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USL Championship Announces 2023 Awards Finalists

By Staff, 11/08/23, 1:30PM EST


Leading players, coaches during regular season nominated across five categories

TAMPA, Fla. – The USL Championship announced on Wednesday the finalists for the 2023 USL Championship Awards, with the leading performers in five categories earning nominations after an outstanding 2023 regular season campaign. The award winners will be announced between Sunday, Nov. 12 and Thursday, Nov. 16.

Three of the finalists are set to feature in the 2023 USL Championship Final on Sunday night as Coach of the Year nominee Ben Pirmann and the Charleston Battery play host to Phoenix Rising FC, which features Young Player of the Year finalist Rocco Ríos Novo and Player of the Year finalist Danny Trejo in its squad at Patriots Point.

The announcement of the 2023 USL Championship Player of the Year will be made during the broadcast of the 2023 USL Championship Final. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET on Sunday night, with the game set to air on ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and SiriusXM FC.

The 2023 USL Championship Awards were voted on by team management and a league-wide media panel that included representation from every USL market.

2023 USL Championship Award Finalists

2023 Goalkeeper of the Year Finalists – Winner announced Tuesday, Nov. 14

Paul Blanchette, Oakland Roots SC – Blanchette led the Championship with 114 saves in the regular season, posting nine shutouts and a save percentage of 70.2 percent as he played every minute of the regular season. The NorCal native posted a -4.57 goals prevented mark in the regular season.  

Nathan Steinwascher, Detroit City FC – The homegrown standout was a key figure as Le Rouge earned a postseason berth for a second consecutive season. Steinwascher made 93 saves, good for fourth in the league, while posting a 73.8 save percentage and -3.36 goals prevented mark across 32 regular season appearances.

Danny Vitiello, Sacramento Republic FC – Vitiello claimed the Championship’s Golden Glove for the second time in his career, posting a league-best 0.86 goals-against average among eligible players. The 27-year-old also recorded a save percentage of 76.2 percent on 82 saves and a -3.36 goals prevented mark.

2023 Defender of the Year Finalists – Winner announced Tuesday, Nov. 14

Conor Donovan, Sacramento Republic FC – Donovan provided the central anchor to the best defense in the Championship in the regular season, leading Republic FC with 119 clearances and recording 39 interceptions and 144 recoveries. The 27-year-old also won 59.5 percent of duels overall, and 64 percent of aerial duels.

Jack Gurr, Sacramento Republic FC – The English wingback was a two-way standout for Republic FC on the right side, leading all defenders with 11 goal contributions in the regular season (5 goals, 6 assists). Defensively, Gurr also made 160 recoveries, recorded 28 tackles and made 19 interceptions.

Arturo Ordoñez, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – The Spanish center back had an outstanding season for the Players’ Shield winners, ranking second in the league with 239 recoveries and 106 aerial duels won at a 75.7% success rate. Ordoñez also ranked third in the league in interceptions with 63 and recorded five goals while winning 63.7 percent of his duels and 69.6 percent of his tackles.

2023 Coach of the Year Finalists – Winner announced Wednesday, Nov. 15

Mark Briggs, Sacramento Republic FC – The 2017 Championship Coach of the Year led Sacramento to the top of the Western Conference standings for the first time since the 2016 season as his side combined a stifling defense that allowed the fewest goals in the regular season with an attack that 51 goals. Republic FC ranked tied for the best goal differential in the regular season at +25.

Bob Lilley, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – The 2015 Championship Coach of the Year led the Hounds to the Players’ Shield for the first piece of silverware in the Championship era for the club. Pittsburgh’s defensive discipline saw it concede only 29 goals in the regular season as it lost a league-fewest five times while finishing tied for the league-lead with 19 victories.

Ben Pirmann, Charleston Battery – The 2022 Championship Coach of the Year arrived in Charleston looking to revive the Battery after their worst season in club history and produced a historic bounce-back campaign. The Battery improved by 34 points to finish third in the Eastern Conference and subsequently advanced to the Championship Final this weekend in the postseason.

2023 Young Player of the Year Finalists – Winner announced Thursday, Nov. 16

Fidel Barajas, Charleston Battery – The Mexico U-17 international put together a sensational campaign in which he tied for third in the regular season with nine assists while also adding four goals and 36 chances created. Barajas was a key figure in the Battery’s turnaround this season and achieved international recognition as a member of The Guardian’s Next Generation 2023 class.

Rocco Ríos Novo, Phoenix Rising FC – The Argentine goalkeeper produced a major step up across the board in Phoenix while on loan from Lanus this season, posting individual single-season highs in saves (102) and save percentage (73.7%). Rios Novo also posted a goals prevented mark of -6.74 to help Phoenix return to the postseason.

Rida Zouhir, San Antonio FC – The Canadian youth international provided a dynamic element to San Antonio’s midfield with eight goals and four assists in less than 1,800 minutes of action. Zouhir also completed 37 of 55 dribbles – a 67.3 percent success rate – while recording 39 chances created while on loan from Club de Foot Montreal.

2023 Player of the Year Finalists – Winner announced Sunday, Nov. 12

Russell Cicerone, Sacramento Republic FC – In his first season for Republic FC, Cicerone recorded 15 goals and four assists, giving him the first double-digit goal season in the club’s colors since 2019, while leading Sacramento’s attacking line. The 28-year-old also completed 51 dribbles, tied for fifth in the league, and posted a shooting accuracy rate of 64.6 percent.

Albert Dikwa, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC – The Cameroonian had a career-best campaign with 20 regular season goals to claim the Championship’s Golden Boot, including the first hat trick of his career. Dikwa’s 21 goals across all competitions was the second-highest in Hounds history for a single season, while he averaged a goal every 115.7 minutes.

Cal Jennings, Tampa Bay Rowdies – A new arrival with the Rowdies, Jennings led the best attack in the Eastern Conference with 19 goals while also recording three assists. The 26-year-old averaged a goal every 104.3 minutes and had a shooting accuracy rate of 66.7 percent as he became the fastest player to reach 50 regular season goals in league history, achieving the mark in his 90th regular season appearance.

Danny Trejo, Phoenix Rising FC – Trejo’s third professional campaign continued his ascent to the elite of the league’s forwards as he posted 17 goals and seven assists to finish tied for the league-high in goal contributions with 24 in the regular season. Trejo completed 61 dribbles – second-most in the regular season – while posting a shooting accuracy rate of 55.1 percent.

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