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ARLIA: Ten Players in Need of a Bounce-Back Second Half

By JOHN ARLIA - john.arlia@uslsoccer.com, 06/27/19, 4:45PM EDT

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Who needs to pick up their pace in the business end of the season?


Indy Eleven forward Dane Kelly (left), OKC Energy FC goalkeeper Cody Laurendi (center) and Saint Louis FC forward Kyle Greig (right) will hope to help their respective teams to further success in the second half of the 2019 USL Championship season.

With the 2019 USL Championship campaign reaching its halfway point this coming weekend, we now have enough information to get a good sense of where teams and players stand compared their peers. We also have a large enough sample size to say that a slow start to the season may in fact be something more troubling. With that in mind, I picked out 10 players who will be looking to turn things around in the second half of the season:


 Chandler Hoffman – Birmingham Legion FC

Hoffman returned to his native Birmingham this offseason with a weight of expectation as Legion FC’s first signing and the Championship’s third all-time leading scorer. So far this season, it’s safe to say that the 28-year-old hasn’t quite lived up to his resume after notching just three goals in 15 appearances over the first half of the campaign. While that total does have Hoffman in a tie for the team lead with Prosper Kasim, it’s more of an indictment of Birmingham’s league-worst offense (0.81 goals per game) than a feather in the forward’s cap. After recording 28 regular-season goals at a shot conversion rate of 27.72 over the past two years with Real Monarchs SLC, Hoffman’s conversion rate has dipped by more than half (12.0) and will need to improve in the second half of the campaign if Legion FC wants to make the playoffs in its inaugural season.


 Enzo Martinez – Charlotte Independence

Speaking of conversion rates that have drastically fallen off, there may not be a player in the league that has struggled more in front of goal this season than Enzo Martinez. The two-time MVP finalist, who scored 27 regular-season goals during his initial three-season stint with the Independence, has failed to recapture that form after a year in Major League Soccer with the Colorado Rapids. In 15 appearances so far this campaign, Martinez has scored one goal on 25 shots for a shot conversion rate of just four percent. That mark ranks last among forwards that have played at least 810 minutes (nine full games) and third-worst among outfield players that have attempted at least 20 shots – Las Vegas Lights FC’s Pablo Cruz and Louisville City FC’s Speedy Williams have failed to find the back of the net despite taking 21 and 25 attempts respectively. To his credit, Martinez has still made an impact on the offensive end despite his poor shooting by distributing a team-high four assists – tied with his brother Alex – and 34 key passes. While those numbers show he’s still influencing games and sometimes dropping deeper to do so, the Independence will need more end product from the Uruguayan if they’re going to climb up the table in the East.


 Jose Angulo – Hartford Athletic


Hartford Athletic's Jose Angulo hasn't had that much to celebrate to this point of the club's inaugural season. | Photo courtesy Chris Cowger / Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

Before this season began, I wrote about how Hartford Athletic Head Coach Jimmy Nielsen and El Paso Locomotive FC Head Coach Mark Lowry were building their expansion clubs by bringing in foundational players they had previously worked with. Angulo was one of those prominent pieces for Hartford, having made an instant impact under Nielsen during his initial loan spell at OKC Energy FC. Angulo scored 11 goals and added four assists in 16 regular-season appearances after joining from Saint Louis FC in July 2017 and helped Energy FC reach the Western Conference Final, where it fell in a penalty shootout to the Swope Park Rangers just months before Nielsen’s resignation. The duo’s reunion in Hartford offered the promise of a return to that level of success, but those expectations dissipated after the Athletic dropped their opening eight games of the season. Angulo does share the team lead in goals (3) and assists (2) in 15 appearances so far this season, but the 31-year-old has also already missed 6 Big Chances according to Opta – two more than he did during that 2017 loan spell. If the Athletic have any hopes of gaining some momentum as they build into 2020, Angulo and company will need to start making the most of their chances on the offensive end.


 Dane Kelly – Indy Eleven

Any guesses as to which Championship player ranks second in Big Chances Missed this season? That would be the league’s all-time leading scorer Dane Kelly, who has failed to convert on 14 such opportunities already this season – one fewer than Reno 1868 FC’s Corey Hertzog. While that number may not mean much to you on its own, it’s a staggering statistic in context. When Kelly won the Golden Boot with 18 goals for Reno 1868 FC in 2017, the Jamaican missed just four such chances in 27 appearances while Jochen Graf led the league in Big Chances Missed with – you guessed it – 14 in 28 games. Kelly has delivered four goals in his debut season with the Eleven – good for second-most on the team – but all of them came during a two-week stretch from April 15-28. That, along with the fact that the 28-year-old boasts the second-most shots in the league (45), proves he’s probably just one goal away from another explosive run. If Kelly can get firing for Indy in the second half, the Eleven could easily maintain the East’s top spot.

 
Brandon Allen – Memphis 901 FC

While everyone on this list will be looking for a stronger second half of the season, Allen is currently the only one with the potential benefit of a fresh start. After scoring one goal in eight appearances this season for the USL Championship-leading Tampa Bay Rowdies, Allen was acquired by a Memphis side that has found the back of the net just 12 times in the first 14 games of its inaugural campaign. This could be a beneficial move for both parties, as Allen has experience with a midseason change after swapping Bethlehem for Nashville last May and then tallying eight goals in 21 appearances for the Tennessee side to help it reach the postseason. The 25-year-old was also clearly second choice behind Sebastian Guenzatti for Rowdies Head Coach Neill Collins, playing just 308 minutes across his eight appearances (four starts – subbed off in all of them). 901 FC has plenty of work to do to reach the postseason, but if Allen can be the productive poacher he was in Nashville and New York – where he claimed the Championship’s Rookie of the Year award in 2016 – then there’s a chance for a turnaround.


 Cody Laurendi – OKC Energy FC

Including Laurendi on this list is probably a little bit harsh since he’s been the second-busiest goalkeeper in the Championship to this point of the season, but I believe his performance in the second half will be the difference between Energy FC returning to the postseason or missing out for a second straight year. To his credit, the 30-year-old currently boasts a league-high 55 saves but also ranks sixth in goals conceded (22). My biggest qualm with Laurendi’s game so far this season is that he has made a slight habit of conceding from outside of the box, especially on set pieces where it seems like he gets caught cheating to one direction instead of reacting.

If Laurendi’s defense can help limit opponent’s chances and he can push his save percentage back up a few points closer to last season’s (77.14), Energy FC should be able to hold onto its postseason spot down the stretch.


 Michael Seaton – Orange County SC

After Thomas Enevoldsen and his 20 goals left Orange County for Indy this past offseason, it was expected that Seaton – who netted 12 goals of his own last year – would step up to fill the scoring boots alongside playmaker Aodhan Quinn. As we approach the midpoint of Orange County’s campaign though, Seaton sits on just four goals in 13 appearances and, much like his club, hasn’t quite hit the heights of 2018. The 23-year-old Jamaican’s shot conversion rate of 15.38 is respectable when compared to others on this list but falls nearly six points short of his mark from last season and other elite forwards in this league. If Seaton, who has equally distributed his four goals over the first four months of the campaign, can get on a little run soon it would really help Orange County’s playoff chances.


 Stefano Bonomo – Sacramento Republic FC

Bonomo bagged a brace his last time out in Sacramento’s 6-0 victory over Tulsa Roughnecks FC on Saturday, but those two goals served as his first and second for Republic FC in 14 league appearances. And while his last-gasp overtime winner against rival Fresno FC in the Third Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup was a memorable one, Head Coach Simon Elliott would have certainly been hoping for more secondary scoring when he brought in the Hillsborough, Calif. native this offseason.

Coming into this season, Bonomo had recorded 24 regular-season goals in 64 Championship games over stints with the New York Red Bulls II and Tampa Bay Rowdies. While Cameron Iwasa will continue to carry the scoring load, Republic FC will need Bonomo to produce if it wants to keep pace with the West’s high-flyers in Phoenix and New Mexico.


 Kyle Greig – Saint Louis FC

Greig scored a career-best 13 goals last season to lead Saint Louis FC to its first ever postseason berth but has followed that up with a relatively slower start to this campaign. Some of that has had to do with early-season injury issues, which saw the 29-year-old miss some time in March with a pulled groin, and some of it has to do with newcomer Russell Cicerone stepping into a supporting role in attack. While Saint Louis sees itself in the playoff places, much of its success can be drawn to the defensive end where center back Sam Fink has kept things tight and contributed a team-high four goals. If STLFC has hopes of climbing the table further to avoid the Play-In Round, it will need Greig to find himself amongst the goals again.


 Billy Forbes – San Antonio FC


San Antonio FC winger Billy Forbes hasn't quite reached the heights that he hit during his initial stint with the club in 2017. | Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC

Forbes’ return to San Antonio from Phoenix Rising FC got off to a perfect start on the opening weekend of the campaign when he scored a stunning goal in a 3-3 draw against his former club. Since then, things haven’t gone well for Forbes or SAFC, with the winger recording just a single assist in his last 14 appearances while San Antonio dropped to 15th place in the Western Conference. The Turks and Caicos international, who led SAFC to a second-place finish in 2017 with a team-high 10 goals and nine assists, is still an attacking threat for Head Coach Darren Powell’s side but will need to find his scoring touch soon or risk losing more on-field opportunities.

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