by Gerald Barnhart
Friday, January 22, 2010
In a continuation of our review of ‘Who is the best?,’ the question that is debated endlessly in every sports circle whether it is at the team or league level, USLsoccer.com begins the list of the 15 best and most influential players in the history of the USL Second Division over the past decade.
It must be noted that this list is subjective, although the All-League honors were weighed heavily in the process considering they are determined via general managers and coaches each year. The emphasis is primarily on who the players in the league have been the best and most influential from 2000-09 in context of the league. No doubt there have been numerous players who spent one or two seasons in the league and have moved on elsewhere, but this list is dedicated to those who have made a lengthy or lasting impact on the competition.
Heading into the list, the most difficult aspect was the splitting of accomplishments. For instance, Richmond, Charlotte and Pittsburgh all split time between USL-1 and USL-2 in the decade, making the selection of which list to place the players on more difficult.
We kick off the presentation of the Top 15 list with the first five players.
USL-2 Top 15 Players of the Decade
# 15: Fadi Afash
In the first half of the decade, the Utah Blitzz were the dominant club of the league. After beginning the decade with the Stanislaus United Cruisers in 2000 with the league’s Rookie of the Year honor and an All-League selection off a 15-goal campaign, Afash joined the Blitzz for their second season. The striker was an instant fit, claiming the Goal Scoring Championship with 19 goals and four assists to earn All-League and Most Valuable Player honors. The team captured its first regular season title and also went on to win the league championship. Afash made the leap up to USL-1, where he earned All-League honors with Portland in 2002, but returned in 2004 to help guide the Blitzz to their second championship. A career that could have easily placed him in the top portion of this list, however, was tarnished in January of 2007 when he was convicted of identity theft, among other charges, and received a 17-month prison sentence.
# 14: Ethan Zohn
OK, this one is a bit of a stretch in terms of on-field contributions to say the least. Zohn’s career started off with minimal action in Hawaii (1997) and Cape Cod (1998) before becoming the Crusaders primary keeper in 1999. As for this decade, he only played one match in 2000 – a 3-0 loss on the road in Westchester. But it was the other game he played and won the following year... Survivor: Africa where he came to the forefront of USL popularity. Zohn successfully navigated the challenging reality show in its third season to capture the title of Survivor and its $1,000,000 prize. With the winnings, and influenced by his experiences in Africa, Zohn started Grassroot Soccer to raise money to fight HIV/AIDS. He also went on to participate in an All-Star edition of the series and became a soccer celebrity, hosting various soccer television shows. While his contributions on the field were minimal, his efforts off the pitch certainly make him the most famous player in the history of the league.
# 13: Derrick Etienne
When the Long Island Rough Riders missed the postseason for the first time in 2001 with a 6-16-4 record, they immediately responded. With the addition of Etienne, who burst onto the scene with a 15-goal season in 2002, the Rough Riders posted an amazing turnaround. Not only did they make the postseason, but they captured the regular season title at 13-6-1 and went on to capture their second league championship. He added All-League honors to his resume the following year with 10 goals and continue to be an offensive leader for the club with 11 in 2004 and nine in 2005.
# 12: Jorge Estrada
While goalkeepers and strikers changed, the one constant for the Utah Blitzz during their reign as the power club in the first half of the decade was Estrada. The midfielder was a regular starter for the club from its inaugural season in 2000 to its final campaign in 2004 with the launch of Real Salt Lake the following year. Estrada helped lead them to two regular season championships in 2001 and 2002 and league titles in 2002 and 2004. A moderate scorer, he finished the five-year stint 19 goals and 20 assists in regular season play.
# 11: Nathan Salsi
A veteran of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, Salsi joined the club in its first season in the USL Second Division in 2004 and has been a defensive leader since. He earned All-League honors in his first two campaigns with the team and helped guide the Riverhounds to the regular season title in 2004 with a record of 17-2-1. It appeared his career had come to an end when the club departed the league in 2007, but he signed back on with their return in 2008 and has been a leader the past two years, playing all 40 games. For his five-year career, the dependable back has only missed three regular season matches. He has also chipped in a bit on the offensive end with at least one goal each year for a total of seven.
Stay with USLsoccer.com to see the Top 20 in USL-1 and Top 10 in USL-2 each week as the individual players are unveiled.
USL-1 Top 25 – First Five [+]