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USL Top Five – #FearTheBeard

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 08/18/17, 11:01AM EDT

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Which of the league’s bearded players commands the greatest respect?

As society has become more hirsute in recent years, so have players across the USL, with beards becoming a personal statement in addition to hairstyle and cleat choices.

As a result, #FearTheBeard has become a prevalent hashtag in social media, with numerous players laying claim to being the most fearsome bearded player in the USL, and beyond. Here are five picks of players who might be able to claim top spot out of them all in the league, but we’re going to let you have your say, too, in the poll at the bottom of the story that will run through Monday at 9 a.m. ET.

Matt Cardone, San Antonio FC


Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC

Cardone’s beard became legend as he went from understudy at the start of San Antonio FC’s inaugural season to penalty-kick wizard during it. A San Antonio native, Cardone recorded four penalty-kick saves in his first season with the club as the side just missed out on a playoff place. While he’s been limited this year due to injury after recording three shutouts and an 88.9 save percentage in five games to start the season, Cardone remains a fan favorite at Toyota Field as he works his way back to action.

Cody Laurendi, OKC Energy FC


Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC

Laurendi has become a fan-favorite since his arrival before the 2016 season with Energy FC, but as strong as his beard makes him look, he’s really a bit of a teddy bear personality-wise. As well as he has played for Energy FC – with 16 shutouts over two seasons that earned the attention of the Puerto Rico National Team – Laurendi is a major figure in the club’s off-the-field work in Oklahoma City, making him just as valuable in the community as he is between the sticks.

Enzo Martinez, Charlotte Independence


Photo courtesy Charlotte Independence

It’s almost quaint, the beardless headshot that was taken before the USL’s 2016 season to be Enzo Martinez’s representation for the year, given that the standout attacking midfielder has performed almost as fearsomely as he has looked over the past two seasons. With 13 goals this year, Martinez has backed up his 2016 All-League First Team selection and MVP Finalist status with another outstanding season, leading the Independence to the top of the Eastern Conference. With brother Alex and veteran Jorge Herrera alongside him, Martinez positively bristles when opposing defenses try to get in his way.

Brian Ownby, Louisville City FC


Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

Ownby has come a long way since being a fresh-faced standout for Reading United AC in the PDL, with the winger becoming a central cog in Louisville City FC’s continued success this season. Ownby’s ability to run at opponents and finish has resulted in 26 chances created from open play this season, in addition to four goals and three assists since his arrival this offseason. Part of an attack that sits third in the Eastern Conference with 36 goals this season, Ownby’s bearded presence has been a driving force as the club seeks its first silverware.

Matt Pickens, Tampa Bay Rowdies


Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

After a long career in Major League Soccer, Matt Pickens recently made his 100th appearance for the Tampa Bay Rowdies. As you can imagine, the tifo for the night was a memorable one, with “Fear The Beard” splashed across Pickens’ visage. The 35-year-old has had another solid season to keep the Rowdies in the top four in the Eastern Conference, with seven shutouts in 19 starts for the club. With the playoffs in sight, Pickens and the Rowdies will be aiming to make a major splash to end their first season in the league.

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