CHICAGO (Dec. 18, 2008) – For their excellence at the highest levels of the sport, U.S. Soccer named U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Tim Howard as the 2008 Male Athlete of the Year and U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder Carli Lloyd as the 2008 Female Athlete of the Year. MNT and Under-23 MNT midfielder Sacha Kljestan and U-17 WNT midfielder Kristie Mewis 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 U.S.
The U.S. Athlete of the Year honor is the first for both Howard and Lloyd. Howard takes his place among past U.S. goalkeeping greats Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller, who won the honor three times. Lloyd becomes the first midfielder since Shannon MacMillan in 2002 to take the award. In the five years since, forwards Abby Wambach and Kristine Lilly have traded the honor back and forth.
The U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year awards have a longer history than any major award in American soccer – 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.
The voters handed Howard his first Male Athlete of the Year award after he played a vital part in helping the U.S. into the final round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup by registering shutouts in three consecutive games against Guatemala, Cuba, and Trinidad & Tobago. In the match against Guatemala, Howard made three saves in difficult conditions as the U.S. won its first ever World Cup qualifying game in the country.
Howard also wowed fans with a memorable performance during the USA's 0-0 draw with Argentina in June. In front of more than 70,000 fans at Giants Stadium, the New Jersey native put together a string of world class saves to shut out the high powered offense of the South Americans, who at the time were ranked No. 1 in the world.
At the club level, Howard continued his service with an ambitious Everton side in the English Premier League, and earned a unique record for the Toffees in early November. Over his first 100 games with the club, Howard accumulated the lowest goals against average in the club's 130 year history, with a .99 GAA
“It's a wonderful honor to accept this Male Athlete of the Year award,” said Howard. “I know down the years there have been some wonderful, very talented players who have won it, so to be considered among a list of those players is special and prestigious. It really humbles me to be a part of that group.”
Lloyd took home her first Athlete of the Year award by playing a vital role in the United States' march to a gold medal repeat at the Olympics. She started all six games in Beijing and played every minute of the tournament where she expended boundless energy and scored two of the most important goals of her career. Both goals were invaluable in the USA's run to the gold medal. Her blast from the top of the penalty box in the USA's 1-0 group game win over Japan kept the WNT alive in the tournament, and then her legendary strike in overtime of the gold medal game against Brazil lifted the Americans to Olympic glory.
“I'm truly honored to have won this award,” said Lloyd, who also totaled career highs in goals (9) and assists (9). “So many fantastic players have won this in the past and this year, so many players this year were deserving of the award, as it was such a great year for this team.”
After debuting with the full MNT in 2007, Kljestan earned a consistent place as a member of Bob Bradley's squad, appearing in four World Cup qualifiers in 2008. The 23-year old was also the vice-captain of the U-23 squad that qualified for the Olympics, scoring a goal against Canada while earning an honorable mention for the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying All-Tournament team.
Once in Beijing, Kljestan was a vital member of the Olympic squad. He lead the team in scoring with two goals through three matches, including a goal against Netherlands that eventually took the honors for Best Goal: Men during U.S. Soccer's 2008 “Best Of” Awards. Kljestan also found success with Chivas USA during the club season, earning MLS Best XI honors for his efforts in helping the Los Angeles club into the Western Conference playoffs.
“I'm very proud to have won the award this year, and I know that some great players have been named Young Male Athlete of the Year in the past,” said Kljestan. “Hopefully we can continue to grow and move forward as a national team and thank you to all the fans for following us this year.”
Mewis, the U-17 WNT's attacking center midfielder had a stellar 2008 FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup, scoring two goals while winning the Bronze Ball as the third best player of the tournament. An outside midfielder by trade, she moved central after the first match and subsequently made a telling impact on every game. She was one of the USA's leading scorers in 2008 with 13 goals, including six in international matches, and her goal from outside the penalty area in the quarterfinal win over South Korea was one of the best of the U-17 Women's World Cup.
“Thanks to everybody who voted and followed our team on ussoccer.com,” said Mewis, who will attend Boston College in the fall for her freshman year of college. “It's a great honor to win this award, especially with all the great players who have played for U.S. National Teams this year and all the amazing players who have played for the U.S. in the past.”