an identity during the late-1990s, Moore gave it the perfect avatar: a creative, yet lethal finisher that wowed the Foxboro Faithful.

With the retirements of three original MLS players (Cobi Jones, Eddie Pope, and Chris Armas) after the 2007 season, it's fair to say that had his damaged legs not betrayed him, the crafty striker could have very well taken a farewell bow with his fellow original MLS stars.

Sadly, unlike his peers, Moore was never afforded the chance to retire on his own terms. Today, he has distanced himself from the game somewhat, and has become a public face for a nutritional beverage.

Yet, it will only be a matter of time before Moore makes his triumphant return – one surely deserved – when he is someday enshrined in his sport’s National Hall of Fame.

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