17-year-old Charleston Battery phenom Fidel Barajas is tied for the league-lead with three assists this season, putting him as a frontrunner for the Championship Young Player of the Year award. | Photo courtesy Charleston Battery
With eight weeks down, we’re officially one-quarter of the way through the 2023 USL Championship regular season, and while there’s a long way to go before any silverware gets handed out, it’s not too early to start looking at the individuals who have made a compelling case so far to be among the contenders.
Here’s a look at the leading contender in all five major categories, and the players who are hot on their tails as we enter the second quarter of the season.
There are some goalkeepers doing spectacular work in the Championship so far this season, but Vitiello is racking up the sort of numbers that lead to individual honors at the end of the campaign. The former Golden Glove winner currently sports a 0.25 goals-against average and has posted six shutouts in eight regular season games – already one-third of the way to setting a single-season shutouts record.
Also in the picture: Paul Blanchette, Oakland Roots SC; Jordan Farr, San Antonio FC; Nathan Steinwascher, Detroit City FC
While he might have burst onto the scene with his scoring exploits in the first game of the year for San Antonio, Lamar Batista has emerged as a do-it-all defender at the back for the defending title holders. His 23 interceptions lead the league and he’s also in the top three with 43 clearances and top six with 77 recoveries. He’s also tied for third in successful tackles with 18 at a 69.2 success rate and has won 78.9 percent of aerial duels and 63.3 percent of ground duels for impressive all-around numbers.
Also in the picture: Jack Gurr, Sacramento Republic FC; Graham Smith, Memphis 901 FC; Alex Crognale, Birmingham Legion FC
There’s a crowded field of contenders here so far, especially depending on what you’re looking for from a coach for this award, but it’s hard to deny Briggs and the start his side has made this season. Sacramento is not only the last undefeated team in the league, but it also ranks first in the league in Expected Goal (13.04xG) and is sixth in Expected Goals Against (6.74xGA). That’s the mark of a well-organized group that has taken another step forward and looks to be a serious challenger for the title.
Also in the picture: Stephen Hogan, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, Alen Marcina, San Antonio FC, Ben Pirmann, Charleston Battery
The potential Fidel Barajas brought to the Charleston Battery was in evidence late last season after his signing, and this year he’s jumped out as the latest bright talent aiming to make the jump to Europe from the USL Championship. The 17-year-old has recorded one goal, three assists and nine chances created, currently sitting tied for the league-lead in assists, while becoming an everyday part of the Battery’s starting lineup.
Also in the picture: Matthew Corcoran, Birmingham Legion FC; Rocco Rios Novo, Phoenix Rising FC; Joshua Wynder, Louisville City FC
When Russell Cicerone joined Sacramento Republic FC this offseason, it felt like a major piece for one of the league’s title challengers. Two months in and it’s hard to imagine how things could have gone much better with Cicerone sitting on four goals and two assists and a league-best Goals Added mark of +3.40 according to American Soccer Analysis. That’s made him a key part of the team with the best record in the league, and the second-highest scoring attack, the combination of which is often the path to winning the league’s most important individual award.
Also in the picture: Albert Dikwa, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC; Alex Dixon, Monterey Bay FC; Zach Ryan, Loudoun United FC