skip navigation

11 Forwards to Watch in the 2024 USL Championship season

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 02/29/24, 12:40PM EST


Returning standouts and those aiming for bounce-back campaigns will be in the spotlight this season

Want to contend for the USL Championship title?

You’d better have a finisher in your midst.

By the end of the 2023 USL Championship season, every team in the top four of both the Eastern and Western Conference had a player who had recorded at least 15 goals in the campaign, and eventual title-winner Phoenix Rising FC had two.

Going back to 2018, in fact, only one team – San Antonio FC in 2022 – to lift the USL Championship trophy at the end of the season didn’t have one player that bagged at least 15 goals across the regular season and playoffs, and SAFC just had Santiago Patiño go off in the playoffs with five goals in three games.

With all that said, it should be clear – having someone who can deliver in front of goal matters.

As we close in on the 2024 USL Championship season, here are 11 we’ve got our eyes on this season. Want more? Here are our looks at the Goalkeepers, Defenders and Midfielders who we also expect to be in the spotlight this season.

Elvis Amoh, Detroit City FC

In two seasons in the USL Championship, Detroit City FC has yet to have a double-digit goalscorer and has relied instead on its stellar defense and structure to forge its path into the playoffs. Despite what you saw last season, Elvis Amoh presents the best chance to break that streak as he arrives at Keyworth Stadium this season, with the potential for his own redemption arc to go with it.

The Ghanaian forward logged 13 goals apiece for Rio Grande Valley FC (2021) and Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC (2022) before being acquired by Hartford Athletic ahead of last season. As with most things in Hartford a year ago, Amoh suddenly found himself out of sorts, and it seemed to visibly take a toll on his confidence. He scored just five goals in 27 appearances on an Expected Goals mark of 9.07xG as his shot conversion rate cratered to 9.1 percent.

That made him available for a new opportunity, which he finds with Le Rouge and an attack that needs someone that can lead from the front as its No. 9. Amoh fits that bill. If he bounces back it could be a very significant upgrade for DCFC.

Oalex Anderson, North Carolina FC

The last time we saw Oalex Anderson in the USL Championship, it was as a rambunctious young forward with Tacoma Defiance on the way to earning his shot with Seattle Sounders FC in Major League Soccer. Eight years later, he’s back, having produced the best season of his career for USL League One title winner North Carolina FC as the club returns to the Championship this season.

Anderson bagged five goals in 19 appearances for the Defiance at an average of a goal every 192.8 minutes as an eye-catching winger before earning his shot with the Sounders. The St. Vincent and the Grenadines international still has serious speed to burn that can stretch opposing defenses, but this past season he appeared to put it all together in front of goal with career-bests in goals (17), assists (6), shooting accuracy (55.6 percent) and shot conversion rate (23.6 percent). Those latter two numbers feel sustainable, and with an experienced supporting cast joining him this season it could give Anderson a real chance at success.

Russell Cicerone, Sacramento Republic FC

Photo courtesy Irina Filenko / Sacramento Republic FC

Early last August, Russell Cicerone was in contention for the USL Championship’s Golden Boot with 13 league goals in 23 appearances for new club Sacramento Republic FC. His subsequent nine-game run being held off the scoresheet put paid to those aspirations, but the 29-year-old still earned Championship All-League honors for the first time as he bagged double-digit goals for a third consecutive campaign while playing both as an inside winger and center forward to lead Sacramento to the top of the Western Conference.

Cicerone’s 48 goals in 104 regular season and playoff appearances across the past three seasons is the most by any player in the Championship over that span, and with Sacramento’s new offseason addition of League One Golden Boot winner Trevor Amann there should be the potential for more. With the opportunity to play his more natural role as a supporting forward, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cicerone back in the Golden Boot race again by the end of this campaign.  

Ronaldo Damus, Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC

In some ways, Ronaldo Damus’ season on loan with San Diego Loyal SC could have been looked at as slightly underwhelming. The 2021 USL Championship Final MVP recorded 12 goals in 30 regular season appearances and flitted between the starting lineup and substitutes bench during the season, making 18 starts and logging less than 1,900 minutes. He then bagged a hat trick against Phoenix Rising FC in the Western Conference Quarterfinals only for that not to be enough to extend SD Loyal’s postseason.

At the same time, Damus’ underlying finishing numbers were actually better for San Diego than when he led Orange County SC to its 2021 title. Damus’ regular season strike rate was lower at a goal every 153.7 minutes while his shot conversion rate of 22.6 percent was also better than the 2021 regular season. As he joins Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC – a side that has made an up-tempo attacking style its calling card under first Brendan Burke and current Head Coach Stephen Hogan, Damus has the potential to thrive once again. 

Leo Fernandes, Tampa Bay Rowdies

Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

When 2022 USL Championship Player of the Year Leo Fernandes went down in preseason with a torn Achilles’ tendon, there was a question as to how the Tampa Bay Rowdies’ attack would do in his absence. Just fine, as it turns out. Tampa Bay led the Eastern Conference with 60 goals in the regular season as Cal Jennings put in 19 goals in his debut campaign for the club and was joined by Charlie Dennis on the Championship’s All-League First Team.

At the same time, there were games when the Rowdies certainly felt like they could have used Fernandes’ inventiveness in the final third – just see their defeat in what proved to be the Players’ Shield decider against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC on the penultimate weekend of the regular season and loss to Birmingham Legion FC in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals two weeks later. Fernandes made late-season cameos in both of those games, but if he’s back and fully fit this season then the Rowdies should bring back an element that makes them incredibly dangerous.

Wilson Harris, Louisville City FC

Louisville City FC had its most challenging season in front of goal in the club’s rich history a season ago. For the first time, it failed to have a player reach double-digits in goals as Wilson Harris and Cameron Lancaster each ended the season with nine, part of an attack that scored only 41 times in the regular season.

There’s reason for belief that this season will be better, not least because of Harris’ return on a new multi-year contract. Previously the 2020 USL Championship Young Player of the Year, Harris has always seemed to respond well to a down year – in 2021, when competing for both Sporting Kansas City and SKC II in the Championship, he notched only two goals in 10 appearances on a 5.3xG mark. The year after, arriving in Louisville, he set a career high with 15 tallies and three assists. The 24-year-old is set to become the youngest player to reach 50 regular season goals in league history – he enters the campaign with 46 – and with a career strike rate of a goal every 159.9 minutes, it’s not out of the question that Harris can compete for his first Golden Boot.

Sebastian Guenzatti, Indy Eleven

When the Tampa Bay Rowdies allowed Sebatian Guenzatti to depart during the past offseason – and to a side that looked like a serious challenger in Indy Eleven – there were plenty of questions. When Guenzatti scored only three goals in 19 regular season games to start his stint with the Boys in Blue, those questions quickly shifted to Guenzatti, who at times seemed out of sorts and lacking good fortune for his new club.

The 32-year-old rebounded in the latter part of the season, however, finishing the season with 11 goals – albeit at a strike rate of a goal every 267.6 minutes, a far cry from his prior two campaigns in Tampa Bay – and three assists. With the arrival of Augustine Williams from the Charleston Battery, Guenzatti shouldn’t have to shoulder all the expectations in front of goal this season, and that could put him in a place where he can find his scoring touch to help deliver Indy the success it dearly desires.

Amando Moreno, El Paso Locomotive FC

Switching sides in the Derby del Camino Real has been a remarkably rare occurrence in the five-year history of the rivalry. Only two players have ever played for both El Paso Locomotive FC and New Mexico United in back-up goalkeeper Ben Beaury and forward Jerome Kiesewetter, whose time in New Mexico was on loan from Inter Miami CF after starring for Locomotive FC in its inaugural season.

That made Amando Moreno’s move as a free agent this offseason to Locomotive FC after leading New Mexico with 10 goals and also notching five assists in the 2023 campaign raise plenty of eyebrows. The El Salvador international helped drive New Mexico into the postseason with his creativity and finishing last season. He is now tasked with bringing the same to United’s biggest rival. With the changes El Paso’s attack has seen this offseason – including the arrival of Justin Dhillon as a potential No. 9 for Moreno to play alongside – how he fits in will be fascinating to watch. So will the reception he gets at Isotopes Park on April 6.

JJ Williams, Rhode Island FC

Pop quiz – which player on Rhode Island FC’s inaugural roster had the most goal contributions in the 2023 USL Championship season? The answer – if you hadn’t already guessed – isn’t reigning Golden Boot winner Albert Dikwa but instead JJ Williams, whose 12 goals and nine assists for the Tampa Bay Rowdies served as a career season with 21 combined goals and assists. (Dikwa’s 20 goals came without an assist, a first in league history for a 20-goal scorer.)

It’s likely that the prior relationship between Williams and RIFC Head Coach and General Manager Khano Smith when both were at Birmingham Legion FC made the former a target for the new side as it built its roster, but last season’s haul of goals served to display what Williams can bring this season. At 6-foot-4 he’s big enough to be a target forward and finisher but as he showed in tandem with Cal Jennings for the Rowdies he’s equally adept in chance creation, whether through a well-timed flick-on or delivering a decisive pass on the deck. If Williams and Dikwa’s chemistry clicks, it will be big for Smith’s squad. 

Romario Williams, Hartford Athletic

Photo courtesy Isaiah J. Downing / Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC

If there’s one thing almost every team Romario Williams has played for in the USL Championship has been able to rely on, it’s his strike rate. Excluding a late-season cameo for New Mexico United in 2022, the Jamaican international has averaged a goal every other game or better in every season he’s been in the league. Williams has 56 goals in 120 appearances across the Championship’s regular season and playoffs. Last season with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC he equaled his individual single-season high with 15 goals at a strike rate of a goal every 126.5 minutes, rebounding impressively from his stint in New Mexico.

Now, Williams appears the most likely candidate to record just the third individual campaign with double-digit goals for Hartford Athletic after Juan Carlos Obregon Jr. and Prince Saydee, both of whom had 10 goals in 2021 and last season, respectively. The 29-year-old should get plenty of service with the likes of Deshane Beckford, Marcus Epps and 2022 Championship Young Player of the Year Michee Ngalina flanking him. If Williams’ past in the league – and his overall strike rate of a goal every 137.4 minutes – holds true, Hartford’s single-season scoring record will get obliterated. That will give Hartford a chance to be a force this season.

Ethan Zubak, Orange County SC

Having recorded 20 goals across two seasons for the LA Galaxy II in the USL Championship at a strike rate of a goal every other game, Ethan Zubak looked ready to make the next step up to the Galaxy in 2020. He got his shot and scored his first goal in Major League Soccer against El Tráfico rival Los Angeles FC that season.

From there, however, opportunities became few and far between for the former USL 20 Under 20 selection. A trade to Nashville SC offered hope, but that turned into just 341 minutes in MLS the past two seasons. That resulted in a return to Zubak’s native Southern California with Orange County SC where he and the club have big goals this season. Now 25 years old, Zubak’s qualities are going to get plenty of opportunity to shine this season after a lean period in front of goal over the past couple of years. You know who that sounds an awful lot like? Milan Iloski when he arrived at OCSC from Real Salt Lake before the 2022 season. No pressure, right?

Follow the USL Championship

Most Recent News

Most Read News

Latest Videos