TAMPA, Fla. – Tampa Bay Rowdies attacking midfielder Leo Fernandes was on Thursday named the 2022 USL Championship Most Valuable Player, capping a career season for the Rowdies veteran that saw him lead the league in combined goals and assists while proving an attacking catalyst for the perennial title contenders as they led the league in goals scored during the 2022 campaign.
Fernandes is the first Rowdies player to earn the Championship’s MVP honor and is the third player in team history to earn USL Championship honors overall following former defender Forrest Lasso (Defender of the Year – 2020, 2021) and goalkeeper Evan Louro (Goalkeeper of the Year, 2021).
Entering his sixth campaign for Tampa Bay, Fernandes became the centerpiece for the Rowdies’ attack over the course of this year. The 30-year-old’s 19 goals more than tripled his previous best season in the league of six in 2021, while his nine assists were one shy of his single-season best in 2019. Fernandes set career highs in games played (32), games started (29) and minutes played (2,515) while leading the Championship in combined goals and assists with 28.
“It means a lot to win this award,” said Fernandes. “It’s really a great achievement for me, but it’s something that wouldn’t be possible without my family, my wife, my teammates, and obviously [Rowdies] Coach Neill [Collins]. It’s really been an unbelievable season, and I owe it all to them for how they’ve helped me get here.”
Fernandes is currently the Rowdies’ longest-tenured player, having joined the club prior to the 2017 season. In that time, he has recorded 150 appearances for the team across the Championship’s regular season and playoffs and posted 41 goals and 30 assists. He is one of only three players to reach those landmarks for a single team in the league’s history, with Solomon Asante and Enzo Martinez accomplishing the marks for Phoenix Rising FC and the Charlotte Independence, respectively.
A catalyst for the club’s success in claiming two Eastern Conference titles while advancing to three consecutive Eastern Conference Finals in the past three seasons, the manner in which he has been embraced by Rowdies fans is something he greatly appreciates.
“It’s such an honor to represent the Rowdies and it’s an honor every time I get to put that jersey on,” said Fernandes. “I’m so grateful to have been here as long as I have, and I definitely don’t take it for granted. Each time I step on the field wearing the Rowdies name on my jersey, I play like it’s my last time. It’s a great honor. I’m humbled and grateful to be a part of this club.”
A native of São Paulo, Brazil who grew up in New York City, Fernandes is now approaching 250 professional appearances overall, a mark he should pass early in the 2023 season. A former player for the Philadelphia Union – during which time he also competed on loan for the Harrisburg City Islanders and New York Cosmos – the road to this moment in his career is one he continues to appreciate.
“My dream was always to play professional soccer,” said Fernandes. “I never really put much thought into how many games, but to be close to 250 is almost unbelievable. I can’t really believe it. When I was younger, I never really imagined that happening. For me to be able to keep doing what I love for over 10 years now, the whole journey has been great.”
Fernandes received 38 percent of the vote to earn the award, while Memphis 901 FC midfielder Aaron Molloy took second place with 20 percent and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC’s Hadji Barry was third on nine percent. Eleven players overall received votes in balloting.
The 2022 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 2022 Championship regular season.
Goalkeeper of the Year: Jordan Farr, San Antonio FC
Defender of the Year: Mitchell Taintor, San Antonio FC
Coach of the Year: Ben Pirmann, Memphis 901 FC
Young Player of the Year: Michee Ngalina, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC
Most Valuable Player: Leo Fernandes, Tampa Bay Rowdies
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
2021: Hadji Barry, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC