You can find all types of players in the midfields of USL Championship clubs.
There are the artful creators, and the central stoppers charged with limiting their influence.
There are wingers who fly up and down the touchline, and nowadays just as many willing to cut inside and create on their own.
Some of those types are on this list. So are the Swiss Army Knife types, who can do anything and everything you need in 90 minutes, sometimes at an extremely high level.
And while – as with our previous lists of goalkeepers and defenders – this shouldn’t be considered a definitive list of the 10 best midfielders in the Championship going into 2020, the names below are likely to feature prominently in the story of the season that’s about to unfold.
There has been an element of persistence to Seth Casiple’s career to date. The 84th and last selection in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft by the Portland Timbers, the San Diego native arrived at Reno 1868 FC for its expansion season looking for a fresh start after two years competing for T2. All he did then was grow year-on-year into one of the key figures in 1868 FC’s attacking midfield. Last season, Casiple recorded career-highs in goals (5), assists (7) and key passes (79) to help Reno take a second-place finish in the Western Conference. Now as one of Orange County SC’s main offseason additions, the 26-year-old enters his prime as part of a talented group that will be vying for postseason success. If his prior trajectory is any measure, he will be ready to deliver.
There might have been a sense when Kenardo Forbes helped the Rochester Rhinos claim the USL Championship Final in 2015, his contributions (3 goals, 9 assists) to the side might have been overlooked. With three Championship All-League selections in the past four seasons, though, that’s certainly been rectified for the Jamaican midfield general. Forbes has been the metronome for the Hounds over the past two seasons, the outlet his teammates all trust when the ball is at his feet. Last year that resulted in a career-high 11 assists along with his four goals, but on top of that the 31-year-old notched 291 recoveries and 46 interceptions, cleaning up play all around the pitch. There will be a new cast of characters at Highmark Stadium this season, but Forbes will remain a centerpiece for Head Coach Bob Lilley’s side.
The Rowdies had a solid contingent return to its midfield for the 2020 season, but in Lewis Hilton it added a different element that can not only help the side control the tempo of a game, but also become more dangerous in the attacking third. Hilton’s prowess from set pieces has been known since he was playing in USL League Two for the Ocala Stampede, but last season he was among the best deliverers of a set piece in the Championship, registering 37 chances created, four assists and two goals directly from set pieces. That puts him in similar company to players like Indy’s Ayoze and FC Tulsa’s Rodrigo Da Costa, and means the Rowdies set piece targets should be lining up to chances to convert this season.
Since the club was purchased in late 2016 by the ownership group led by Berke Bakay and rebranded to Phoenix Rising FC that offseason, the bar has consistently been raised each offseason as new faces arrive to fire Phoenix’s drive toward a Championship title. As the lone player from the club’s 2017 roster still competing on the field for Rising FC, raising the bar has been the theme for Kevon Lambert, too, with the young Jamaican now seeming ready to make a bigger breakthrough. An imposing presence in the middle of the field, the 22-year-old is coming off a year that saw him shine on the international stage for Jamaica as well as for Rising FC. If there’s another gear in Lambert’s game this season, another level could present itself next offseason.
There’s a plethora of midfield talent at Martin Rennie’s disposal this season – one of the biggest reasons why Indy Eleven is one of the leading candidates to claim a title at the end of the season – but maybe the most intriguing option of them all might be Cameron Lindley as the Carmel, Indiana native returns to his home state. Among the tumult at Orlando City SC, the 22-year-old never properly got a chance to show his abilities at the MLS level after signing with the Lions in 2018. The vision he possesses was on display on loan last season with Memphis 901 FC to the tune of seven assists and 56 key passes in 25 appearances. If Memphis was a step sideways to go forward, Lindley’s arrival at Indy could place him back on the launchpad for big things yet to come.
The fact that he’s made more appearances in the Championship, 138, than any other player is one reason why Niall McCabe has become synonymous with Louisville City FC. But, when you look at it closely, it’s just as much about the tenacity the Irish midfielder brings game-in and game-out, and the clutch performances that embody the spirit of the club. There’s beauty in the fact that while McCabe’s game isn’t flashy, it is capable of flashes of genius that will turn a game on its head. As LouCity moves into its new home at Lynn Family Stadium, you can imagine the 29-year-old will be at the center of things again as the club looks for its third star.
As one of the youngest players in the league last season, you could have forgiven Moses Nyeman for experiencing some nerves as he stepped onto the field for Loudoun United FC. But if there were any in the 15 appearances he made in the club’s first year, they sure didn’t show up in the way the U.S. youth international played. Nyeman’s close control and passing ability shone through as he linked play in the midfield against players almost twice his age, and he became the third-youngest goalscorer in the Championship’s history with his tally against Louisville City FC on July 28. The 16-year-old is on a fast track somewhere. You’d better keep a close eye on him this campaign.
In returning to the club he competed for at the Academy level, Manny Perez had a solid first year as a professional on loan from Celtic FC. As he enters a second year at WakeMed Soccer Park, though, it’s likely more will be expected of the 21-year-old as he looks to push his career forward and get the top brass in Scotland paying attention. Previously a fullback, Perez’s listing as a midfielder in NCFC’s squad this season could be a portent of things to come. His four assists last season showed his ability to deliver from the flanks and it certainly feels like many more of those opportunities will present themselves this season.
The Miami FC had already made some notable additions to its squad ahead of its first season in the Championship, but when Sebastian Velasquez’s arrival at the club was announced on February 5 it only added more belief that Head Coach Nelson Vargas’ squad is going to be ready to compete from the off this year. Having helped Real Monarchs SLC to a regular season title in 2017, and El Paso Locomotive FC to the Western Conference Final in last season’s playoffs, there’s no underestimating the talent that the 29-year-old brings. If he meshes quickly with forward Romario Williams and fellow attacking midfielders Vincent Bezecourt and Lloyd Sam, the results could be spectacular.
Many of the headlines in New Mexico United’s inaugural season might have gone to the now-departed Santi Moar and Kevaughn Frater, but with 10 goals, six assists and 64 chances created of his own, Chris Wehan’s return to the Land of Enchantment was just as essential to the club’s first-year success. Now the 2017 Championship Rookie of the Year – who previously starred at the University of New Mexico – could get an even bigger spotlight as the club enters its second season. Wehan’s ability to link play continues to be impressive, but what he’s added since that great first season in Reno is an ability to time his move into the penalty area to lethal effect. With some great new pieces surrounding him, there could be even more to come from the 26-year-old this season.
Tag(s): Features Orange County SC Phoenix Rising FC Louisville City FC Pittsburgh Riverhounds Tampa Bay Rowdies Kenardo Forbes Niall McCabe Sebastián Velásquez Seth Casiple Lewis Hilton Chris Wehan Kevon Lambert North Carolina FC Indy Eleven Cameron Lindley New Mexico United Loudoun United FC Manny Perez The Miami FC