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USL Top Five – Midfielders to Watch

By NICHOLAS MURRAY - nicholas.murray@uslsoccer.com, 03/14/18, 2:24PM EDT

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Five players that could hold the key in the middle of the park for their clubs


Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

With the wide variety of style utilized by clubs around the USL, midfields take different shapes and players different purposes in trying to aim their side to victory but having a player who can consistently make the difference in all facets of the game in the middle of the park will often be key to a club’s long-term success.

Continuing our countdown to the 2018 USL regular season, which has previously covered goalkeepers and defenders, here are five midfielders who could be a major piece of the puzzle for their respective clubs this year.

Carlos Alvarez, Las Vegas Lights FC


Photo courtesy L.E. Baskow / Las Vegas Lights FC

Carlos Alvarez get to reunite with Juan Luis Sanchez Sola in Las Vegas, with whom he previously thrived when the duo worked together at Chivas USA five years ago after having been selected with the No. 2 pick of the MLS SuperDraft. Alvarez had a strong season for San Antonio FC in 2016, notching four goals and seven assists as he highlighted his ability as a playmaker. After a disappointing year in Orange County, he’ll be aiming to lead Las Vegas to a successful inaugural season.

Austin da Luz, North Carolina FC


Photo courtesy North Carolina FC

Austin Da Luz has been an integral figure for North Carolina FC since his arrival for a second stint in Cary, N.C. after competing for Orlando City SC in the USL in 2014, having made more than 100 appearances for the club since the 2012 season. Da Luz’s ability to win possession in the midfield and ability to distribute saw him record 1,411 total passes a season ago for NCFC, and the 30-year-old’s experience at the heart of NCFC's midfield will be key to allowing North Carolina to dictate play for what has been a strong top lower-division side over its history.

Christian Duke, Orange County SC


Photo courtesy Sam Ortega / Portland Timbers 2

Christian Duke brings extensive experience to his new role with Orange County, with the former Swope Park Rangers captain having led the club to back-to-back Western Conference Championships while starting in every game for the past two seasons. Duke’s arrival was a signal of intent for Orange County, and his ability to win possession and link play will be important for the side. Duke recorded 51 interceptions and won 53 tackles a season ago for the Rangers while also recording seven assists, 28 key passes and an 84.2 percent accuracy rate on 1,594 passes, a total that made him one of the league’s leading distributors.

Billy Forbes, Phoenix Rising FC


Photo courtesy Michael Rincon / Phoenix Rising FC

The arrival of 2017 USL All-League Second Team selection Billy Forbes with Phoenix Rising FC this season drew plenty of attention, with the Turks & Caicos international having also earned USL Player of the Month honors for March/April during a stellar season. Forbes’ speed and willingness to take on defenders which saw him record 74 successful dribbles in addition to 10 goals and nine assists a season ago adds another dangerous weapon to Head Coach Patrice Carteron's squad as it looks to build on a strong 2017 season.

Marcel Schäfer, Tampa Bay Rowdies


Photo courtesy Matt May / Tampa Bay Rowdies

Marcel Schäfer's arrival in Tampa Bay was one of the biggest offseason moves prior to last season, and the German veteran showed he's still got plenty left in the tank as he earned USL All-League First Team honors with seven goals and 11 assists for the Rowdies. The 33-year-old will again be a key piece for the Rowdies in his holding midfield position, with his ability to create – Schäfer recorded 46 key passes a season ago – and strike from long range set to bring Tampa Bay’s fans to their feet again. 

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