The Charleston Battery’s Fidel Barajas was announced as the 2023 USL Championship Young Player of the Year on Thursday, with the 17-year-old winger claiming the award after a sparkling first full professional season for both club and country.
A native of Sacramento, Calif., Barajas joined the professional ranks with the Battery late in the 2022 season and has had a breakout campaign this year. Sitting among the league-leaders in assists for most of the regular season, he scored his first professional goal in the third game of the campaign with a brilliant strike against the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Barajas ended the regular season with four goals and nine assists – tied for third in the league in the latter category – and added one goal and two assists in the opening two games of the Battery’s postseason run to the USL Championship Final before departing to join Mexico’s U-17 Men’s National Team in Indonesia for the currently ongoing FIFA Men’s U-17 World Cup.
“This whole season, I’ve been focused on getting better, setting up for the World Cup,” said Barajas. “That was what the season was really about. Just being able to win that award with all these amazing talented young men who are also in the league just shows that I have that level in me, that I could do something with it, and I could keep improving every day.”
Barajas has been a prominent figure for El Tri’s U-17 squad this year. In February he helped the side claim the Concacaf Men’s U-17 Championship with three goals and five assists, and on Wednesday night he notched his first assist of the World Cup as Mexico faced Venezuela. In October, he was named to The Guardian’s 2023 Next Generation class, the first active USL Championship player to be selected in its 10-year history.
“Fidel is beyond deserving of this award as it shows his outstanding abilities and performances throughout the season,” said Battery Head Coach Ben Pirmann. “He has had an incredible 2023, between helping the Battery achieve a record-breaking season and the FIFA U-17 World Cup matches. We are so happy for him, his family and his teammates who have battled with him all year long.”
Barajas received 58 percent of the ballot to earn this year’s award. San Antonio FC’s Rida Zouhir finished second on nine percent after recording eight goals and four assists in the regular season, while Phoenix Rising FC’s Rocco Rios Novo – who on Sunday claimed the USL Championship Final Most Valuable Player award – finished third on seven percent after notching 102 saves, a save percentage of 73.7 percent, and a Goals Prevented mark of -6.74 in the regular season.
The 2023 USL Championship Awards were voted on by club management and a league-wide media panel that included representation from every USL market.