The Angle

FiftyFive.One Best of 2016: Award Winners

by on 30 December 2016

 As 2016 comes to a close, FiftyFive.One is honoring Minnesota’s best soccer players. Last week, we released the shortlist of nominees across six categories. Readers voted for their favorites, and now it is time to announce the winners.


Gopher Player of the Year: Simone Kolander

Photo by Jeremy Olson - www.digitalgopher.com

Photo by Jeremy Olson – www.digitalgopher.com

Gopher forward and co-captain Simone Kolander was a true leader on and off the field in 2016. Minnesota led the Big Ten in shots (404) and goals (48) and Kolander recorded more than one fifth of those totals (86 shots and 11 goals). Her efforts resulted in a litany of awards and recognition, including being named the Big Ten Forward of the Year for the second year in a row. She was also named a First Team Senior CLASS Award All-American, reflecting her accomplishments on the field, in the classroom, and in the community. Graduating early this month, the Minnesota senior finished her college career by leading the Gophers in the rankings at No. 20. She’s hoping to be selected in the January NWSL draft.

Minneapolis City Player of the Year: Ben Wexler

Image Courtesy of Daniel Mick

Photo by Daniel Mick

The diminutive Wexler stood as tall as any Crow in 2016, providing guile and craft for City in the center of the field, and doing so without shying away from physical play as creative midfielders are sometimes prone. Wexler twice earned PLA Team of the Week honors, first for his poise and control in an away draw at Milwaukee Bavarians in City’s competitive debut, and then for his snapping tackles and range of passing in the Crows’ 3-0 home win over local rival Minnesota United Reserves. Used as both a No. 8 and a No. 10, Wexler’s consistently strong play earned him a place in the PLA West Division Team of the Year. The Benilde-St. Margaret and Augsburg graduate will reprise his duties in City’s midfield in 2017 as the club transitions to the NSPL.

Minnesota Men’s Player of the Year: Eric Miller

The Woodbury native’s 2016 kicked off with a major personal accomplishment: joining the US Men’s national team for a pair of winter friendlies. Though he didn’t earn a cap, the experience augured well for the year to come. With a change of scenery — moving from Montreal to Denver — Miller found new life as an invigorating part of the stingiest defense in Rapids history (.94 GA/G). That defense was critical in helping Colorado finish second in the Western Conference both during the regular season and the MLS playoffs. In 2017, Miller will get his first taste of continental competition in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Minnesota Men’s U-23 Player of the Year: Sean Boyle

Courtesy of U.S. Soccer

Courtesy of U.S. Soccer

Just two years ago, Boyle was hustling after a goalkeeping dream that took him from Shattuck St. Mary’s to San Jose State. Though a Ventricular Cavernous Malformation has altered his blood flow and limits Boyle’s mobility, his rangy, reactive athleticism has helped him become the regular No. 1 for the US 7-Aside Paralympic team. At the Rio Games, Boyle started all three of the US’ matches, reacting sharply to a steady supply of crosses in the draw against Holland, remaining fearless against silver medalists Iran, and suffering a heartbreaker on last minute goals against Argentina. Boyle has returned home and may consider the 2017 Paralympic World Championships in Argentina.

Minnesota United FC Player of the Year: Christian Ramirez

Courtesy of the NASL

Courtesy of the NASL

The Loons’ star striker remained the ultimate threat in the team’s final NASL campaign. He won his second golden boot and found a spot on the league’s Best XI for the third year in a row. Physical, adaptive, and incisive with and without the ball, Ramirez has continued to garner respect and attention across the country. He followed up the season with the highlight of a lifetime: getting married. Speculation continues to swirl about his future, but wherever he plays in 2017, Christian Ramirez has earned every accolade on his shelf.

Minnesota Women’s Player of the Year: Kassey Kallman

Photo by Jeremy Olson - www.digitalgopher.com

Photo by Jeremy Olson – www.digitalgopher.com

As Minnesota’s only player getting minutes in the National Women’s Soccer League (Cat Parkhill is the number two keeper for FC Kansas City, but did not feature in 2016), Kassey Kallman takes this award without a vote, but she is no less deserving. A disappointing final season with the Boston Breakers was highlighted with the defender holding the longest streak of consecutive minutes played with 3,780 over the course of three seasons in the league. After the conclusion of the 2016 season, Kallman was traded to the Washington Spirit and is looking forward to helping the team return to the NWSL final and come away with a championship next year.

Minnesota Women’s U-23 Player of the Year: Tarah Hobbs

Photo by Jeremy Olson - www.digitalgopher.com

Photo by Jeremy Olson – www.digitalgopher.com

Tarah Hobbs had a strong year, recording 64 saves and 11 shutouts. The Hugo native had the Big Ten second best goals against average, tied for second in shutouts, and third for save percentage. She holds the current program record for career shutouts with 33 (previously 27). An important leader in the Gophers’ defense, Hobbs was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week twice in a row — the first soccer player to earn back-to-back individual honors since 2014. Graduating this month — a semester early — Hobbs is looking to catch the eye of an NWSL club for the draft taking place January 12.

 

Kyle Eliason, Kyle Nelson, Kate Sophia, and Brian Quarstad contributed to this report. 

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