As Wednesday night’s slate of games arrives, there are 154 games left in the 2019 USL Championship’s regular season, or a shade over one quarter of the remaining games in the season. After another busy month of action in August, writers Nicholas Murray and John Arlia are back to survey the awards scene, with some races for end-of-year honors looking closer than others with seven weeks remaining.
ARLIA: McCarthy’s return to the Rowdies’ lineup after a stretch on the sidelines has made this a two-horse race once again. Don’t get me wrong, Pickens has been solid at the back for Nashville lately, but he’s shared too many games with Connor Sparrow over the season for me to consider him unless his numbers surpass those of the others. I think Lubin still holds the edge despite the slight drop in goals-against average over the past month, but McCarthy still has time to change my mind and even make a late run at Maxime Crepeau’s single-season league record of 15 shutouts.
MURRAY: Goals-against-average is great – after all, it’s what determines the winner of the Championship’s Golden Glove at the end of the season – but with the way Rising FC is playing it certainly seems more likely that Lubin is going to be the one to make a run at Crepeau’s record. If he pulls that off with four shutouts in Rising FC’s final eight games of the season, it feels like it’s going to be difficult for the voters to overlook.
MURRAY: Haworth’s two-way play has continued to make him the brightest player this season for Ottawa Fury FC, no-one in the league can match his four goals from free kicks this season, but I’ve been really impressed with what Neveal Hackshaw and Karl Ouimette have been doing for Indy Eleven, which now stands as the side with the best defensive record in the league. Hackshaw especially has built on a very good season in 2018 in Charleston, winning both duels (66.5 percent) and aerials (69.7 percent) at a higher rate while being active and reliable in distributing the ball out of the back for the Eleven.
ARLIA: Haworth being the only holdover from last month’s list gives you a little sense of where we’re at right now and shows just how consistently well the Canadian right back has been playing of late. While I love the balance that Haworth brings to both ends of the field, I feel that voters could be hesitant to give him the credit he deserves because of his position. This award has been dominated by center backs over the past few seasons and Hackshaw seems to fit the mold, being one of the impressive performers for the league’s best defense. Dia is fighting the same uphill battle as a left back but has shown his quality and leadership at the back – while also managing two goals and two assists – for the top team in the league.
ARLIA: Martinez has certainly come to the forefront over the past few months, leading the Monarchs’ push to the playoffs with his ability to find the back of the net and provide for his teammates. However, there is still a threat to his candidacy – similar to the one Portland’s Eryk Williamson has faced – in the MLS contract signed last weekend with Real Salt Lake that could take him out of the Monarchs’ lineup at times down the stretch. Richards has been a consistent performer for one of the league’s top defenses throughout his debut season and should still be a factor even though this tends to be an offensive award.
MURRAY: You can see the same issue potentially arising for Hernandez, who was inked to a Homegrown Player deal last Friday by Sporting Kansas City, which could look to use some of its late-season outings to try out the 21-year-old in the top flight. And as well as Richards has played all season, he’s arguably getting a challenge for the top candidate in this award on his own team by Malik Johnson, who since earning a consistent place in the Rowdies lineup has produced three goals, five assists and 29 chances created in just over 1,000 minutes.
MURRAY: If there’s a serious competition in some of the other awards, it’s going to be hard to find a voter that doesn’t cast a ballot for Rick Schantz at the end of this season. Yes, he’s got a ton of talent to work with – including the presumptive Most Valuable Player we’ll get to in a minute – but for the side to accomplish everything it currently it has, led by the incredible run of 17 consecutive wins, it needed a strong hand to keep the standards high that Schantz has provided in excellent fashion.
ARLIA: It’s hard to disagree with any of that as Phoenix has been by far the most impressive team in the league this season and could continue to rewrite the Championship’s record book over the next six weeks. Schantz deserves a lot of credit for getting things right after a slow start to the campaign and continuing to motivate his players week-in and week-out throughout this record streak. I’ve been really impressed with what Smith has done at Fresno to turn the Foxes into a legitimate title contender and Rennie has helped Indy take the next step in Year Two and could become a bigger threat if the Eleven go top of the East. No matter what though, it’s going to be hard to vote against Schantz.
ARLIA: I still don’t see either of us backing off our preseason prediction of Asante for MVP, but Rios and Stroud are trying to keep it interesting. Rios has scored nearly 35 percent of Nashville’s goals this season, while Stroud has been the best attacking player on the Eastern Conference’s highest-scoring team and has an edge on Asante in chances created. There is still time for things to change, but it’s hard to imagine Asante slowing down considerably given the way Phoenix is rolling. I think it’s more likely that the Ghanaian reaches an other-worldly 20-goal, 20-assist season than him not winning MVP.
MURRAY: Last year we had the grand debate over which player should be MVP, the supreme goalscorer in Cameron Lancaster or the two-way threat in Emmanuel Ledesma. This year, those categories are filled by the same player in Asante, which is a bit tough on Rios, who has a chance to become the first player to record back-to-back 20-goal seasons in the Championship’s history, and Stroud, whose 20 combined goals and assists are second to Asante’s already record-setting mark of 34. Still, it’s impossible not to admire the Ghanaian, whose game has reached a whole other level in concert with colleagues Adam Jahn and Junior Flemmings.
Tag(s): News Nashville SC Phoenix Rising FC Real Monarchs SLC Swope Park Rangers New York Red Bulls II Ottawa Fury FC Tampa Bay Rowdies Neveal Hackshaw Felipe Hernandez Matt Pickens Carl Haworth John McCarthy Douglas Martinez Amadou Dia Fresno FC Indy Eleven Zac Lubin Daniel Ríos Solomon Asante Jared Stroud Editorial Caleb Richards