Indy Eleven defender Neveal Hackshaw's participation at the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup could cause problems for his Championship club Indy Eleven over the coming weeks. | Photo courtesy Trevor Ruszkowski / Indy Eleven
On Thursday morning, the 16 nations competing in the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup announced their final 23-man rosters for the upcoming regional championship that will kick off on Saturday, June 15.
With 23 players that have featured in the USL Championship this season called up to represent six different countries, the league will send the largest contingent in its history to the bi-annual event and nearly quadruple the total of six players that took part in the 2017 tournament.
While that surely shows “the fast-rising level of competition and quality that can be found in the USL as a whole,” that USL President Jake Edwards points out, it also may cause some Championship clubs and coaches a few selection headaches over the next month.
Here are the seven players that I believe will be missed the most by their Championship clubs:
Brown led 1868 FC with 17 goals across the regular season and USL Cup Playoffs in 2018 and has maintained his impressive form early on this campaign. The 26-year-old currently sits in a tie for third amongst Championship players in goals (8) and assists (5), and also leads Reno with 40 shots in 11 appearances. Brown made his international debut for the Reggae Boyz back in 2013, but has featured just twice since, including Wednesday’s 1-0 friendly victory over the United States at Audi Field. As I discussed in my Weekend Guide to Week 14, 1868 FC will now have to rely on Corey Hertzog (five goals, four assists) to lead the line as Seth Casiple continues to pull the strings from midfield with a league-high 42 chances created.
Since he signed in the desert in August 2017, Lambert has played a vital role as a defensive enforcer in the center of the Rising FC midfield. This season, the 22-year-old leads Phoenix outfield players in tackles won (18) and recoveries (65), while ranking third on the squad with 66 duels won. As was evident in his performance on Wednesday night against the U.S. though, was that Lambert is starting to get more comfortable in a box-to-box role and joining in the attack. He recorded two shots on target in Jamaica’s 1-0 victory and assisted on Shamar Nicholson’s game-winning goal.
“You don’t really replace a guy like Kevon Lambert,” Phoenix Head Coach Rick Schantz told Cronkite News recently. “You do your best, and what I’ve asked the team to do is if everybody goes in and gives their best, some guys have to do a little bit more.”
While Lambert plays a prominent role at his second consecutive Gold Cup, Rising FC could really use Collin Fernandez to return from a lower-body injury. If he can’t go, Schantz may have to be a little bit more creative as Fernandez is the team’s best like-for-like replacement for Lambert in that holding midfield role.
After three seasons with the Charleston Battery, Hackshaw has had little trouble adapting to life in Indy’s defense. He heads off to the Gold Cup as the Eleven’s leader in clearances (38), blocks (10), interceptions (17) and duels won (73). While helping Indy to the league’s third-best defensive record so far, Hackshaw has also chipped in on the offensive end with two goals. The 23-year-old, who has made 11 career appearances for the Soca Warriors, has been a fixture in the starting lineup for Head Coach Martin Rennie, who could look towards Macauley King or Paddy Barrett as potential replacements in a flexible three or five-back system.
In his first season in Charleston, Zeiko Lewis has had a hand in pretty much everything the Battery have done on the offensive end. The 25-year-old, who made the first of his 22 caps for Bermuda at the age of 17, has scored a team-high four goals so far this season while also leading his side in shots (25), chances created (22) and assists (2). With the Battery having scored just 15 goals in their first 12 games of the season, losing a versatile offensive playmaker like Lewis could cause some big problems for Head Coach Mike Anhaeuser’s squad, especially with a trip to the league-leading Tampa Bay Rowdies on the horizon. Midfielder Dante Marini could be in line for a couple of starts, but I’d also be surprised if we didn’t see more of 18-year-old Nicque Daley as the Battery look for some attacking inspiration.
Williams also played a part in Jamaica’s win over the U.S. on Wednesday night, coming on a substitute for Lambert in the center of midfield. The 27-year-old, who has now made eight caps for his country in all, scored a memorable brace against the New York Red Bulls II last postseason to send Louisville back to the USL Cup and has played a key part in the team’s start to this campaign. Williams has played every minute of his 12 appearances, missing just one game so far this season, and leads LouCity in shots (25), passes completed (588) and tackles won (17). While Head Coach John Hackworth would surely like to have Williams in the lineup, his absence may not be felt as much as it could have been with captain Paolo DelPiccolo finally back in the fold after an injury-plagued couple of months.
After earning Second Team All-League honors for the Charlotte Independence in 2015, Jerome returned to the Championship this offseason to follow former Jacksonville Armada FC Head Coach Mark Lowry to El Paso. Unsurprisingly, the 29-year-old veteran has made a strong impact on the expansion side in the center of defense. Locomotive FC currently boasts the best defensive record in the Western Conference – tied with Fresno FC at 1.0 goals allowed per game – and Jerome leads the side with 45 clearances while also averaging nearly 70 passes per 90 minutes. Having made 74 caps for his country in his career, Jerome will look to have a similar impact for Haiti as it looks to get out of a group with Lewis’ Bermuda, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
To round out the list we go back to the Reggae Boyz for forward Maalique Foster, who has made a strong start to his time in Texas on loan from Costa Rican club Alajuelense. The 22-year-old has netted three goals at a shot conversion rate of 20 percent and leads Rio Grande Valley FC with four assists in 11 appearances. Foster, who started with Lambert and Brown in Jamaica’s victory on Wednesday night, has made five caps for his country and scored 14 minutes into his debut against South Korea on Jan. 30, 2018. While fellow forward Michael Salazar has done the majority of the scoring for Head Coach Gerson Echeverry’s side, there’s no doubt that Foster’s pace and playmaking ability will be missed by RGVFC over the coming weeks.