The 13th Annual Gatorade Athlete Player of the Year Awards took place on Tuesday July 12 in Los Angeles where 12 High School athletes were honored for their outstanding athletic achievements in their respective 2015-16 prep school seasons.
Among the dozen athletes were soccer standouts Lucas Mendes and Ella Stevens who both mentioned Ronaldinho as one of their favorite players on the field. Although not winning Gatorade AOY both were the creme of the crop in the entire nation and will no doubt carry their successes into the next chapter of their lives. Check out what the humble and charming duo said with us below.
The 5-foot-5 Mendes, in one full season of prep high school led Washington-Lee High School (Virginia) with 21 goals and 12 assists – his first and only season of high school soccer. Prior to playing his senior year, he spent three years playing for the DC United academy. The crafty attack-minded player will now ply his trade at the University of Virginia where he set a goal of nothing short of a state championship.
The pride out of Grayson High School, Stevens represented for all the ladies across the nation as she displayed her all-around game by scoring 25 goals and 11 assists. A two-time Gatorade State Player of the Year, she is taking her talents to Duke University in hopes of building a strong soccer program with multiple titles. During the ceremony she was not shy of saying she wants to be the best in the game.
Multiple pro athletes like NFL MVP Cam Newton (who answered some soccer-related questions with TST), NBA Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns and U.S. Soccer legends Landon Donovan and Abby Wambach were in attendance.
Both Donovan and Wambach took some time to chat with The Stoppage Time to share some of their thoughts on the Copa America, Euro 2016 and other things in their post retirement life.
Donovan has been busy since retiring from pro soccer but nothing more gratifying than welcoming his first-born son Talon. A life-altering experience for one of the more decorated soccer players in America scoring a total of 57 goals for the stars and stripes and hoisting multiple MLS titles.
Since leaving the beautiful game Donovan took a crack at being an analyst with Fox Sports during the record-setting Copa America. I asked him how different it was for him being on the opposite of the game critiquing players including some of his former teammates.
“You have to be honest and critical … in a respectful manner” but overall he went on to say that the USMNT had a great tournament despite losing to Argentina 4-0 supporting Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to play a more veteran-heavy squad over some of the up-and-coming stars like Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe.
“It was a lot of fun. It was fun to watch,” Donovan said of the overall tournament claiming it was great to see the CONCACAF region take on some of the best teams in the World specifically Brazil, Argentina and the eventual Champions Chile.
Donovan also explained his involvement with the ownership group that purchased Premier League club Swansea City and his specific role with the team.
Extremely excited to be part of the new @swansofficial ownership group! Looking forward to meeting The Jack Army and helping however I can.
— Landon Donovan (@landondonovan) July 1, 2016
Earlier in the day thru the MLS Facebook page Donovan released the 20 Homegrown players that will take on Mexico’s U-20 squad during MLS All-Star week. The former LA Galaxy player’s team is highlighted by Seattle Sounders’ Jordan Morris and LA Galaxy II standout Jack McBean. Donovan returns for his second stint as coach of the Homegrown All-Star team.
Another retired American soccer icon Abby Wambach took some time to talk about her life after hanging up her cleats. Like Donovan, she also took part in joining the broadcast team (for ESPN) during the EURO Cup transmission. Aside from learning all the names partaking in the tournament, much like her pro career she took on the challenge head on.
We also discussed her new podcast with ESPN – “Fearless Conversation with Abby Wambach” where she told us what we could expect from the show. On her debut show she got the opportunity to talk with retired Lakers star and notable soccer fan Kobe Bryant and Olympic athlete Lindsey Vonn. Wambach along with Bryant and Peyton Manning received the Icon award at the ESPY’s on Wednesday evening and she shared her thoughts on this amazing recognition.
— ESPYS (@ESPYS) July 14, 2016
We ended our conversation with the Rio 2016 Olympics as the final 18-player roster was unveiled and of course to no one’s surprise she believes the USWNT will take the gold for a fourth straight time.
— U.S. Soccer WNT (@ussoccer_wnt) July 12, 2016
Overall a wonderful event to honor some of the best talents from around the nation as they transition to collegiate athletes. To have pro athletes – who were once in that position themselves – be there to celebrate with the Gatorade AOY is something special. A special thanks to Lucas Mendes, Ella Stevens, Cam Newton, Landon Donovan and Abby Wambach for taking the time to talk with The Stoppage Time.