USL News Release
Friday, September 28, 2007
SEATTLE, WA – United Soccer Leagues announced the final award winners for the 2007 USL First Division season, honoring the Defender of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year and Most Valuable Player at the USL-1 Championship Banquet. The USL-1 Final between Seattle and Atlanta is Saturday at 10:00 pm ET on Fox Soccer Channel.
In a quixotic twist, a representative from each of the semifinalist clubs make up the four award winners as voted on by the league’s coaches and general managers.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Sebastien Le Toux (Seattle Sounders)
The first-year Sounder striker picked up right where Rookie of the Year and co-Goal Scoring Champion Cam Weaver left off last season, finishing tied for the league lead in goals with 10 in 24 games for the Goal Scoring Championship. With two assists, he also finished second in the league in points with 22, one point shy of the Scoring Championship, as he guided Seattle to the regular season title.
The co-Goal Scoring Champion made his debut with the Sounders four games into the season and scored his first goal in the following match, a 2-2 draw on the road against rival Portland. His speed proved a dangerous weapon for the Sounders and Le Toux was critical in their campaign to capture the Commissioner’s Cup as the regular season champion, registering six game-winners on the season – five of them in 1-0 decisions. He capped the season with a hat-trick in the next to last game of the season to move into the tie for the league lead. In the playoffs, Le Toux became the marked man for the opposition, enabling the rest of the team to take advantage as they downed Carolina in the quarterfinals 3-0 on aggregate and slipped by Puerto Rico in penalties after a 3-3 semifinal series draw on aggregate.
The 23-year-old Le Toux previously played for FC Lorient in the French League 2 and Stade Renais Football Club in the French First Division. Earlier this year, Le Toux was on trial with FC Dallas of MLS before finding his way to the Sounders first invitational training camp.
Le Toux is the fourth Sounder to win the USL-1 MVP honor, the most from any team in the history of the league. Previous winners were current teammate Leighton O’Brien (2002), USL Hall of Famer Mark Baena (1998) and Peter Hattrup (1995).
COACH OF THE YEAR
Gavin Wilkinson (Portland Timbers)
Since the league began announcing the finalists for league awards in 2004, Wilkinson is only the second rookie head coach to be a finalist for the honor. Unlike 2004’s Nick DeSantis, who took over a Montreal squad that finished tied for first in the league (second on tiebreakers) the previous year, the former New Zealand international (38 caps) took over a club that finished tied for last place in the league in 2006 and helped guide it to the biggest turnaround in league history, finishing second this season with a record of 14-5-9, three points back of the Sounders. Ultimately, Wilkinson led the club to the semifinals where they were knocked out via penalty kick tiebreakers by Atlanta after a 1-1 series draw on aggregate. The former defender is an original member of the Timbers inaugural 2001 squad and was the only player to see action in its first six seasons, playing part-time last year while serving as an assistant coach. Wilkinson is the second Timbers coach to win the honor with the club’s first coach Bobby Howe claiming the honor in 2004.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Jay Needham (Puerto Rico Islanders)
Drafted by DC United, the Hermann Trophy finalist out of Southern Methodist University joined the Islanders despite being drafted in the third round of the MLS SuperDraft by DC United and became a fixture in the back line for the club. He was one of three players, along with fellow defender and All-League selection Marco Velez, on the club to log over 2,000 minutes on the season. He also provided a goal and two assists. He went on to help lead the Islanders to the semifinals before being eliminated in a penalty kick tiebreaker by Seattle after a 3-3 series draw on aggregate. The sixth-seed Islanders stunned the third-seeded Montreal Impact 5-3 on aggregate in the quarterfinals to register their first playoff series win. He is the second player from Puerto Rico to receive the honor in three years, following goalkeeper Dan Kennedy, who won the honor two years ago.
DEFENDER OF THE YEAR
David Hayes (Atlanta Silverbacks)
A key player in the league since his debut with Milwaukee in 2001, Hayes received the first All-League honor of his career two weeks ago. A critical member of the team’s back line with his aggressive play, Hayes was also a key contributor offensively for the club, finishing tied for the team lead in goals with league Scoring Champion Dan Antoniuk. His four assists also put him tied for seventh in the league in points. Hayes helped lead the Silverbacks to the championship game with a 3-2 aggregate quarterfinal series victory over Rochester and the penalty kick decision over second-place Portland in the semifinals after a 1-1 aggregate draw. Hayes is the first Silverbacks player to earn one of the top league awards since the club’s inception in 1999.
Q & A Session with Seattle’s Chris Eylander and Atlanta’s Ryan McIntosh
Opposing goalkeepers, Chris Eylander of the Seattle Sounders and Ryan McIntosh of the Atlanta Silverbacks, will be separated by over a hundred yards of pitch throughout tomorrow’s USL First Division Championship at Starfire Sports Complex in Seattle, Washington.
Last weekend each was showcased in the penalty kick shootouts that ensued following the 120 minute deadlock between Atlanta and the Portland Timbers and Seattle and the Puerto Rico Islanders. Both are enjoying breakout seasons that will undoubtedly bolster their individual careers. USLSoccer.com gave them the chance to face off head-to-head before tomorrow’s match.
Chris, in talking to Seattle Head Coach Brian Schmetzer, he mentioned that the broadcast of last week’s Seattle/Puerto Rico match did not do your performance justice, was it the best match of your career?
Eylander: It was definitely the biggest series win I have had in my career. I never preformed at the level I did with that much at stake. In the first half I gave up, kind of a weird goal, and to be able to come back and hold off Puerto Rico’s attack, especially after going a man down in an intimidating and thrilling environment. It was the best game of my life.
How hard is it going to be for you to go out and top that performance tomorrow?
Eylander: The only reason the semifinal match in Puerto Rico meant what it did was because it was for the chance to play in tomorrow’s final. Winning a championship is what it is all about and it means everything to me to be able to win a championship with a great group of guys like we have here.
Ryan, you won a Premier Development League title with the Central Florida Kraze in 2004, does the run to the championship game feel the same?
McIntosh: This run has it similarities. Obviously it is at a higher level. There is more exposure and more pressure. But for me personally, the semifinal in Portland coming down to a shootout made it feel exactly the same. I got calls following the match from the coaches down in Florida saying how similar the runs have been. Hopefully it finishes the same way it did in 2004 and we win tomorrow.
A hot goalkeeper is a must for a team to win a championship at any level, what does it take to bring your level of play to a new level in the postseason?
Eylander: It all comes down to preparation. I have a great goalkeeper coach in Tom Dutra. He is one of the best in the country. There is never a light day in training so when it comes down to the times in the game where you are under the greatest amount of pressure, like we were in Puerto Rico, making those saves just becomes second nature.
Another element is momentum. You make one save and you build off of that until you get worked into a rhythm. By the end of the match in Puerto Rico I was playing with a lot of confidence and saying to myself ‘there is nothing getting by me for the next 25 minutes.’
It also helps that this is a team that really supports one another. There were periods during this season where our captain Danny Jackson has picked up the slack for me, so when he went out with a red card I wanted to be able to do the same for him.
Ryan, same question.
McIntosh: It comes down to confidence and wanting to do well for your teammates. As a goalkeeper you feed off the guys in front of you. You want to do well for those guys who are working hard to get back on defense and even making runs to score goals on offense.
Ryan, last season you were with D.C. United’s Reserve Team, what are the differences between the USL First Division and the reserve league?
McIntosh: Playing in the MLS Reserve League I learned a lot from being next to the first team guys on a day-to-day basis. But there is more pride in playing for the Atlanta Silverbacks because I am with the first team and we are having the best run in club history. As a player from last season to this season, I improved the most just by getting the live game action. That is the most valuable thing there is as a goalkeeper.
And Chris, there have been a lot of great goalkeepers to come out of the Sounders organization, Preston Burpo and Marcus Hahnemann to name two, what does it mean to be able to add your name to that list?
Eylander: It means a lot to be able to have a breakout season here in Seattle. Looking at the list of guys who enjoyed breakout seasons here in net, they were able to use that success as a platform to take their career to the next level. It is huge for me because I want to follow that same path. This is a very positive step for me and whether something happens for me this season or down the road I am very pleased to have been a part of this organization.
What will it take to beat Atlanta tomorrow?
Eylander: We will need to play with a lot of discipline to beat Atlanta again. They are a sharp team with a lot of confidence. Our communication in the back has to be perfect. The last few games we still had some things to iron out but now that we have everything down, I feel we are in a great position to win tomorrow.
Ryan, you were the second string keeper to begin the 2007 season, now you are a win away from winning the USL First Division Championship. How have you managed to climb the ladder so quickly?
McIntosh: As a number two, there are only two reasons that you will get to see time. Either the first goalkeeper gets hurt or the team is not doing well. Obviously, you do not want either thing to happen. All you can do is work hard every practice and be ready to contribute when you get the call.
For me, our team was not getting the job done. It was not a result of Felipe [Quintero], playing badly. It was timing. When I got the call to start, the team was ending the early season process of coming together. They were gradually getting comfortable as a unit. Since I have come on they have played exceptional soccer in front of me and made it very easy for me to have success quickly.
What will it take for you to beat Seattle?
McIntosh: Seattle has proved themselves over and over again as one of the best teams in the USL First Division. To beat them, we will need to stay very compact up and down the field and play very solid team defense.