The level of competition in the USL has risen season by season, and in 2017, that meant an even bigger spotlight for some of the league’s top players, as the call of international duty came from across the world for current and former players in some of the year’s biggest events.
The summer’s biggest spotlight fell on the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, which saw Jamaica earn its second consecutive trip to the final, as 2017 USL All-League selection Romario Williams of the Charleston Battery led the way. Joined by then-Tampa Bay Rowdies defender Damion Lowe, who played every minute of the tournament for the Reggae Boyz, Bethlehem Steel FC’s Cory Burke and the Rochester Rhinos’ Sergio Campbell, Jamaica downed Mexico in the semifinals before falling to the United States.
Two more players from Jamaica’s squad would arrive in the USL before the end of the season, with San Antonio FC signing Omar Gordon and Phoenix Rising FC adding Kevon Lambert to bolster their squads in 2017 and potentially beyond.
While Jamaica reached the final, the youngest goal-scorer in USL history continued to burnish his reputation in a solid showing by Canada at the tournament. Alphonso Davies was named the Young Player of the Tournament and took home the Golden Boot. Competing alongside Louisville City FC’s Mark-Anthony Kaye, and others with USL experience including the Montreal Impact’s Anthony Jackson-Hamel, the young Vancouver Whitecaps FC standout gave another glimpse into what looks like a very bright future.
Then in the final stage of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, USL players competed across the world in four federations, with the likes of Sacramento Republic FC’s Emrah Klimenta seeing action in UEFA for Montenegro and the New Zealand trio of Deklan Wynne, Bill Tuiloma and Kip Colvey featuring for the All Whites in Oceania. Others earned their first call-ups to the national stage, with Penn FC’s Abass Mohammed earning his chance for Ghana in CAF, while Sacramento’s Trevin Caesar saw action for Trinidad & Tobago in CONCACAF.
Mohammed wasn’t the only player to earn his international opportunity after shining in the USL, either. The league’s all-time leading scorer, Dane Kelly, earned his first call-up to the Jamaican National Team in September alongside Louisville City FC’s Speedy Williams. James Musa’s performances with the Swope Park Rangers earned him a return to New Zealand’s national team setup, too, while teammate Kevin Oliveira took his first steps at the full national team level with Cape Verde.
Photo courtesy Canada Soccer
Opportunity also called for two prominent players in the USL’s history, with 2013 USL Cup Most Valuable Player Dom Dwyer and 2016 USL Cup winner Tyler Adams – formerly the first signing in New York Red Bulls II history in 2015 – both earning their first selections to the U.S. Men’s National Team during 2017.
With players from 75 different nations competing in the league this past year, the breadth of the league’s reach will only continue to grow and, in turn, the chance for players to use the league’s platform to earn their chance on the international stage.