Week #9 NASL Players of the Week: Matt VanOekel & Ciaran O’Brien
The Minnesota Stars’ Matt VanOekel was named the NASL Defensive Player of the Week for week #9 and Ciaran O’Brien of the Silverbacks was named Offensive Player of the Week.
BLAINE, Minn. (June 4, 2012) — After recording seven saves and his fourth shutout of the season in North American Soccer League play, Minnesota Stars FC goalkeeper Matt VanOekel earned NASL Defensive Player of the Week honors. The Stars drew 0-0 on the road against the San Antonio Scorpions to move level on points with the Puerto Rico Islanders atop the NASL standings.
“It is an honor and a privilege to receive this award, but I can’t do it by myself,” VanOekel said. “It was a great team effort in a hostile environment, and I hope to help my team by receiving more awards like this as the season moves forward.”
Stars defender and assistant coach Kevin Friedland summed up VanOekel’s performance succinctly on his Twitter account Saturday night. “He stood on his head for that shutout,” Freidland wrote.
The Stars largely dictated the pace of play in the first half and enjoyed the better scoring opportunities. San Antonio only threatened the Minnesota goal twice, hitting two shots right at VanOekel for easy saves. In the second half, the Scorpions turned up the heat, forcing VanOekel into five saves, including four against striker Pablo Campos in the game’s final 10 minutes. That four-save flurry saw VanOekel stop Campos on a breakaway, a near-post header, a point-blank shot at the back post and a 25-yard free kick in stoppage time.
“The way that game went, I think we deserved to be up a couple of goals until that last flurry of seven or eight minutes, but Matty really stepped up to get us a result when San Antonio came at us and upped the pressure in the second half,” Stars head coach Manny Lagos said.
VanOekel has been instrumental in the Stars early season success, which sees the team unbeaten through 11 competitive matches to start 2012. He has posted five shutouts overall—four in the NASL, one in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup—and boasts a goals against average of 1.00 in all competitions. He is the second Stars player this season to earn Player of the Week honors. The NASL named Cristiano Dias its Defensive Player of the Week after the Stars’ 2-0 victory against the Atlanta Silverbacks on May 5.
Atlanta, Ga. (June 4, 2012) – Atlanta Silverbacks midfielder Ciaran O’Brien has been named North American Soccer League Offensive Player of the Week, the league announced Monday afternoon.
O’Brien, a native of Federal Way, Wash., played a big part in the Silverbacks 2-1 road win over FC Edmonton on Sunday, scoring one goal and assisting on another. The 24-year-old midfielder converted a bending, 20-yard free kick in the 31st minute, and followed it up ten minutes later by setting up defender Shane Moroney for the Silverbacks’ second goal. It was the second time in three games that O’Brien has connected with Moroney for a goal.
“It’s always an honor when you get recognized by the league for your accomplishments,” O’Brien said. “It feels good, but what feels even better is the fact that we were able to get the win and bring three points back to Atlanta.”
Sunday’s win in Edmonton represented the Silverbacks’ first of the season, putting them even with FC Edmonton and the Carolina RailHawks at eight points in the NASL standings. The Silverbacks earned the win despite missing several key players on Sunday, something that encourages O’Brien.
“Between all of the recent travel and some of the injuries we’ve had to deal with as a team, we really needed to rise to the occasion on Sunday,” O’Brien said. “I really feel that we did that, and I’m proud of the team for staying focused and getting the result.”
O’Brien’s assist on Sunday tied him with Puerto Rico Islanders forward Jonathan Faña and Fort Lauderdale Strikers midfielder Walter Restrepo for the league lead in assists with four.
It is the second time O’Brien has been named NASL Offensive Player of the Week since joining the Silverbacks in 2011. He was recognized with the award last July after posting three goals and an assist in one week.