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USL Top Five - Rookies

By NICHOLAS MURRAY -, 10/05/17, 2:58PM EDT


Which players could be in the frame to be named USL Rookie of the Year?

Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC

With two weekends to go in the 2017 USL regular season, we continue our look at who might be in the frame for end of season honors. We’ve already looked at who might be among the favorites for the USL Goalkeeper of the Year, Defender of the Year award and Coach of the Year awards. Now we turn our attention to the rookies who’ve had a major impact in their first professional seasons.

Whoever does take this year’s award will be in decent company. Past winners include Real Salt Lake’s Luke Mulholland (2011), the Philadelphia Union’s John McCarthy (2014) and Kharlton Belmar (2015), who this year earned an MLS contract with Sporting Kansas City after starring for the Swope Park Rangers.

Here are five rookies we think have shone brightly in their first professional seasons. Let us know in the comments here or on social media who you think should take home the silverware.

Richard Ballard, Louisville City FC

Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

Ballard has been part of Louisville’s rotating case in the attacking midfield, but the local standout and former University of Indiana player has made the most of his opportunities with three goals and four assists this season in less than 1,000 minutes of action going into the final two games of the regular season.

The winger has been efficient, too, putting more than half of his overall shots on target, while his 17 completed dribbles and 18 key passes have contributed to one of the best attacks in the USL. With what Ballard has shown this season, it’s intriguing to think what could be next with a year of experience under his belt.

Aaron Jones, Bethlehem Steel FC

Photo courtesy Mark Guthrel / Saint Louis FC

There are a lot of good potential nominees for Rookie of the Year in Steel FC’s squad, with the likes of goalkeeper Jake McGuire, midfielders Adam Najem and Santi Moar, and forwards Marcus Epps and Chris Nanco among them for the playoff contender. Arguably the side’s most consistent player has been Jones, who leads the team in minutes played and has put in stellar performances on the back line as Steel FC has competed for a first trip to the postseason.

Jones has won a team-high 38 tackles at an 80.9 percent success rate, sits second with 51 interceptions, and has also won more than 55 percent of duels and almost 70 percent of aerial duels. Additionally, the value Jones brings from set pieces has seen him tie for the team-lead with 31 key passes alongside Moar, and also notch a pair of standout goals from free kicks. 

Colton Storm, Swope Park Rangers

Photo Courtesy Sam Ortega / Portland Timbers 2

Storm came into the Rangers as a first-round MLS SuperDraft selection in January, and has certainly looked the part in a strong year for Swope Park at fullback. Storm has also topped 2,000 minutes of action, and has notched a goal and three assists when taking the opportunity to join the attack.

Storm’s chance creation numbers are less than Jones’ due to a lack of set piece duties, but he has double the number of completed dribbles, and good passing numbers with a 77.3 percent completion rate on 845 passes this season. The former University of North Carolina standout has also been solid defensively with 41 tackles won at a 73.2 percent success rate and 38 interceptions.

Andrew Tinari, New York Red Bulls II

Photo courtesy Brett Hansbauer / FC Cincinnati

Tinari has come on strongly in his first professional season, becoming a strong piece of the Red Bulls II’s midfield while also showing a keen eye for goal and creativity in the final third. Tinari has notched two goals and two assists this season, but his 36 key passes place him in the Top 30 in the USL in that category.

A former standout at Columbia University, the 22-year-old has also been strong in the center of the field for New York. Tinari has recorded an 81.5 percent pass completion rate and completing 16 successful dribbles in helping drive New York forward, while also recording 38 tackles at a 79.2 percent success rate and 32 interceptions.

Chris Wehan, Reno 1868 FC

Photo courtesy David Calvert / Reno 1868 FC

Wehan has been a frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year award all season, and sitting as the current USL leader in assists with 11 the former University of New Mexico standout has emerged as a key player in the most prolific attack in the USL’s history with 1868 FC. The 23-year-old sits fourth on 1868 FC with 2,287 minutes of action, missing only three games all season, as he has formed a potent trio alongside veterans Antoine Hoppenot and Dane Kelly.

In addition to his league-leading assists total off 58 overall key passes, Wehan has also found the net six times as well. He’s also worked solidly in defense for an attacking midfielder with 24 interceptions and 14 clearances. One assist away from tying Matt Dallman’s USL single-season record of 12 for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in 2013, Wehan could cap his season with a record-breaking mark.

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