The Walt Chyzowych Fund, a charitable fund of the United Soccer Coaches Foundation, announced today that Michelle Akers, who burst on the international scene in the 1980s after playing at the University of Central Florida and led the USA to a pair of world championships, will receive the 2019 Walt Chyzowych Distinguished Playing Career Award. The Seattle native will be presented with the award Jan. 12 in ceremonies during the United Soccer Coaches Convention in Chicago.
The fund each year awards the distinguished playing award, as well as the Walt Chyzowych Lifetime Achievement Awards, which this year is being presented to Al Miller, former college, professional and national team coach/administrator (see separate news release).
“Walt Chyzowych devoted his life to making soccer better in our country,” said Akers on learning she was to receive the award. “So, naturally, as someone who was so proud to be given the opportunity to represent the United States in international competitions, including winning the first Women’s World Cup and the first women’s Olympic Gold medal for our country, I am honored to receive this award. But, in doing so, it is important that I recognize and thank all my teammates, coaches, and other supporters because, while this may seem to be an individual award, soccer is a team sport, and no one wins an award without the help of many other people.”
The Walt Chyzowych Lifetime Achievement Award and the Walt Chyzowych Distinguished Playing Career Award will be presented Saturday, Jan. 12 at McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago. Formal presentations will take place at 4 p.m. in Hyatt Regency hotel ballrooms B, C, & D. The 2019 Chyzowych award ceremony and reception is sponsored by Major League Soccer (MLS) and the Chicago Fire.
Akers blazed the trail for many U.S. and other international stars to follow. An All-American at Seattle’s Shorecrest High School, she went on to be named All-American at Central Florida four consecutive years and in 1988 was the first female winner of the Hermann Trophy as the nation’s top collegiate player.
The world’s first female international soccer star
Akers was a 5-foot-10 center forward who could also drop back and play deeper if needed. Described by Anson Dorrance, her first national team coach, as a “big lug who scores goals,” she’s most known for her accomplishments at the international level. An original member of the US Women’s National Team, she scored the team’s first goal in 1985 during a 2-2 draw with Denmark.
In the first FIFA World Championship for Woman’s Football, held in the People’s Republic of China in 1991 (before it was even called the Women’s World Cup), she exploded for 10 goals, winning the Golden Boot as the event’s top scorer. She also scored both goals in the final as the USA beat Norway 2-1 to win the first-ever world championship for women’s soccer.
First woman soccer equipment endorser
In 1990, she became the first women’s player to sign an endorsement deal with a soccer equipment company, and by 1994 she was one of the celebrity guests at the 1994 World Cup draw in Las Vegas, sharing the stage with such luminaries as Robin Williams, Barry Manilow and James Brown.
Akers battled through health issues involving the Epstein-Barr virus to continue her dominant play during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, where the USA won the first-ever gold medal awarded for women’s soccer. She also participated in the 1998 Goodwill Games and that year was honored with a FIFA Order of Merit for her positive contribution to the game. She’s in high company with the others who have received the award through the years: Henry Kissinger, Pelé and Nelson Mandela.
During the 1999 Women’s World Cup held in the United States, Akers led the team to its second world championship, much of the time playing from a central midfield position. She was named to the tournament’s all-star team.
Described as “the best woman who has ever played the game” by her longtime coach, the late Tony DiCicco, she had a 15-year international playing career, scoring 105 goals in 153 games. FIFA named her “co-player of the century” along with China’s Sun Wen. She’s on FIFA’s list of the 125 greatest living soccer players and in 2004 was inducted into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame.
Rescuing horses and training players
Since leaving the game as a player, Akers devotes most of her time to operating the Michelle Akers Horse Rescue and Outreach, Inc. (www.michelleakers.org) in Powder Springs, Ga., a nonprofit dedicated to the caring of abandoned horses and other abused or unwanted animals. But she continues to be very involved in the game she loves by training players, and each summer she hosts the Michelle Akers Farm Tough Soccer Camp in Powder Springs.
Previous players honored with the Chyzowych playing career award were Landon Donovan, the inaugural recipient in 2017 and team members of the USA’s silver and bronze medal winners in the 1992 and 1989 FIFA World Five-a-Side championships.
The Walt Chyzowych Fund was founded after his passing in 1994 to honor his memory and promulgate his legacy as U.S. National Team coach and director of coaching. The fund helps provide coaching education scholarships to cover fees for up-and-coming young coaches. For additional information on the fund and its partnership with the United Soccer Coaches Foundation program of scholarships and grants, or to donate, please visit waltslegacy.com orUnitedSoccerCoaches.org/donate.