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U.S. Soccer's 2001 Athletes of the Year

A monthly column about the State of U.S. Soccer that takes a hard look at everything from the performance of the U.S. National Teams to pro soccer in the good ‘ole U-S-of-A . If you're looking for an viewpoint that you won't see in a generic, nuts-and-bolts U.S. Soccer press release, you've come to the right place.

This month, the Armchair Midfielder will attempt to play soccer's version of Roger Ebert by declining back in the Barcalounger, gorging an already plump body on Milk Duds and double butter popcorn, and picking the U.S. National Team players that will win the prestigious Chevy Athlete of the Year awards.

It's that time of year again, folks. No, not the annual turn-of-the-calendar ritual of life re-evaluation and the subsequent breaking of New Year's Resolutions before the week is out. Okay, actually, that does still happen all over the world, but that's beside the point. What I'm really talking about is that always enjoyable year-end "award time."

For movie critics, it's a chance to belittle the layman's appreciation of "film" and show that the average American clearly did not make enough trips to that out-of-the-way, non-stadium seating art house theater. For music critics, it's a time to crank the Music Snob dial to 11, pray to the Radiohead altar, and go out of the way to fill their "best of" lists with bands that the radio listener has never even heard of.

But for yours truly, a so-called soccer expert, it's a chance to handicap the field of exceptional nominees up for U.S. Soccer's own annual "Best of" honors. But first a word from our sponsor: "Chevrolet...We'll Be There."

How many times does the truly best band/artist/actor/movie actually win the award and get the well-deserved glory? The answer: not many. With that in mind, let's play that nasty game of coulda-woulda-shoulda and pick some award winners:

Chevy Male Athlete of the Year
The Favorite: Earnie Stewart. Peaking as a performer after 11 years with the MNT, his performance over the last two years has been one of the sole reasons that the U.S. qualified for a record fourth consecutive World Cup. Every one of his team-leading five goals in 2001 were big ones, with all five coming during the final round of World Cup qualifying. All that is not to even mention that he's tearin' it up as usual for his pro team in Holland.
Who Should Win: Clint Mathis. Sure, he could only walk for a fourth of the calendar year, but when he did suit up for the USA or the MetroStars, he was the biggest stud around.

Chevy Female Athlete of the Year
The Favorite: Tiffeny Milbrett. Apparently the coaches that selected Mia Hamm as the 2001 FIFA World Women's Player of the Year a month ago haven't watched soccer over the last three or four years. But soccer fans all across America have, realizing what many have known for years: Milbrett is the real deal. In 2001, she was the MVP and leading scorer of the inaugural WUSA season (16 goals in 21 games) and leading scorer on the WNT (three goals in five games).  What more can you ask for?
Who Should Win: (Duh). You can't argue with little Millie's numbers, reserving her the rare honor of back-to-back Chevy champ. To three-peat or not to three-peat? THAT is the question.

Chevy Young Male Athlete of the Year
The Favorite: DaMarcus Beasley. In 2001, the Beaz finally got that first cap with the full U.S. MNT and even saw action in a qualifier. Meanwhile, he was one of the few bright spots, as well as being the unofficial MVP and leading scorer, on the U.S. Under-20 MNT that woefully underachieved at the FIFA Youth World Championship in Argentina. And he still found time to finish third in minutes played on the playoff-bound Chicago Fire and have a breakout year with two goals and six assists. A busy Beaz, indeed.
Who Should Win: Landon Donovan. Sure, he won last year's award (and therefore becomes automatically disqualified for any future awards of this type), but why shouldn't he win again? I mean, he's the one I see on all the Soccer America cover and MLS ads, doesn't that count for something?

Chevy Young Female Athlete of the Year
The Favorite: (tie) Aleisha Cramer, Jena Kluegel, Jill Oakes, Cat Reddick, Hope Solo, Abby Wambach, Christie Welsh. Selecting the best of these stellar seven is like comparing the ‘91 Women's World Cup Team, the ‘96 Olympic Team and the ‘99 Women's World Cup team.
Who Should Win: Kluegel or Cramer. Sure goal scorers like Welsh and Wambach get the glory, but who will be starting for the WNT five years from now? Most signs point toward either the UNC senior or the BYU soph. Both played more games for the WNT in 2001 than even veterans like Kristine Lilly, and both led their college team to great success in 2001.

Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder (U.S. Soccer's Chevy 2001 Athletes of the Year)
2) Word Association (w/ MNT forward Ante Razov)
3) D.J. for a Day (w/ U-17 MNT forward Corey Ashe)
4) Queries and Anecdotes (w/ WNT defender Kate Sobrero)
5) Big Woman on Campus (w/ U-21 WNT forward Christie Welsh)
6) Superstar!!! (w/ MNT midfielder Earnie Stewart)
7) Mark That Calendar (WNT vs. Mexico - Jan. 12)
8) From the Bleachers (w/ frequent-flying U.S. Soccer fan Andy Mead)
9) "You Don't Know Jack (Marshall)" (Gold Cup trivia)

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