Photo courtesy Mark Guthrel / Saint Louis FC
Every season the Premier Development League acts as a hothouse for the top college players in the country to test themselves and continue their path to the professional ranks. As a result, numerous alumni from the top development league in North America have made an immediate impact in the USL in their first professional seasons.
In fact, from current Real Salt Lake midfielder Luke Mulholland in 2011 to current New York Red Bulls II standout Brandon Allen last season, every USL Rookie of the Year winner this decade has been an alumnus of the PDL. Here are five players who could carry on that streak later this year after strong starts to their first seasons in the professional ranks.
The final selection in the First Round of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, Brian Nana-Sinkam has shown his evaluation as a Top 10 defensive prospect for Burlingame Dragons FC a season ago to be very much the case. Signing with Seattle Sounders FC 2 this preseason, the center back has been one of the central figures for S2 this season after his strong performances in Burlingame and at Stanford University.
Nana-Sinkam currently sits second on S2 with 1,210 minutes, having missed only 50 minutes of play so far this season. The 22-year-old has shown a nose for goal, scoring twice, but it’s his defensive work that has been most impressive, winning 14-of-15 tackles and recording 35 interceptions. With S2 looking to burnish its playoff credentials in the second half of the season, Nana-Sinkam could lead the side to its second postseason visit in three years.
Photo courtesy Charis Wilson / Seattle Sounders FC 2
A waiver pickup by the Philadelphia Union after he was selected by the Houston Dynamo in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft, former Timbers U23 goalkeeper Jake McGuire has proved a reliable pair of hands for Bethlehem Steel FC this season. A former standout at the University of Tulsa, who also competed with the Orange County SC U23 in his PDL career, McGuire has helped Steel FC move into serious playoff contention midway through its second season.
McGuire has recorded 39 saves in 10 appearances, which currently puts him tied for second in the USL this season, and has posted a 0.90 goals-against average and 0.81 save percentage in that span. He has also recorded four of Steel FC’s five shutouts this season, a solid resume as he looks to follow in the footsteps of fellow Union goalkeeper John McCarthy, the USL Rookie of the Year in 2014.
Photo courtesy Mark Guthrel / Saint Louis FC
An early Second Round selection in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft by the San Jose Earthquakes, former University of South Florida and Reading United AC attacking midfielder Lindo Mfeka has made a substantial difference for 1868 FC in its inaugural season after arriving on loan at the club that provided support to the exploits of USL leading scorer Dane Kelly and fellow forward standout Antoine Hoppenot.
Mfeka has made seven appearances for 1868 FC and recorded two goals and two assists in that span, among them a beautiful finish in the club’s victory against Tulsa Roughnecks FC on May 24. The South African has been highly reliable with the ball at his feet elsewhere, with an 85.7 percent Passing Rate on 43.1 passes per 90 minutes, while also creating eight scoring chances. If Reno’s attack continues to fly high, Mfeka and his teammates will be in contention for the postseason come October.
Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC
A First Round selection in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft by Sporting Kansas City, Storm has built on his experiences in the PDL and at the University of North Carolina to quickly become a strong two-way threat for the possession-oriented Rangers.
The right back has been solid in the defensive end, where he has recorded 14 interceptions and won 19-of-25 tackles so far this season, but it has been his ability to join the attack that has really impressed. Storm has recorded two assists and created six chances this season in his eight appearances, in addition to connecting on 5-of-12 crosses. Storm’s speed and ability to stretch the field has also paid off in other forms, creating space for the talented wide players the Rangers have at their disposal. A teammate of 2015 USL Rookie of the Year Kharlton Belmar with SPR, Storm could have a chance at claiming the award himself.
Photo courtesy Rio Grande Valley FC
Basuljevic was signed to a Homegrown Player contract this offseason after completing his junior season at Georgetown University following a prolific season in the PDL in 2016 that saw him score eight goals and add five assists in 14 appearances for the Red Bulls U23. Those numbers made him the No. 5-ranked midfielder in the PDL’s Top Prospects list, and a prime candidate to make the move to the pros.
So far in 2017, he’s been a standout performer in the Red Bulls II midfield, where he sits second in the USL with 978 passes and an accuracy rate of 83.8 percent. Basuljevic’s creativity has been highlighted by his 18 chances created, and while he’s yet to find the score sheet so far this season, he’s put five of his seven shots this season on target. With the style of play the Red Bulls II aim to play, the 21-year-old has been a perfect fit so far this season.
Photo courtesy Kenny Stockman / Richmond Kickers