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Championship Awards Watch – March 2019

By USLChampionship.com Staff, 04/04/19, 1:04PM EDT

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Which players have pushed to the front in the early-season races for end-of-season awards?

We’re only one month into the 2019 USL Championship season, but it’s never too early to take a look at who might be vying for recognition at the end of this campaign.

In the first edition of a season-long series, USLChampionship.com’s John Arlia and Nicholas Murray spotlight the players and coaches who have positioned themselves to be in contention for individual awards in November.

GOALKEEPER OF THE YEAR

CURRENT FRONTRUNNERS

  • Jake Fenlason – Saint Louis FC

  • John McCarthy – Tampa Bay Rowdies

  • David Ochoa – Real Monarchs SLC

MURRAY: There are typically two types of goalkeepers that end up contending for Goalkeeper of the Year; the ‘keeper who racks up a big save total – 2018 example: Josh Cohen – and the ‘keeper who racks up the shutouts – 2018 example: Maxime Crepeau. Right now, Ochoa is the former with 20 saves and two shutouts, and McCarthy is the latter with three shutouts but only four saves in four games this season.

ARLIA: I’m surprised that you failed to mention that you picked McCarthy to take home the award before the season started! That looks like the best bet to me right now, as I expect the veteran netminder will continue to play well even as he inevitably gets more work to do. While I love what the 18-year-old Ochoa has done so far, I think Fenlason will provide the best competition moving forward as he represents a mix of the two categories above (two shutouts, eight saves) while playing for a league-leading Saint Louis FC. 

Defender OF THE YEAR

Current Frontrunners

  • Pape Diakite, Tampa Bay Rowdies

  • Luca Lobo, Tulsa Roughnecks FC

  • Donovan Pines, Loudoun United FC

ARLIA: Lobo may be getting attention for his offense – and rightly so – but he hasn’t been shabby on the defensive end either, winning 25 of 37 duels and leading the Roughnecks with nine interceptions. Loudoun has gotten off to a better start than many expected, and Pines has been a big part of that, while Diakite looks to be a contender for the silverware moving forward as the 6-foot-4 pillar of Tampa Bay’s league-leading defense.

MURRAY: Lobo will get some shine here thanks to his five goals, which has made him maybe the best set-piece target in the league so far, but Pape Diakite is why Tampa Bay’s shots on target total is as low as it is. He’s got a league-leading 37 clearances and has won 28 of 37 duels and 17 of 22 aerials. Pines, meanwhile, has been strong in his first professional outings with 14 interceptions in three games while winning 11 of 13 aerials.

YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR

CURRENT FRONTRUNNERS

  • Luca Lobo, Tulsa Roughnecks FC

  • David Ochoa, Real Monarchs SLC

  • Eryk Williamson, Portland Timbers 2

MURRAY: T2’s Williamson leads the league with four assists after its first month and has shown exactly why he’s in contention for Head Coach Jason Kreis’ Olympic squad. On the flipside, as noted above Ochoa has shone for the Monarchs, while the 20-year-old Lobo is tied for the league-lead with five goals to help lead Tulsa’s resurgence.

ARLIA: This isn’t typically an award that goalkeepers win, which tells you all you need to know about Ochoa’s start to the season to be in our top-three at this point. Williamson has been dynamic in attack for T2 and looks to be the frontrunner moving forward unless either Lobo can keep up his impressive statistical start, or Williamson’s play earns him regular action with the Timbers.

COACH OF THE YEAR

CURRENT FRONTRUNNERS

  • Simon Elliott, Sacramento Republic FC

  • Michael Nsien, Tulsa Roughnecks FC

  • Anthony Pulis, Saint Louis FC

MURRAY: Anthony Pulis helped Saint Louis to its first playoff berth a season ago, but now he seems to have helped his side kick on and become a serious threat in a strong Eastern Conference. Sacramento and Elliott look to have done the same, Monday’s setback nothwithstanding, and who doesn’t like a nice turnaround story? Michael Nsien’s Roughnecks are the best narrative going after the first month.

ARLIA: I’ll again give you some credit for staying humble after taking Elliott as your preseason pick, though despite not making this list I still like my choice in New Mexico’s Troy Lesesne. Hard to find room for him in the top-three through given the impressive starts for Sacramento and Saint Louis and Nsien already matching Tulsa’s win total from 2018.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

CURRENT FRONTRUNNERS

  • Brian Brown, Reno 1868 FC

  • Cameron Iwasa, Sacramento Republic FC

  • Santi Moar, New Mexico United

ARLIA: I think our preseason choice of Solomon Asante (two goals, two assists in three games) is still on pace to get there, but he and Rising FC haven’t quite been up to the level as these three. Moar has been beyond impressive for NMU, leading the expansion side with four goals in addition to having made seven key passes. Both Brown and Iwasa have had clinical starts to the season, though something tells me there’s still a long way to go until we figure this one out.

MURRAY: There’s a temptation to include Lobo here as well, but in terms of all-around play the dominant goalscorers over the first month have been more than that for their sides. Iwasa has created 10 chances in addition to his five goals, while Brown is averaging a goal every 67.5 minutes. That is probably unsustainable over a full year, but after his 17 goals in 2018 the Jamaican is showing that output was no fluke.

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