â€¢ Landon Donovan Wins Male Athlete of the Year for the Third Time
â€¢ Hope Solo Becomes First Goalkeeper to Win Female Athlete of the Year
â€¢ Luis Gil and Tobin Heath Claim Young Athletes of the Year Awards
CHICAGO (Dec. 21, 2009) â€” For their excellence at the highest levels of the sport, U.S. Soccer named U.S. Menâ€™s National Team forward Landon Donovan as the 2009 Male Athlete of the Year and U.S. Womenâ€™s National Team goalkeeper Hope Solo as the 2009 Female Athlete of the Year. Under-17 MNT midfielder Luis Gil and WNT and U-23 WNT midfielder Tobin Heath won the Young Male and Young Female Awards, respectively. The U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year award is the highest honor awarded to soccer players in the United States.
The Male Athlete of the Year honor is the third for Donovan, who previously won back-to-back awards in 2003 and 2004. The 2009 prize ties the USA's all-time leading scorer with former Men's National Team goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who won the award in 1997, 1999 and 2005. Solo became the first goalkeeper to win Female Athlete of the Year.
The U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year awards have a longer history than any major award in American soccer â€“ more than 20 years. They join the FIFA Players of the Year as the only two awards to honor both the top male and the top female in the sport.
As in years past, online votes registered at ussoccer.com counted for 50 percent of the total votes, while the other 50 percent was represented by votes compiled from members of the national media and U.S. Soccer representatives, including National Team coaches and the members of the U.S. Soccer Board of Directors. A player can only win the Young Athlete award once in their career.
Voters handed Donovan his third Male Athlete of the Year after the midfielder had one of the most impressive years in U.S. soccer history. The 27-year old, a former Young Male Athlete of the Year in 2000, played a large part in the USA's qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, scoring three goals and providing nine assists during the Final Round of qualifying. The forward was involved in 12 of the USA's 19 Final Round goals as the team advanced to its sixth consecutive World Cup finals.
Along the way Donovan added two more records to his already impressive international rÃ©sumÃ©. He took his career qualifying caps to 35, surpassing Keller, Claudio Reyna and Eddie Pope for first all-time and also moved into first on the all-time qualifying goal chart. Donovan's 12 goals in World Cup qualifiers give him two more than former Men's National Team forward Brian McBride. Donovan was also a vital part of the USA's run to the Confederations Cup Final in June, playing 90 minutes in all five games while registering two goals and one assist. His goal in the final against Brazil was recently voted by the fans as the Best Goal during the 2009 Best of U.S. Soccer Awards.
At the club level Donovan excelled with the revitalized L.A. Galaxy. He earned Major League Soccer MVP honors for the first time in his career and helped the Galaxy win the Western Conference championship en route to a trip to MLS Cup in Seattle.
â€œItâ€™s a great accomplishment and a great award,â€ said Donovan. â€œIâ€™m very proud of it and knowing that the fans vote on it, your teammates vote on it, and your colleagues vote on it is very special to me.â€
â€œIt was a great year for me individually, it was a great year for the L.A. Galaxy and the turnaround we had, and an incredible year for our national team with the Confederations Cup and how we did in qualifying. We look forward to next year. Itâ€™s going to be a lot of fun.â€
Solo, the winner of the 2009 Female Athlete of the Year award, played at a world class level for both club and country in 2009 as she solidified her status as one of the best female goalkeepers in the world. She was named MVP of the prestigious Algarve Cup in Portugal in March after a sparkling performance against Sweden in the championship game.
Her inspirational play for St. Louis Athletica was invaluable in leading the club to a second place finish in the regular season. She also earned the WPS Goalkeeper of the Year, finishing second in the WPS in both saves and shutouts. In a down year for the U.S. WNT game schedule due to the WPS, Solo played in just six matches, but allowed only one goal and consistently made key saves when called upon.
â€œItâ€™s a huge honor but also a really nice surprise to be voted the female athlete of the year for U.S. Soccer,â€ said Solo. â€œI especially want to thank everyone for voting for a goalkeeper, as well as our goalkeeper coach Paul Rogers for helping me think about the position in a more sophisticated way, both technically and tactically.â€
â€œCertainly, I also want to share any accolades with our defense, from the backs all the way up to the forwards, as well as Pia and our coaches who have put together a great team of people and players as we keep moving forward in a positive direction to the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup.â€
Heath, long hailed as one of the brightest young players in the national team programs, now joins a distinguished list of players to have been named Young Female Athlete of the Year. She played with both the U.S. U-23 Womenâ€™s National Team and the full WNT in 2009, but her biggest triumph of 2009 was leading UNC to its 20th NCAA title, despite playing with nagging injuries.
She scored five goals with 10 assists for the Tar Heels, who compiled a record of 23-3-1 and pulled out 1-0 victories in both the NCAA semifinal and championship game. For the Womenâ€™s National Team, she upped her career cap total to 19 and figures to play a much more prominent role in 2010 as she enters her first season of professional soccer.
â€œI really appreciate the fans and everyone who voted for me, and itâ€™s very cool to be included among the players who have been named Young Female Athlete of the Year,â€ said Heath. â€œIâ€™ve played with most of them and they are all great players and great role models for the young players coming up, so hopefully I can one day I can fill that role as well. It was a crazy year, but a great year, ending with a special NCAA title and Iâ€™m really looking forward to what 2010 will bring.â€
The youngest member of the U.S. team to compete in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Nigeria, Gil is the also the youngest player to win the Young Male Athlete of the Year Award since Freddy Adu in 2003.
The crafty midfielder proved he belonged on the field, consistently turning in some of the best performances in Nigeria, where he assisted on Nick Palodichuk's goal in the Round of 16 match against Italy. Gil appeared in 18 international games this year, adding four goals and four assists along the way. His four goals were second best on the theam in 2009. Having joined U.S. Soccerâ€™s Residency Program in the Spring of 2008, he has 32 caps at that level despite many of his teammates joining the program the previous semester.
â€œIâ€™d like to thank everybody for voting me U.S. Soccerâ€™s 2009 Young Male Athlete of the Year,â€ said Gil, who was speaking from the U-20 training camp in Chula Vista, Calif. â€œIâ€™d also like to thank Marlon Duran, Jared Jeffrey, Brian Perk and Tyler Polak who were nominated for the award as well. We had a great year at the U-17 World Cup and got to the second round. Iâ€™m here with the U-20 cycle now and Iâ€™m looking forward to the next year.â€