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Kasey Keller and Michelle Akers Crowned U.S. Soccer's 1999 Chevrolet Athletes of the Year

PASADENA, Calif. (Saturday, January 15, 2000) - For their excellence both on and off the field, goalkeeper Kasey Keller and midfielder Michelle Akers were selected as U.S. Soccer's Chevrolet Male and Female Athletes of the Year for 1999. U.S. Soccer's Chevrolet Male and Female Athlete of the Year awards are the oldest and most prestigious awards of their type, dating back to 1984.

For the second straight year, U.S. Soccer's Chevrolet Youth Athletes of the Year are also being recognized by the two organizations, with this year's honors going to budding superstar Ben Olsen and Women's World Cup champion Lorrie Fair. The awards were presented to the athletes at a press conference today at the Doubletree Hotel in Pasadena, Calif., in advance of the U.S. Men's National Team showdown with Iran on Jan. 16 at the Rose Bowl at 2 p.m. PT on ESPN.

All of the annual Chevrolet Awards are based on competing and excelling at the highest level of soccer offered by U.S. Soccer for the calendar year, exhibiting decorum on and off the field which reflects well on U.S. Soccer, and contributing toward soccer's popularization, acceptance and credibility in the United States. To qualify for the youth award, a player must have appeared in at least one U.S. Youth National Team game during the calendar year. The youth award also takes into consideration future potential at the international level as part of its voting criteria.

"We are proud and honored to be so well associated with such an established awards program," said Brian Boyd, Chevrolet's Brand Promotional Manager. "U.S. Soccer's growth across the last 20 years can be charted by the great players who have taken home the Chevrolet Athlete of the Year honors. And at Chevrolet it is vitally important for us to be so closely linked with an organization that knows what it means to truly reach out to the grassroots of an organization. Players like Kasey Keller, Michelle Akers, Ben Olsen and Lorrie Fair personify the past, present and future of the sport and what it means to fans across the United States."

Voting for each of U.S. Soccer's Chevrolet Athlete of the Year honors for 1999 is representative of select media outlets, U.S. Soccer's General Secretariat and the National Board of Directors, compiling over 100 ballots.

KASEY KELLER - Chevrolet Male Athlete of the Year

Kasey Keller became only the second man to win the Chevrolet Athlete of the Year award twice since its inception in 1984. Keller won the award in 1997 after leading the U.S. squad to through qualifying for the 1998 World Cup. In 1999, it was Keller's consistency at the international level which earned him the award. Keller started and played in five matches for the U.S. during the year, compiling a 1.09 goals against average. He helped lead the Americans to a 7-4-2 overall record and a third-place finish at the FIFA Confederations Cup in Mexico. For his efforts, he earned all-star accolades on the All-Confederations Cup Team. Still just 30 years old, the goalkeeper ranks first all-time for the U.S. in goals against average (0.83), and is second in career victories (20) and shutouts (16).

"This is a great honor," said Keller, one of the most decorated players in U.S. Soccer history. "It's not something you can do without your teammates and it is important to acknowledge that the entire U.S. Men's program had a great year in 1999. Now everyone is focused on the World Cup and what it will take for us to qualify."

After 10 seasons playing professionally in England, Keller moved to the European continent prior to the 1999-2000 season, signing with Rayo Vallecano of the Spanish First Division from Leicester City. Knowing he was in store for a challenge, Keller has excelled with the newly promoted club leading them into first place in the league early in the season. The club, which most predicted to be relegated straight away at the end of the season, is still in the top half of the Spanish league tables and Keller was recently honored by European Sports Magazines as the October Goalkeeper of the Month in Europe.

MICHELLE AKERS - Chevrolet Female Athlete of the Year

The season Michelle Akers had for the U.S. Women's National Team might have been considered a rebirth of sorts, except for the fact that she never really went away to begin with. Either way, the soccer-playing warrior had her most inspiring year ever for the U.S. Women, earning her third Chevrolet Female Athlete of the Year award.

In leading her teammates to their second FIFA Women's World Cup crown last summer, Akers was honored as the tournament's third most valuable player, taking home the Bronze Ball from FIFA.

"To receive this kind of recognition at this point in my career is very gratifying," said Akers, who has won the award during both Women's World Cup championship seasons for the U.S. "For the U.S. to have such a successful Women's World Cup required everyone on the team to give 100% and it is amazing to see the response of the public to the team and our sport. It has been a great year."

After winning U.S. Soccer's Chevrolet Athlete of the Year award in back-to-back years in 1990 and 1991, Akers began her memorable 1999 by reaching the 100-goal plateau in January (just the fourth player to reach the career century mark) and it ended with her earning the Bronze Ball as the third most valuable player at the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup, an event which redefined women's athletics in the world.

Akers, who continues to excel despite her well-chronicled struggles with chronic fatigue syndrome, managed to start in 18 of the 20 games in which she appeared, scoring six goals and one assist. Those totals raised her staggering career tallies to 146 caps and 104 goals. But it was her courageous play in the World Cup which fans will remember from 1999, when she lifted her battered and bruised body to new heights through pure determination.

BEN OLSEN - Chevrolet Youth Male Athlete of the Year

Ben Olsen garnered U.S. Soccer's second-ever Chevrolet Youth Male Athlete of the Year award, succeeding fellow U.S. Under-23 National Team standout Josh Wolff, who won the inaugural award in 1998.

Without question, Olsen is one of the leaders on the U.S. Under-23 squad, which will be attempting to qualify for the 2000 Olympics in April. In four appearances for the U-23s in '99, Olsen scored two goals in helping the team to a 7-4-6 overall record.

Despite taking the "Youth" award, Olsen did most of his damage in 1999 at the highest levels of the sport in the U.S., appearing in seven games for the full U.S. Men's National Team, scoring two goals and playing a key role in the team's bronze medal performance at the FIFA Confederations Cup. He also starred for D.C. United throughout the year, which culminated in an MLS crown and MVP honors in the MLS Cup '99 finale.

"This is an important stepping stone for myself," said Ben Olsen, recognized as one of the U.S. Men's National Team leaders heading into a new century. "We have a lot to accomplish in 2000 and the team is confident we will continue our success from 1999."

LORRIE FAIR - Chevrolet Youth Female Athlete of the Year

In a similar way that Olsen garnered his youth award, Lorrie Fair took U.S. Soccer's Chevrolet Youth Female Athlete of the Year award for being an important contributor to the U.S. Women's National Team's successful run at the 1999 Women's World Cup. And she did it despite still being in college and being the youngest player on the team.

Fair, who already has 52 career caps and is still just 21 years old heading into 2000, appeared in 17 games for the U.S., including four of six Women's World Cup matches. She also made two appearances for U.S. Under-21 Women's National Team. After helping the team reach new heights in popularity, Fair returned for her final year of eligibility at the University of North Carolina and led the team to yet another NCAA championship, their 15th.

"It's important to have the youth players recognized in this fashion, and I want to thank Chevrolet for the importance they place on looking at the future stars of the Men's and Women's National Teams," said Lorrie Fair, recently crowned Soccer America's Female Collegiate Player of the Year. "This has been an incredible year for me and I'm looking forward to the challenges ahead in defending our Olympic and Women's World Cup championships."

All-Time Chevrolet/U.S. Soccer Award Winners
Male Athlete of the Year
Female Athlete of the Year
1984Rick Davisnot awarded
1985Perry Van der BeckSharon Remer
1986Paul CaligiuriApril Heinrichs
1987Brent GouletCarin Jennings
1988Peter VermesJoy Biefeld
1989Mike WindischmannApril Heinrichs
1990Tab RamosMichelle Akers-Stahl
1991Hugo PerezMichelle Akers-Stahl
1992Marcelo BalboaCarin Gabarra (Carin Jennings)
1993Thomas DooleyKristine Lilly
1994Marcelo BalboaMia Hamm
1995Alexi LalasMia Hamm
1996Eric WynaldaMia Hamm
1997Kasey KellerMia Hamm
1998Cobi JonesMia Hamm
1999Kasey KellerMichelle Akers
YearMale Youth Player of the YearFemale Youth Player of the Year
1998Josh WolffCindy Parlow
1999Ben OlsenLorrie Fair

Teammates Lorrie Fair (left) and Michelle Akers look on during the awards presentation.

Chevrolet representative Brian Boyd with the three awards recipients (Kasey Keller was not present due to club commitments in Spain. His club, Rayo Vallecano, drew 1-1 with rival Atletico de Madrid on Saturday.)

Lorrie Fair sits at the head table, next to the trophies for the Chevrolet Athletes of the Year. Chevrolet also contributed $1,000 scholarships in the name of each Youth Athlete of the Year and gave Akers and Keller each a new Chevy Cavalier.

Ben Olsen looks on as U.S. Soccer president Dr. S. Robert Contiguglia addresses the audience at the award presentation and press conference.