TAMPA, Fla. – As he joined Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC last January, there was no question of the goalscoring pedigree Hadji Barry had shown at previous stops in the USL Championship.
The Guinean forward had during his career recorded two double-digit scoring seasons, and in four out of his five campaigns had averaged a goal every other game or better despite rarely being on a team that would have been considered a title contender.
Still, the career year that Barry delivered for the Switchbacks – which as a club entered its own new era in 2021 with its move to new 8,000-seat downtown stadium Weidner Field – saw the 28-year-old scale heights only achieved by one other player previously in league history as his 25 goals equaled the Championship’s single-season scoring record and drove Colorado Springs to its first postseason appearance since 2016.
On Wednesday, Barry was named the 2021 USL Championship Most Valuable Player, rewarding a remarkable campaign that moved him past 60 career goals in the Championship’s regular season as the centerpiece of one of the most entertaining clubs in the league during the past year.
“First and foremost, I just want to thank God for a very healthy and successful year, and all the blessings in helping me with winning these awards this season, because without Him none of this would be possible,” said Barry. “But it really has been a great year playing for the Switchbacks and going to work every day with my teammates and coaching staff. I just want to thank [Switchbacks Head Coach] Brendan Burke a lot because he really has put a lot of faith and belief in me from the first day I arrived here and that really brought a different level of confidence in me with going into games and helping me perform at a high level.”
Barry’s 2021 season came as a rebound after the most disappointing season of his career. At North Carolina FC, he recorded only one goal and one assist in 15 appearances during the abbreviated 2020 Championship season. Arriving in Colorado Springs there was the opportunity for a fresh start in the middle of an attacking corps that also included the talents of Michee Ngalina, Deshane Beckford and Andre Lewis and the attacking system new Head Coach Brendan Burke installed that paid major dividends on the field.
In equaling Cameron Lancaster’s record of 25 goals for Louisville City FC in the 2018 campaign, Barry averaged a goal every 111.3 minutes, while also notching five assists and a team-high 49 chances created as he appeared in every game of the regular season. That performance saw the Switchbacks finish tied for second in the league with 61 goals in the regular season, delighting the club-record crowds that welcomed the team in its new downtown home.
“Hadji has very much become the face of the franchise for us which is so cool to see,” said Burke. “Our style of play is exciting, the fans bring great energy to the stadium and Hadji, because of his diverse skill set as an attacking player, is very well suited to carry out our style of play.”
Barry’s performance saw him sign a new contract mid-season with the Switchbacks that will run through the 2023 season, by which time he could be in position to sit in the top three in the Championship’s all-time scoring chart. Currently on 63 regular season goals, Barry currently sits just outside the top five in the league’s regular season history, but only 10 behind the current occupant of second place in San Diego Loyal SC’s Corey Hertzog.
As he prepares for his second season with the Switchbacks, the aim is to pull together continued individual success while driving Colorado Springs to become a contender for silverware in the Championship sooner rather than later.
“I’m very happy and excited to be a part of the Switchbacks for years to come – this organization has welcomed me with open arms from the first day I arrived here, and I am grateful for that,” said Barry. “We have a great new stadium here and the fans are unbelievable, we couldn’t have asked for a better year in this new area, so the future looks bright for us here in Colorado Springs. Now, all our focus is on next year to hopefully have an even better year than we had this year and to try to make a deeper run into the playoffs and hopefully bring a championship to Colorado Springs one day.”
Barry received 62 percent of the vote to earn the award, while the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ Sebastian Guenzatti received 12 percent to finish second and Phoenix Rising FC’s Santi Moar took third place on nine percent. Ten players overall received votes in balloting
The 2021 USL Championship Awards were voted on by team technical staffs and executives and a league-wide media panel that included representation from every USL Championship market. Voting was conducted following the conclusion of the 2021 Championship regular season.
2021 USL Championship Awards
Goalkeeper of the Year: Evan Louro, Tampa Bay Rowdies
Defender of the Year: Forrest Lasso, Tampa Bay Rowdies
Coach of the Year: Neill Collins, Tampa Bay Rowdies
Young Player of the Year: Jonathan Gomez, Louisville City FC
Most Valuable Player: Hadji Barry, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
USL Championship Most Valuable Player
2011: Yordany Alvarez, Orlando City SC
2012: Kevin Molino, Orlando City SC
2013: Jose Angulo, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
2014: Kevin Molino, Orlando City SC
2015: Matt Fondy, Louisville City FC
2016: Sean Okoli, FC Cincinnati
2017: Dane Kelly, Reno 1868 FC
2018: Emmanuel Ledesma, FC Cincinnati
2019: Solomon Asante, Phoenix Rising FC
2020: Solomon Asante, Phoenix Rising FC