So far in our unveiling of the USL Championship’s All-Time Hispanic Team, we’ve revealed seven players across the defense and midfield that have made a sizeable impact in the Championship’s past and present to earn their place in the lineup.
This week, we conclude the series with the forward line, featuring three players that have shone brightly over the league’s first 11 seasons and achieved notable accomplishments both throughout their careers or during the time they shone in the league before moving on.
Included in the trio is one of the league’s all-time icons, a striker that accomplished what is so far a singular feat in the Championship’s history, and one of the league’s all-time best forward playmakers.
Click on each player below to learn more about their Championship careers.
A native of Havana, Maikel Chang was one of three future Charleston Battery players that defected from the country in October 2012 prior to competing for the country against Canada in a World Cup Qualifying game. Alongside fellow All-Time Hispanic Team selection in goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper and forward Heviel Cordoves, the attacking playmaker went on to both become for a time the Championship’s all-time leading assists man and lift the USL Championship Title after his move to Real Monarchs SLC.
Chang took time to blossom in the Championship. In his first year with the Battery in 2013 he made only seven appearances and didn’t register a goal or assist as he acclimatized to his new surroundings. From there, he became one of the most consistent playmakers in the league, breaking through with six goals and six assists in the 2016 season before recording his first 10-assist season the following year. That performance drew the attention of Real Salt Lake, which signed Chang to the Championship’s Real Monarchs SLC for the 2018 season. After a strong first season, Chang produced 13 goals and six assists to lead the Monarchs drive to the postseason in 2019 and then posted two goals and two assists – including the game-winning goal as the Monarchs upset Phoenix Rising FC in the Western Conference Semifinals – in the postseason as the side claimed the USL Championship Title. He was then signed by Real Salt Lake and has recorded two goals and eight assists in two seasons so far in the top flight.
A product of the Chivas de Guadalajara Academy, Daniel Rios was signed by the legendary Liga MX club to start his professional career, but after a pair of loans to the lower divisions in Mexico the striker in 2018 landed at North Carolina FC and never looked back. In the USL Championship’s history, there has been no other player record back-to-back seasons of 20 regular season goals, and the 26-year-old’s ability has continued to shine in the first two seasons of Nashville SC’s Major League Soccer history.
The most notable thing about Rios’ performances for North Carolina in 2018 was his consistency. While he recorded three two-goal performances across the regular season, what was more notable was that he never went more than three games without finding the net, and on only three occasions did he fail to score in back-to-back contests. That was aided by a positive relationship with Kyle Bekker – who joined Rios on the Championship’s All-League Team with 13 assists that season – but illustrated the potential that Rios had. The following year he was announced as Nashville SC’s first MLS signing before playing in the club’s final season in the Championship in 2019 where he produced another 20-goal campaign, once again finding the net consistently throughout the year. Rios’ strike rate of a goal every 117.3 minutes ranks second in the Championship only to Louisville City FC’s Cameron Lancaster among players with at least 20 regular season goals and marks him as one of the top strikers the league has seen.
The relationship between Jorge Herrera and Charlotte’s soccer community predates that of the origin of the USL Championship, and still continues to this day, a sign of the love and respect the native of Bogota has earned over almost 15 years in the Queen City. Herrera first arrived at the Charlotte Eagles for the 2007 USL Second Division season where he recorded a goal and five assists in five games before becoming a fixture at the club. That continued into the USL Championship era in 2011 when Herrera was named to the inaugural All-League First Team while also earning honors in the 2013 and 2014 seasons as well.
Herrera led the Eagles to the 2013 USL Championship Final as a No. 5 seed before their magic ran out against Orlando City SC, and he then became the first signing in the history of the Charlotte Independence as the club arrived in the city with the Eagles’ move to USL League Two in 2015. He went on to record 46 goals and 19 assists for the Independence over the final five seasons of his career to sit second in the Championship with 72 regular-season tallies and 35 assists, 231 regular-season appearances and 15,833 minutes of action in the league. Herrera is still tied for second all-time in goals and sits in the top three for appearances and minutes played, while only recently left the league’s top five in assists. Now working for new Major League Soccer club Charlotte FC, Herrera is an icon in the Championship’s history, and remains a special part of his adopted home city’s community.
Emmanuel Ledesma spent only one prior season in the Championship before his recent return to join Indy Eleven this month, but it was one of the most memorable individual campaigns in the league’s history. The native of Quilmes, Argentina arrived to bolster an FC Cincinnati squad prior to the 2018 season and more than lived up to his billing, recording 16 goals and 16 assists – then a Championship record – as he helped the side claim the Championship’s regular season title and compile a league record 23-game undefeated streak during the regular season.
Ledesma’s performances twice earned him the Championship’s Player of the Month award and culminated in him being voted the 2018 Championship Most Valuable Player. He remains one of only two players to record at least 15 goals and 15 assists in a campaign individually in league history.
While a native of Montevideo, Uruguay, Enzo Martinez became a local standout competing in Rock Hill, S.C. and as part of the Charlotte Independence has written himself into the Championship’s history book. Twice named to the USL Championship’s All-League First Team in 2016 and 2017 – years in which he was also nominated for the league’s Most Valuable Player award – Martinez produced standout moments that saw him earn a move to Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids for the 2018 season.
The 31-year-old has since returned to Charlotte and has now made 144 regular season appearances for the club, recording 40 goals and 28 assists for the Jacks. With two more helpers, he would become only the third player in the Championship’s history to record at least 40 goals and 30 assists in the league’s history, accomplishing it all in the same club’s colors.
A standout in USL League Two early in his career, Rodrigo Lopez competed in the USL Championship for Orlando City SC in 2012 before a breakthrough season in 2013 with Orange County SC from which he has reached the top of the North American game in Liga MX in addition to his on-field accomplishments in the Championship. The midfield playmaker finished second in the league with 11 assists during his lone season with Orange County before being announced as the first signing in Sacramento Republic FC history ahead of its inaugural 2014 campaign. From there, Lopez became the talisman that Republic FC coalesced around as he earned his first Championship All-League honors and was nominated for the league’s Most Valuable Player award.
The Guadalajara, Mexico native has recorded 119 regular-season appearances in the Championship in his career as he currently competes for Rio Grande Valley FC, with 26 goals and 32 assists to his name. Beyond those numbers, though, were the moments that Lopez has produced, particularly in Sacramento’s colors. A hat trick in the Semifinals of the 2014 USL Championship Playoffs to lead Republic FC’s comeback in a 3-2 victory against the LA Galaxy II in a game now remembered as the Miracle at Bonney was followed by earning the Championship Final MVP award as Sacramento claimed the league title in its inaugural season, burnishing his status as one of the league’s most notable names.
As a standout in both the college ranks and USL League Two – say nothing of a memorable U.S. Open Cup run with amateur side Cal FC in 2012 – Danny Barrera showed off his ability as a playmaker. Since arriving in the USL Championship with Sacramento Republic FC in 2015, though, he’s put himself among the top creators in the league’s history, ranking tied for second in the league’s history with 41 regular season assists as well as 19 goals that have brought fans for the clubs he has competed at to their feet.
A native of Bogota, Colombia, Barrera was voted to the Championship’s All-League First Team in 2016 with Republic FC and recently surpassed 150 regular season appearances in the league at his current club Hartford Athletic. Currently tied for the Championship lead this season with nine assists entering the Athletic’s Thursday night contest with the Charlotte Independence, the 31-year-old’s ability on the ball at set pieces and in open play seems unlikely to slow down anytime soon.
Oscar Jimenez’s story is one of persistence. The Washington state native had a cup of coffee with FC Tulsa in its inaugural season in 2015 but had to continue to pursue his goal of the professional ranks in USL League Two with Mississippi Brilla FC the following year. Then he broke in at Louisville City FC and has established himself as one of the notable players in the club’s remarkable run over its first seven seasons.
Jimenez was nominated for the Championship’s Defender of the Year award in 2019 and is LouCity’s all-time leader in regular season assists with 24 in 113 appearances going into this weekend’s action. The full back has become one of the best dead-ball specialists in the league, too, with his 157 chances created from set plays more than double the total of any other defender in the league since the start of the 2017 season.
If there’s one thing that immediately comes to mind when you think about Indy Eleven’s Ayoze, it’s that left foot. You know, the one that’s delivered countless passes, through-balls and deliveries to help fuel the attack for the Boys in Blue for the past four seasons, racking up eight goals, 18 assists and 178 chances created in 87 regular-season appearances in the Championship since the start of the 2018 season.
But there’s more than just creativity in the Spanish veteran’s game. He wins his battles, recording a 57.6 percent success rate in duels as well as 99 interceptions, 512 recoveries and a 66.2 percent tackle success rate. A 2018 Championship All-League selection, Ayoze has been one of the league’s most entertaining and consistent talents in recent years.
Coming through the FC Dallas Academy after moving from El Paso, Texas when he was 12, Aaron Guillen has become one of the leading defenders in the Championship in the past two years for one of the league’s all-time best defenses at the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Ever-present for the side since the start of the 2020 season, Guillen has contributed to 20 shutouts in 40 regular season games, including the Rowdies’ current 801-minute shutout streak that has set a new mark in the league’s history.
But there’s more to the native of Chihuahua, Mexico than just his time in Tampa Bay. Competing on loan for FC Tulsa after signing as a Homegrown Player with FC Dallas and at North Carolina FC, Guillen has shown his individual strengths consistently over the past five seasons. In that span, he’s been a +16.52 in G+ according to American Soccer Analysis, putting him in the Top 15 among Center Backs in that span. The reliability he’s shown earns him a place here.
Here’s something you may not remember about the Charleston Battery’s stalwart Cuban shot-stopper; He was the first goalkeeper in the Championship’s history to reach 40 regular-season shutouts for his career, and did so in 110 appearances, posting a clean sheet at a rate of better than one every three games for the Battery.
One of three players that joined Charleston after defecting prior to a World Cup Qualifier for the Cuba Men’s National Team game in October 2012 Canada alongside Maikel Chang and Heviel Cordoves, Cooper was an All-League selection and Goalkeeper of the Year Finalist in 2015. He posted a 1.07 goals-against average for his career while helping the Battery reach the USL Championship Playoffs every season, including a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference in 2017 while recording 10 shutouts in 24 games, a career high.
Tag(s): Hispanic Heritage Month