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11 Midfielders to Watch in the 2024 USL Championship season

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 02/23/24, 1:50PM EST


All-League mainstays, veteran heads in at new clubs, and potential keys to a turnaround are in the spotlight

There’s a variety of roles midfielders in the USL Championship can play, but the most influential have been those that can positively impact the game at both ends of the field.

That’s spotlighted in our selections for the 11 midfielders you should be paying close attention to this season, where recent USL Championship All-League selections are joined by experienced heads aiming to lead new clubs up the standings while maintaining their own individual success.

Want to know who else you should be keeping a close eye on this season? Here’s our list of 11 Goalkeepers to Watch and 11 Defenders to Watch in the upcoming campaign.

Charlie Adams, Las Vegas Lights FC

There are a lot of new faces moving to Las Vegas Lights FC  with the club’s major offseason overhaul but in Charlie Adams the side chose a first new arrival that epitomizes one element of what the Lights want to be moving forward. Entering his 10th season in the league, the English midfielder gives a measure of solidity and creativity that can be built around after a sterling run with San Diego Loyal SC.

Adams made a solid impact last season as SD Loyal reached the playoffs, posting a +2.55 Goals Added mark in just under 2,000 minutes of action. He recorded six assists on 31 chances created while posting a passing accuracy rate of 88.1 percent overall and it’s that ability to find the right pass and keep a side moving that might be Adams’ most valuable. His leadership qualities should make him a candidate for club captain and will be another important element as the side looks to pull its new pieces together.

Rafael Baca, Monterey Bay F.C.

Photo courtesy Kiera Winslow / Monterey Bay F.C.

After almost a decade in LigaMX with Cruz Azul, there might have been some raised eyebrows at Rafael Baca’s reunion with his former Head Coach at the San Jose Earthquakes, Frank Yallop, at Monterey Bay F.C. last August. In 12 appearances, however, the 35-year-old showed he still has the ability to influence games on the ball and it will be fascinating to see how that plays out in a full season.

Baca logged one goal, one assist and 10 chances created for MBFC in just over 1,000 minutes and also managed to win the majority of his duels and average 6.6 recoveries per 90 minutes in the center of midfield. While he will likely need assistance from Mobi Fehr as a more out-and-out ball-winner in the middle of the park, Baca should be worth watching this season as he tries to help drive Monterey Bay to its first postseason berth.  

Taylor Davila, Louisville City FC

It speaks to the individual season Taylor Davila had as Rio Grande Valley FC missed out on the postseason that he was still voted to the USL Championship’s All-League First Team. The 23-year-old was the biggest reason the Toros had a chance at the postseason at all with six goals and five assists, many of which came in key moments. Among all midfielders, Davila’s +9.62 Goals Added mark via American Soccer Analysis was the best in the league and showed a central midfielder coming into his own.

Now Davila is bringing that quality to Louisville City FC, where he’s part of a major influx of talent aimed at restoring the side to contending for top spot in the Eastern Conference again. What stood out last season was his decision-making, knowing when to pass and when to take on opponents – his 41 completed dribbles came at a 63.1 percent success rate – and with the lineup he’ll be part of in Louisville that threat could only rise. If Davila has another successful campaign, another level could open up for his individual pathway.

Jorge Hernandez, San Antonio FC

Jorge Hernandez likely won the award for the most impudent goal of the USL Championship season in 2023 for this piece of work against former United States goalkeeper Bill Hamid and Memphis 901 FC, but the influence he provided his new side was the big takeaway from a resurgent campaign. The 23-year-old claimed the Golden Playmaker award with 10 assists in the regular season and was also rewarded with All-League First Team honors.

Hernandez’s presence also signaled the start of a change in San Antonio’s on-field style where his ability to carry the ball and create went counter to the directness of the side’s overall methodology. We might expect Hernandez’s influence to increase as San Antonio Head Coach Alen Marcina looks to implement a more possession-heavy style this season. If that’s the case, the potential for more highlight-reel moments and another big campaign awaits.

Cam Lindley, Indy Eleven

Photo courtesy Trevor Ruszkowski / Indy Eleven

During his first stint at Indy Eleven in the abbreviated 2020 season, nothing quite seemed to click for Cam Lindley. In 12 appearances he failed to record a goal or assist as the Boys in Blue dramatically dropped out of playoff contention in the later stages of the season. But, for the Indiana native, the second time around has so far proven as beautiful as Frank Sinatra once told us it could be.

Acquired via transfer from Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC after earning his first Championship All-League selection in 2022, Lindley simply built on that success and helped lead Indy back to the postseason for the first time in 2019. His playmaking ability in the center of the field and off set pieces saw him record eight assists and 60 chances created while logging a career-high with 2,900 minutes, and earned him a second consecutive All-League honor. As Indy looks to take the next step this season, Lindley’s influence will be a key factor in the club’s overall success. 

Enzo Martinez, Birmingham Legion FC

From the bristling beard to the fiery personality, it’s hard to not be drawn to watching Enzo Martinez. The fact that he’s still one of the most influential midfielders in the Championship only serves to make that experience all the better, and at 33 years old he’s showing no signs of slowing down yet.

A longstanding USL Championship standout, Martinez has arguably been the most important player in Birmingham Legion FC’s success over the past two seasons. He’s notched 25 goals and 15 assists across the regular season and playoffs while logging more than 6,000 minutes of action. His +16.34 Goals Added Mark across the past two regular seasons is comfortably ahead of any other teammate and ranks fifth in the league overall. As Birmingham looks for greater consistency this season, it has a leader in the middle of the park it can count on.

Aaron Molloy, Charleston Battery

There are some outstanding midfielders in the USL Championship currently, but the most well-rounded – and arguably best respected given his consecutive Championship All-League First Team selections and 2022 Player of the Year nomination – might be Aaron Molloy. The Irish standout can do close to everything a team needs. He wins possession – over the past two seasons, he’s the only player to have recorded at least 400 recoveries, 300 duels won, 100 interceptions and 100 tackles won in the league. He distributes and creates – over the same span he leads the league with 3,479 completed passes and has also notched 18 assists and 148 chances created. He can even chip in goals, finding the net 10 times.

All of which is why his arrival at the Charleston Battery this offseason, reuniting him with Head Coach Ben Pirmann, who previously worked with Molloy at Memphis 901 FC, could be one of the most significant moves of the offseason. With the Battery aiming to become a consistent challenger for the USL Championship title after their return to prominence last season in winning the Eastern Conference, there might be no better player to build around.  

Justin Portillo, FC Tulsa

It’s been a decade since Justin Portillo first broke into the USL Championship with the Charleston Battery and the veteran central midfielder continues to be a valuable presence with his ability to link play and create chances, especially from set pieces. That was likely a key reason why FC Tulsa brought the 31-year-old aboard after two seasons at New Mexico United as it sought to break a two-year absence from the USL Championship Playoffs.

Portillo’s influence at New Mexico was notable. A season ago he comfortably led the side with 56 chances created and produced five goals and five assists. With Phillip Goodrum leading the attacking line, Portillo is a player that can provide plenty of opportunity for one of the league’s best finishers. What will also be worth paying close attention to is Portillo’s chemistry with young standout Nate Worth, with the 16-year-old’s strong second half of the 2023 campaign pushing him into the spotlight. As a mentor, you could hardly do better than Portillo, who has not only won the Championship but at his peak showed what it takes to reach the next level.

Sergio Rivas, New Mexico United

Photo courtesy Brandino / New Mexico United

Upon new Head Coach Eric Quill’s arrival at New Mexico United last June, the ideas and new approach gave some players a new energy as the side pushed into the postseason field and gave Sacramento Republic FC a run for its money in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. Among those was Sergio Rivas, who notched three goals and five assists in 21 appearances after Quill joined the club, giving him a career-best seven goals and five assists overall.

Now approaching 100 appearances for the club, Rivas has become a fixture for United over the past three seasons and will be aiming to find another level as a new-look New Mexico squad prepares for the new season. If it all falls into place, the 26-year-old could find himself as a key player for a Western Conference challenger.

Kyle Scott, Orange County SC

Take a look at Kyle Scott’s main numbers for the 2023 season – no goals, five assists and 27 chances created – and his influence on Orange County SC’s success might not be immediately apparent. In his first full season in California, however, the Chelsea and Newcastle United Academy product was one of the most important performers as the side earned a second-place finish in the Western Conference.

Scott’s ability on the ball and to connect in tight spaces are impressive. In addition to completing 1,125 passes at an 87 percent success rate, he also completed 99 long passes at a 66.9 percent accuracy rate, allowing Orange County to switch the point of attack and use its speed in the attacking third to great effect. The 26-year-old is also no slouch defensively, winning 47 tackles and 198 duels at good success rates. After his spell at FC Cincinnati introduced Scott to the American game, he’s found his feet and has the potential for more.

Drew Skundrich, Loudoun United FC

Three years ago, Loudoun United FC had a plan. They signed Drew Skundrich, who could provide a veteran presence in midfield for the younger players coming up alongside him in the club’s squad at the time. Skundrich then headed to training camp alongside some of his likely new teammates with D.C. United and was promptly signed to an MLS contract before he’d kicked a ball in Loudoun’s colors.

Times have changed with Attain Sports and Entertainment’s acquisition of Loudoun United prior to last season, but in signing Skundrich the plan seems similar to that which the club had previously envisioned. After a campaign with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC that showed off Skundrich’s versatility – being asked to fill in at full back as well as his regular midfield role – he comes to Segra Field as a player who can provide balance in the middle of the park and leadership in the locker room. For a Loudoun side that showed flashes of promise last season but ultimately a lack of consistency, Skundrich figures to be a key piece in the club’s pursuit of a first postseason berth.

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