Photo courtesy Lori Scholl / Tulsa Roughnecks FC
As the race for the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs continues to build, so too does the race for the 2017 USL Awards. Players having standout seasons are looking to end on a high note to impress the voting panel made up of team representatives and local media members that will determine who will walk away with one of the five individual honors this season.
Over the next five weeks, we’re going to look ahead at who might be the leading contenders for each of those awards, starting with the USL Goalkeeper of the Year award. Not to be confused with the USL Golden Glove – which is awarded to the goalkeeper who finishes with the lowest goals-against average for the season alongside the league’s two other statistical awards, the USL Golden Boot and Assists Champion – the Goalkeeper of the Year has been claimed by some standout performers over recent years.
Here are five players who could be next in line to claim the trophy. Let us know in the comments here or on social media who you think should take home the silverware.
Photo courtesy Sacramento Republic FC
Part of the Roughnecks’ major offseason overhaul, Cerda has offered a safe pair of hands to help Tulsa push toward its first postseason berth in the club’s history. The 28-year-old was in a battle early in the season with Bryan Byars for who would claim the permanent starting role, but has asserted himself strongly to play the majority of the club’s minutes in goal this season.
Cerda’s goalkeeping numbers have been impressive, with a 76.67 save percentage on 65 saves and seven shutouts on the year, but in addition to that, he’s been a valuable piece in helping the Roughnecks get on the front foot with his distribution. Cerda’s three key passes and 59.7 passing accuracy percentage has highlighted a goalkeeper who can get things moving quickly when needed.
Photo courtesy FC Cincinnati
Of the goalkeepers on this list, there’s only one that can currently claim to be in the top five in the USL in saves, save percentage and shutouts, and that’s Edwards. The volume of work Edwards has had to accomplish for Orlando City B has helped keep the side in contention for a second consecutive trip to the playoffs with his nine shutouts putting him tied for second behind only Diego Restrepo and his 75 saves putting him only eight back of the league lead.
Edwards has shown remarkable poise and positioning in goal this season for OCB and claimed the USL Player of the Month award in August after recording an eye-popping 88.5 save percentage and three shutouts in his five appearances in the month. A former standout at UCLA, Edwards may be putting himself in position to follow the likes of the Portland Timbers’ Jake Gleeson or Toronto FC’s Alex Bono in earning regular minutes in Major League Soccer sooner rather than later.
Photo courtesy Chris Cowger / Pittsburgh Riverhounds
Mizell fared relatively well in limited action last season for the Independence, but his play this season has provided a solid back end to the scoring exploits of the club’s attack to push Charlotte into serious contention for a top-two finish in the USL Eastern Conference. Mizell’s save percentage of 71.3 isn’t quite as gaudy as the other players named here, but with 78 saves in 25 appearances, he’s been kept regularly busy on a night-in and night-out basis to sit third in the USL.
What has made Mizell stand out this season has been the spectacular nature of many of his denials. A regular nominee for the Fans’ Choice Save of the Week, Mizell has produced some top-drawer saves to preserve points for the Independence in big moments, earning plaudits from fans and teammates alike.
Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC
When he began the season as a back-up option in San Antonio, Diego Restrepo certainly wouldn’t have been in the conversation for this award, but the Venezuelan standout has more than made the most of his opportunity since Matt Cardone went down to injury early in the season. Restrepo may have a stingy defense in front of him that has helped record his 11 shutouts this season, but the 29-year-old has come up big consistently with an 80.95 save percentage.
Restrepo is on course for a record-setting year, currently sitting only three shutouts away from a single-season USL record with six games to go in the regular season. With a 75.6 pass completion percentage, Restrepo’s distribution has also been first rate as SAFC has looked to break out on the counterattack regularly this season.
Photo courtesy Rio Grande Valley FC
When Sparrow was signed to a Major League Soccer deal by Real Salt Lake earlier this week it helped confirm the outstanding season the second-year professional had put in already for the USL-leading Real Monarchs SLC. Sparrow’s 79.41 save percentage this year has produced some gems as he has been the most consistent presence in goal during Real’s run to clinching a first berth in the USL Cup Playoffs.
At 6-foot-4, Sparrow has outstanding size, but the way that he reads the game has also been a highlight of his 2017 season. The 23-year-old leads the USL with four penalty saves this season and has also recorded six shutouts. The youngest of the players on this list, the future seems very bright for the former Creighton University standout.