Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
We’re approaching the final weekend of the 2017 USL regular season, and that means we’re also concluding our look at potential candidates for the USL’s end-of-season awards. Having covered the USL Goalkeeper of the Year, Defender of the Year, Coach of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards over the past four weeks, it’s time for the big one. Who could be named the USL’s Most Valuable Player?
There are plenty of candidates, certainly, with what has been a historic season in the league bringing forward more potential names for selection than in previous years. Twenty-one players have recorded double-digit goals this season, and there have been some impressive scoring and shutout streaks. The quality that’s been added from overseas has also raised the level of the league, while new teams have risen to prominence behind some stellar individual displays.
Here are five players we think have a strong case to take home the MVP award. Let us know in the comments here or on social media who you think should take home the silverware.
Photo courtesy Sacramento Republic FC
Caffa’s arrival in Tulsa was a major coup for new Head Coach David Vaudreuil, and the Argentinean playmaker has more than lived up to his billing in leading the Roughnecks to their first postseason appearance in club history. The 33-year-old doesn’t have the eye-popping numbers of some others in here, but with nine goals and six assists, as well as the second-highest chances created in the league with 68, the influence Caffa has had by the numbers is clear.
What should also be considered is what Caffa has brought to the Roughnecks in terms of experience. Having played in the top flights in Spain and Argentina, the added confidence he has brought to the Roughnecks’ squad has been visible in the attacking drive Tulsa has shown this year. He’s had help from the likes of Ian Svantesson and Joey Calistri, but Caffa has been the man to lead the Roughnecks to a historic year.
Photo courtesy Real Monarchs SLC
Hoffman’s pedigree in the USL made him a prime candidate to lead the Monarchs in their new approach this season, and his signing has paid off with career-high numbers in both goals and assists for the USL Regular Season champion. Hoffman has been firmly in the hunt for the USL Golden Boot race with 16 goals going into the final game of the regular season and is close to becoming the third player in USL history with 50 career regular-season goals.
What’s been a major change for this year, though, is Hoffman’s creativity, which has seen him also sit second on the team in assists with seven, one back of Charlie Adams. As a result, Hoffman enters the final weekend of the season as the only player in the league to sit in the Top 10 in both goals and assists in the USL. Leading the Monarchs’ outstanding regular-season success, the 2014 All-League selection is a prime candidate to take home the award.
Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC
Despite being the USL’s all-time leader in goals, Kelley hadn’t seriously contended for the USL Golden Boot until this season, where he led a record-setting attack in 1868 FC’s expansion season that looks set to propel Reno to a top-three finish in its first season. Kelly’s six-game scoring streak that helped him earn May’s Player of the Month award was one of the highlights of the season as his partnership with Antoine Hoppenot and Chris Wehan flourished.
Maybe the most interesting note in Kelly’s season is the arc that it has taken. From not starting early on in the year to bagging a brace in a late rally against Real Monarchs SLC in April, Kelly’s momentum quickly accelerated to ensure his position as the leader in the race for the Golden Boot going into the final weekend of the regular season. With top goal-scorers having taken the honor in the past, including Sean Okoli a season ago, Kelly might be the favorite to take home his first USL Award.
Photo courtesy Brian L. Zimmerman / Richmond Kickers
It’s a measure of Enzo Martinez’s drive that after earning nomination as a finalist a season ago for the USL Most Valuable Player award, the Independence’s talisman simply went out and put up even bigger performances this year to put Charlotte within reach of its first home playoff game in club history. Martinez’s 16 goals are seven more than a year ago, as he has moved full-time into the attack, while he’s also matched his assists total from 2016 with five going into the final game and recorded the second-most touches in the opposing penalty area this season with 150.
As much as his tangible contributions have powered the Independence this season, though, the energy and strong mentality Martinez has brought has also played a role. The Independence have had numerous standout performers this year, but they’ve been led by example by the dynamo that drives it all.
Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies
There was plenty of excitement when Marcel Schäfer was unveiled as the newest member of the Tampa Bay Rowdies this offseason, and the former Wolfsburg VfL standout hasn’t disappointed in the least. The midfield general has been arguably the biggest key to the Rowdies reaching the postseason in their first season in the USL, with Schäfer’s distribution and ability to strike from distance setting a tempo Tampa Bay has risen to match.
Tied for second in the USL with 10 assists this season, Schäfer is tied for the league-high with Caffa and Seattle Sounders FC 2’s Zach Mathers with four goals from outside the penalty area. He’s also tied for third in the league with 10 big chances created, while he has recorded an accuracy rate of 86.41 percent on 1,435 passes this season. The Rowdies have had other stellar performers, including longtime standout Georgi Hristov and new addition Martin Paterson, but Schäfer’s year has been major in the club’s success.
Others Contenders: Wal Fall, Rochester Rhinos; Kenney Walker, FC Cincinnati; Diego Restrepo, San Antonio FC; Kharlton Belmar, Swope Park Rangers; Jason Johnson, Phoenix Rising FC