Thursday, October 15, 2009
MONTREAL, QC – United Soccer Leagues announced Thursday at the USL First Division Championship Series media banquet the winners of the Defender of the Year, Coach of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards. Portland’s Gavin Wilkinson was named the USL-1 Coach of the Year with Puerto Rico’s Cristian Arrieta earning the Most Valuable Player and Defender of the Year honors.
The USL First Division Championship Series concludes Saturday, October 17 with the second leg between the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo. The broadcast begins on Fox Soccer Channel (Fox Sports World Canada) at 2:30 pm ET. Montreal currently leads the series 3-2 on aggregate score. Should the two clubs finished tied on aggregate at the end of regulation (no away goal tiebreaker), a 30-minute series overtime will be played followed by penalty kicks if necessary.
Both individuals are receiving honors for the second time. The Islanders’ Arrieta was named the Defender of the Year in 2008 and Wilkinson was honored as the Coach of the Year in 2007 after leading the Timbers to the regular season title in his first season.
Wilkinson is the third coach in league history to earn the accolade twice. Alan Hinton of the Seattle Sounders received the award in back-to-back campaigns in 1994 and 1995 while Bob Lilley won it with the 1997 Hershey Wildcats and 2003 Montreal Impact.
Arrieta is the third player to earn Defender of the Year twice. Gabriel Gervais of the Montreal Impact won the award three times (2003-04, 06) and Scott Schweitzer of the Rochester Rhinos received the honor twice (1998-99).
Arrieta edged out Portland’s Mandjou Keita, the other finalist, for the Most Valuable Player honor. David Hayes of the Timbers and the Charleston Battery duo of Nelson Akwari and Matt Bobo were the other finalists for the defensive award. Martin Rennie (Carolina), Colin Clarke (Puerto Rico) and Marc Dos Santos (Montreal) were Wilkinson’s peers in the running for Coach of the Year.
Coach of the Year
Gavin Wilkinson (Portland Timbers)
Wilkinson led the club from a worst-to-first turnaround, completely rebuilding the squad from a last-place finish a year ago and capturing the USL-1 Commissioner’s Cup as the regular season champions. The club posted a 16-4-10 record on the year with the best offense at 45 goals and tied for the best defense with Carolina at 19 allowed. They also had the best road record with a mark of 6-1-8 away from home. The Timbers also shattered the league record with a 24-game unbeaten streak during the season.
In three seasons as head coach, Wilkinson has led the Timbers to two USL First Division semifinals appearances and has a combined 37-22-29 record through his first three seasons as head coach.
Wilkinson has been a member of the Timbers organization since it joined United Soccer Leagues in 2001. As a defender from 2001-06, Wilkinson ranks among Timbers career leaders in games (124) and minutes played (10,181) and served as a player/assistant coach during the 2005 and 2006 seasons. During his 13-year playing career, the New Zealand native traveled the world, playing professionally in six different countries and earned 38 international caps.
Most Valuable Player / Defender of the Year
Cristian Arrieta (Puerto Rico Islanders)
The 2008 All-League selection and Defender of the Year left quite an impression last season to earn honors, and made an even bigger splash this year as the runner-up in the points table with 25, finishing tied with Charles Gbeke four back of Scoring Champion Mandjou Keita. Arrieta tallied 10 goals, tied for fourth, and had five assists, tied for seventh, on the season coming forward. He helped lead the club back to the playoffs with a third-place record of 15-7-8 while balancing Champions League competition.
Puerto Rico came into the season after a run in the CONCACAF Champions League that reached penalty kicks in the semifinal series against Mexican power Cruz Azul, whom they defeated in Puerto Rico as well as fellow Mexican side Santos Laguna. In the second edition of the tournament, the Islanders shut out Toronto FC of Major League Soccer in the Preliminary Round during the midst of the 2009 campaign and went on to record draws at home in league play against Cruz Azul and Costa Rican power Saprissa.