The arrivals of Sebastian Guenzatti, Tyler Pasher and Russell Cicerone at new clubs for the 2023 USL Championship season are setting the table for Indy Eleven, Birmingham Legion FC, and Sacramento Republic FC's high-end aims.
There is nothing quite like the sort of offseason splash delivered by the promise of a top attacking player to a club’s roster.
Unsurprisingly, during the first two weeks since the USL Championship’s 2023 roster construction calendar began on December 1, we’ve been treated to quite a few already, including a major run of announcements this week.
Here’s a look at nine of the forwards who have already found new homes in the Championship for the upcoming season and what they could deliver their new clubs.
Championship Appearances: 126
Breakdown: Tyler Pasher’s path to becoming one of the biggest attacking splashes this Championship offseason is one of the more interesting, given that it wasn’t until he was unleashed by Indy Eleven as a left-sided forward in 2019 that his full potential blossomed. Utilized as a more defensive player before then, the Canadian delivered both crucial and spectacular finishes in bagging 22 regular-season goals at a strike rate of a goal every 186.3 minutes to earn a transfer to Houston Dynamo FC before the 2021 season. Adding him into a group that includes the returning Enzo Martinez and Prosper Kasim – and the potential for Juan Agudelo’s return – and Legion FC becomes an even more serious title challenger.
Championship Appearances: 50
Breakdown: We’ve seen big moments from Maalique Foster. The Panenka in Sacramento Republic FC’s penalty shootout victory against Sporting Kansas City in the Semifinal of the 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup will live on highlight reels for decades, and there were also flashes of what the Jamaican can do at other points last season. Now the challenge for Foster is going to be putting together a consistent year in front of goal. In Sacramento, his 10 goals came on an Expected Goals mark of 12.1xG. In Colorado Springs’ high-octane system, he’ll certainly get the chances, so upping his shooting accuracy rate (48.2%) should deliver a higher conversion rate (18.5%) and the potential for a first season with double-digit goals.
Championship Appearances: 200
Breakdown: The 2022 Championship Assists Champion isn’t a pure goalscorer like others on this list, but his ability to both create and finish could provide a major boost to Hartford as it begins its first full season under Head Coach Tab Ramos. Hoppenot ranks fifth in the Championship all-time in assists and should be expected to hit the half-century mark this season, especially if fellow new arrival Kyle Edwards clicks into the new set-up as well.
Championship Appearances: 145
Breakdown: There are very few pure finishers who can rate with Sebastian Guenzatti in the USL Championship’s history. Among players with at least 50 regular season goals in their career, he ranks seventh in strike rate at a goal every 172.7 minutes and sits tied for 10th overall in the all-time list. As he heads to Indy, the question will be whether he can regain the form that saw him twice earn Championship All-League honors in 2019 and 2021 after a season where for long spells things didn’t quite seem to go right. If you only look at his incredible volleyed finish against Loudoun United FC late last regular season, though, you know the quality he can bring, and with players like Solomon Asante serving up the chances it’s a good bet there’ll be a bounce-back campaign.
Championship Appearances: 27
Breakdown: It’s a small sample size in terms of what he’s accomplished in the league, but Loudoun United’s signing of Tommy Williamson should be one to keep an eye on as 2023 begins. A strike rate of a goal every other game while on loan with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC in 2021 was a solid return and this season he upped that rate to a goal every 138.4 minutes, albeit in the third tier of MLS NEXT Pro. Still, there seems to be plenty to work with here, and with Loudoun looking for its first double-digit goalscorer since 2019 when both Kyle Murphy and Gordon Wild accomplished the feat, Williamson will have a chance to join them.
Championship Appearances: 219
Breakdown: There’s never felt anything that flashy or spectacular about what Alex Dixon does, but for a player who’s put up three seasons – including the past two – with double-digit goal contributions (goals and assists) he feels exactly like what Monterey Bay F.C. needs to take the next step. It would likely be a surprise if he can deliver a double-digit goalscoring campaign – that’s only happened once previously in his career for OKC Energy FC in 2018 – but he has familiarity with one of his new teammates in Christian Volesky, with whom he won a title at the Rochester Rhinos in 2015 and teamed up alongside in Oklahoma City. That – and his relationships with others like defender Hugh Roberts – should help the veteran settle in and do what he’s consistently done well.
Championship Appearances: 31
Breakdown: The first season in the USL Championship didn’t go quite as hoped for Greg Hurst, whose impressive strike rate of a goal every 150.3 minutes on 22 goals across the regular season and playoffs in USL League One more than doubled at Phoenix Rising FC. That said, there’s reason to be optimistic the Scottish striker can find his level. New Mexico United has taken up that proposition, acquiring Hurst for an international roster spot to bring him into the fold. As part of what’s set to be a new-look attacking line for NMU this season after the departures of Neco Brett, Romario Williams and Kevaughn Frater, the spotlight will be firmly on Hurst this preseason and as the campaign begins.
Championship Appearances: 53
Breakdown: Of the players featured here, Manuel Arteaga has the lowest shot conversion rate of any at 13.9 percent, but he also basically matched what his underlying numbers said he should have produced. His 15 goals came on a 15.6xG, while his five assists came on a 3.98xA, so it wasn’t necessarily bad luck that kept the Venezuelan from being more prolific. That said, getting into a system like Phoenix’s with its more possession-based direction under Head Coach Juan Guerra could offer the No. 9 exactly what he’s looking for in 2023. If those conversion numbers start to trend up, it could mean a very good season ahead for the former senior international.
Championship Appearances: 153
Breakdown: As momentous as Tyler Pasher’s signing with Birmingham Legion FC felt, this might still be the biggest move so far for a club’s front line this offseason. Cicerone has delivered 20+ goal contributions (goals and assists) in each of the past two seasons with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and has the potential to deliver the consistent attacking threat Republic FC hasn’t had since Cameron Iwasa and Thomas Enevoldsen each delivered double-digit goalscoring seasons in the 2019 season. That will make a Republic FC side that is ready to reach greater heights in 2023 that much more dangerous.