CHICAGO (December 26, 2006) – For their excellence at the highest levels of the sport, U.S. Soccer named U.S. Men’s National Team defender Oguchi Onyewu as the 2006 Male Athlete of the Year and U.S. Women’s National Team forward Kristine Lilly as the 2006 Female Athlete of the Year. Under-20 MNT forward Josmer Altidore and WNT forward Danesha Adams won the Young Male and Young Female Awards, respectively.
Onyewu is the first defender to win the award since Alexi Lalas was honored in 1995, while Lilly becomes just the third player on the women’s side to win the award for the third time. Lilly joins soccer legends and former teammates Michelle Akers and Mia Hamm, who won the award a record five straight times.
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 were tallied and equivalent to 50 percent of the total votes, while the other 50 percent was compiled from votes by members of the national media and U.S. Soccer representatives (from National Team coaches to the National Board of Directors). A player can only win the Young Athlete award once in their career.
The fans handed Onyewu his first Male Athlete of the Year award by vociferously voting on ussoccer.com to give the central defender the majority vote and push him ahead of his fellow four candidates. Better known as “Gooch” by fans, Onyewu turned in one of the better performances at the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Quickly proving his mettle in one-on-one match-ups, he handled the assignments of marking two of the world’s most imposing attackers - the Czech Republic’s Jan Koller and Italy’s Luca Toni – with fearlessness and determination.
"It's an honor to be recognized as one of the elite athletes of U.S. Soccer," said Onyewu. "I'd like to thank everyone who voted for me, particularly all of the supporters who have been so vocal throughout the year. It is truly a privilege to be able to represent your country, and I hope to continue to have a positive impact on U.S. Soccer for many years to come."
After setting a record 12-year span between winning awards with her victory last year (she won her first award in 1993), Lilly becomes the fourth player to win the award back-to-back, joining Akers, Hamm and Tiffeny Milbrett. At the age of 35, the USA captain hit the unfathomable cap total of 300 to begin the year, but still proved to be one of the best players on the planet. Lilly tied her second-best scoring year in her amazing 19-year career for the Women’s National Team with 13 goals, but it wasn’t just the amount that was remarkable as seven were either game-winning or game-tying strikes.
"I love this game, and this game has given me so much,” said Lilly. “This award is another example of that. It's an honor and I appreciate all the people who voted for me...the fans, media and the U.S. soccer community. My success on the field is a tribute to what the team accomplished this year. I helped the team and the team helped me, and we are all united in the same goal, to win the World Cup in 2007. Hopefully, we can continue this success next year and on to China and bring back the World Cup to the United States."
Altidore has earned a starting position with the Under-20s, but made his mark during the end of his rookie season with the New York Red Bulls. ‘Jozy’ scored three goals, including two game-winners against Columbus and Chicago, in the last seven regular season games, helping the Red Bulls sneak into the playoffs. Against D.C. United in the home-and-away Eastern Conference Semifinal Series, Altidore notched the lone goal for the Red Bulls with a world-class header in the second match.
Adams was a standout for both the U-20 and U-21 Women’s National Teams in 2006, and also earned her first cap for the senior Women’s National Team against Chinese Taipei. The blazing forward was the leading scorer for the U-21s in 2006, scoring nine goals, including a team-leading five at the 2006 Nordic Cup which included a hat trick in a 4-0 win over Norway that sent the USA to the title game. Adams did her best work, however, at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Championship, where she won the Bronze Ball as the tournament’s third most valuable player and was named to the FIFA All-Star Team.