U.S. Soccer’s Male and Female Athletes of the Year awards are the oldest and most prestigious awards of their kind, dating back to 1984 for the Men and 1985 for the Women. The finalists for each award were nominated on the basis of: a) competing and excelling at the highest level (both at the National Team and professional level) during the calendar year; b) exhibiting decorum on and off the field which reflects well on U.S. Soccer; and c) contributing toward the growth, development, credibility and popularization of soccer in the USA.
The five finalists for the Young Male award are listed below in alphabetical order:
U.S. Soccer Young Male Athlete of the Year Candidates
Benny Feilhaber, Midfielder
Coming into the youth national team picture just last December, Feilhaber, 20, has made one of the quickest jumps from being a relative unknown to receiving a call from Bruce Arena. Getting brought into the U-20s a month before qualifying, the former UCLA Bruin walk-on beat out some young professionals to start in the midfield and subsequently wowed with his dynamic play. During the FIFA World Youth Championship, Feilhaber was undoubtedly the best U.S. player on the field, getting named one of the 11 “Golden Nuggets” of the tournament by the media, and helped the team surprise the world by winning their group which included Argentina, Germany and Egypt. His performance caught the eye of numerous European clubs, and he was courted by a few directly after the WYC before finally settling on Hamburger SV in the German Bundesliga. Four months later, Feilhaber received his first MNT call-up and packed his bags for Scotland.
Eddie Gaven, Midfielder
A quiet, but effective, leader on the Under-20s, Gaven opened the door for the U.S. to enter their fifth straight FIFA World Youth Championship with hat-trick against Trinidad & Tobago in the team’s opening game of CONCACAF qualifying at The Home Depot in January. During the World Championship in Holland, Gaven was unlucky not to score having three quality chances get denied, but was still able to contribute with his tenacious work rate and intelligent play off the ball. He received his second call-up with the full MNT early in the year and came on as a substitute against Colombia on March 9 in Fullerton, Calif. A consistent starter for the MetroStars, he tied for second in starts (26 of 28 games played) and was fourth in minutes played this year. Gaven was also one of MetroStars top scoring threats, compiling 20 points (eight goals and four assists), third best on the team.
Kyle Nakazawa, Midfielder
An off-and-on starter with the Under-17s during his first year in U.S. Soccer’s U-17 Residency Program, Nakazawa came into his own in 2005 to win the attacking midfielder position and helped lead the team to a fifth place finish in the FIFA U-17 World Championship. Nakazawa stepped up when it mattered most by scoring four of his six international goals in the team’s biggest games, burying two strikes in qualifying and two world-class free kicks in the World Championship. When not scoring big-time goals, Naka was controlling the midfield and feeding his teammates to compile a team-high 12 overall assists. He was also the most consistent player on the squad, starting a team-high 37 games.
Ofori Sarkodie, Defender
The captain of the U-17s, Sarkodie was the rock to a constantly changing defense. The central defender started all 31 games he played in and due to injuries had a multitude of different teammates to his left and right over the course of the year. Despite the ever-changing defense, the Ohio native’s commanding presence in the back allowed the team to compile a 1.29 goals against average in international matches, which included four shutouts. The future Indiana Hoosier didn’t keep his skills to the backfield, pushing into the attack during free kicks or corner kicks and notching two goals, including the opening strike in the team’s upset over Italy in the FIFA U-17 World Championship. One of the most intelligent and athletic players on the squad, Sarkodie has drawn the most interest from professional clubs here and abroad.
Quentin Westberg, Goalkeeper
Being born in France and playing professionally in his home country means Westberg doesn’t get mentioned around the water cooler too often here in the U.S., but the impact he had with the Under-20s this past year can’t be ignored. The first-choice ‘keeper for the U-20s, Westberg started nine of the team’s 12 international matches and didn’t allow a goal in half of those meetings. Overall, he compiled an impressive 7-1-1 and only allowed a total of five goals, three of which came in a single outing: the Round of 16 match against Italy in the FIFA World Youth Championship. Before his only loss of the year, Westberg shutout Argentina, Germany and Egypt to become the first U.S. goalkeeper to not allow a goal in the opening round of a FIFA World Youth Championship.