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10 Newcomers to Watch in the 2020 Championship Season

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 02/28/20, 8:58AM EST

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Which new faces have the potential to turn heads as the new season kicks off?


Argentine forward Luis Solignac arrives at San Antonio FC after a season away from the game looking to spark things back to life in the Alamo City.

As it enters its 10th season, the USL Championship has reached a new level of visibility not only for players and fans within North America, but also from overseas. Consider that more than 80 countries were represented in the league last season, and you can get an idea of the reach the Championship now has in soccer nations across the globe.

That’s meant the Championship is not only the place where exciting young players arrive looking to build a launching pad for their future, but also a league that has become an attractive option for those looking for a different path for their careers.

We’ve picked out 10 players who are going to be new to the Championship this season that have an intriguing storyline to follow and the potential to have a positive impact in their new surroundings as the new campaign kicks off.

Conner Antley
Conner Antley
Indy Eleven
There have been others that followed, but when Conner Antley joined Indy Eleven this offseason via a transfer from South Georgia Tormenta FC it was a historic moment in the USL’s history. It also shows the value that USL League One is going to provide players moving forward, with Antley making the most of his transition into the professional ranks with Tormenta FC – having previously played for the club in USL League Two – to claim League One Defender of the Year honors last season. Indy has a loaded squad, but Antley will be aiming to prove he can fare just as well at a higher level and continue his impressive story so far.
Jose Baxter
Jose Baxter
Memphis 901 FC
The youngest player to appear for Everton FC in the Premier League club’s storied history, the road for Jose Baxter hasn’t always been a smooth one. But his connection to Memphis Sporting Director Tim Howard has provided an opportunity for the 28-year-old to get a fresh start. The ex-England U-17 international showed off a solid pedigree and eye for goal earlier in his career, and if he can replicate that level of performance in the Bluff City it would be a major boost for the second-year club.
Rufat Dadashov
Rufat Dadashov
Phoenix Rising FC
Phoenix Rising FC had an idea it was going to need to find a replacement for 2019 Championship All-League selection Adam Jahn, and they may have found it in Azerbaijani international Rufat Dadashov, who arrived at the club a week before Jahn’s sale to Atlanta United FC was completed. The 6-foot-2 forward has scored five goals in 24 games for his National Team as well as regularly finding the net during his playing career in Germany. There may be some pressure to fill Jahn’s boots for the 29-year-old, but it doesn’t feel like a reach to think he can do so.
George Lebese
George Lebese
Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Joining Colorado Springs is a major jump for South African midfielder George Lebese, who previously played his entire professional career in his home country. The experience the 31-year-old brings to the Switchbacks, however, could be just the thing the club needs as it looks to get back on track under the leadership of Head Coach Alan Koch. With six appearances for South Africa at the international level, Lebese has been at the top of the game, but now his willingness to move out of his comfort zone and take on the challenge of pushing the Switchbacks forward is going to be a fascinating one to watch.
Louis Lomas
Louis Lomas
Tampa Bay Rowdies
As the first player from Norwich City FC to join the Tampa Bay Rowdies on a season-long loan, all Caleb Richards did was play every game of the season and log more than 3,100 minutes for Head Coach Neill Collins’ side. That’s raised some expectations as to what fellow Canaries defender Louis Lomas might be capable of in his season-long loan at Al Lang Stadium. The 19-year-old looked the part, though, in Tampa Bay’s 2-1 preseason victory against the Montreal Impact and his physical tools at 6-foot-4 and 175 pounds could allow him to thrive alongside Forrest Lasso in the Rowdies’ back line.
Blake Malone
Blake Malone
Orange County SC
There are precedents to Blake Malone’s move to Orange County SC this offseason, with other college standouts having elected to forgo eligibility to sign professional terms with a USL Championship side in the past. With Malone, though, the fit with what Orange County is looking to accomplish on and off the field couldn’t appear better. Selected to the United States U-20 National Team previously this cycle, Malone will get the chance advance his claim to be part of the squad for the Concacaf U-20 Championship this summer with Orange County’s philosophy of providing a platform for talented young players to push their careers forward offering him every opportunity to accomplish his goal.
Parfait Mandanda
Parfait Mandanda
Hartford Athletic
A reliable pair of hands in net is a cornerstone for any playoff contender in the Championship, and Parfait Mandanda’s experience in the top flight of the Belgian league and at the international level says the 30-year-old is what Hartford Athletic needs to take a solid step toward postseason contention. One of four goalkeeping brothers – including Marseille and French international Steve Mandanda – Parfait’s experience should be invaluable for new Head Coach Radhi Jaidi throughout the 2020 season.
Arturo Rodriguez
Arturo Rodriguez
Real Monarchs SLC
Arturo Rodriguez’s first season in the professional ranks couldn’t have gone much better. Not only named the USL League One Most Valuable Player in its inaugural season, he also notched the game-winning goal as North Texas SC claimed the League One title against Greenville Triumph SC. Now he joins the defending Championship title holders and will get the chance to take on the best a higher level of competition has to offer this season. If he succeeds here, the future is only going to get brighter for the 21-year-old native of Mexico.
Luis Solignac
Luis Solignac
San Antonio FC
It can be a hard thing to pull off, a return to the game after a full year without seeing competitive action, but that’s what Argentine forward Luis Solignac is taking on this year as he arrives in San Antonio. The 29-year-old had a career season for Chicago Fire FC in 2017 with seven goals and four assists as he helped the side reach the postseason, but injuries saw any positive momentum disappear the following year when he registered no goals and one assist in 13 appearances. Now, after a year off, Solignac and San Antonio FC are hoping he can recapture his former glories to help lead the side to the postseason for the first time since 2017.
Grant Stoneman
Grant Stoneman
San Diego Loyal SC
Another player that made the most of his opportunity in USL League One in 2019, Grant Stoneman is going to have at least some familiar support around him as he and fellow former Lansing Ignite FC teammate Tumi Moshobane look to make an impact at expansion club San Diego Loyal SC this season. Certainly, the opportunity is there for Stoneman to learn from one of the best in the Championship for the past two seasons in fellow defender Joe Greenspan, but with Nate Miller having also joined Head Coach Landon Donovan’s staff as an assistant after leading Lansing on the sidelines last year, Stoneman has the chance to thrive in his new landing spot as he faces Championship competition for the first time.

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