(This for Week 1-6, last weekend was not included.)
I’ll start off this article by saying the most lukewarm, room temperature hot dog water, take of the year, there’s a lot of good players in USL League One! I wasn’t sure what to expect from 20+ year veterans playing against players who weren’t even alive when their careers started, but it’s been a fun ride for a little over a month now. However, certain players have stood out from the pack and have been the best players in their position so far. But before we get into our Best XI, let’s look at some honorable mentions.
Joe Gallardo (Richmond Kickers)
It’s hard to imagine Joe Gallrado doesn’t make the lineup when he’s top 10 in every offensive stat besides assists, but tough decisions have to be made. Joe has scored three goals, contributed eight key passes and eight chances created, four successful crosses, and has a 30% shot to goal ratio. Joe is easily the most valuable player for Richmond, accounting for 76% of his team’s goals whether he’s scoring it himself or setting up the chances. Whether it’s finding a through ball or taking on three defenders by himself, Joe is Richmond’s most creative player and their offensive powerhouse.
Conor Tobin (Forward Madison)
Conor leads the league with 37 clearances and is a major reason why a defense that had a constant rotation of players in their first few games were able to hold opponents to only four goals in five games. He also is 2nd in the league with six blocks, which means he’s not afraid to put his body in the way of shots and make last ditch efforts. When Madison brought him in, they were looking for a leader both on and off the field. A leader that now has Madison as one of the soundest defenses in the league
Alex Mangels (Chattanooga Red Wolves SC)
Alex has the 2nd most saves and clearances of any keeper in the league and has quietly been Red Wolves’ hero by keeping them in games that they’d eventually win by one goal (They have not won by more than 1 goal all season). With 9 catches on the year, Alex demands the box on corners and set pieces, which his important for a league that has had a set piece goal in every single week so far. I have many questions about the Red Wolves offensive and the inconsistency of their backs, but the keeper who has faced the most shots so far this year, is someone I don’t question.
Ryan Coulter (Forward Madison)
Ryan is tied for most saves in the league and has only allowed three goals in four games (Two of those were penalties). With a constant rotating backline their first five weeks and playing their first three games on the road, Ryan has come up with big time saves that were vital for a Forward team who have just recently found their offensive form, not scoring a goal in three of their first four games. More impressive than one open play goal allowed may be that Ryan was not even a guaranteed starter for their team to start the year. After Sylvestre suffered a hand injury, Ryan made his debut and hasn’t stopped since. Coach Daryl Shore has decided to ride with the hot glove and has been rewarded with the best goalkeeping performance of the month.
— Jason Weintraub (@HomeSweetSoccer) May 5, 2019
Joshua Phelps (Tormenta FC)
My ideology is when you’re not hearing a CB’s name often, it probably means he’s doing his job well. How well? In the past month, Phelps has recorded 23 clearances (4th in the league) 11 interceptions (3rd in the league), the highest tackle won rate in the league over 10 attempts (82%), has won 14 of his 17 aerial duels, and oh yeah, has played the least amount of minutes out of every other defender who ranks higher than him in those categories. A difference maker when he’s on the field, Phelps makes important plays that are crucial as a last defender, including four interceptions that would have left defenders 1 v 1 with the keeper this year.
Kevin Politz (Greenville Triumph)
Politz is going to be playing in USL Championship and I feel comfortable saying that after only one month of play. With 10 interceptions, 20 clearances, four blocks, and 80% tackle rate, Politz is neck and neck on the stat sheet with Phelps and has been one of, if not the, most consistent back in the league. The one thing that separates Politz from other backs is his athleticism and passing ability. Already with a goal and key pass this season, Politz has to cover a lot of ground that Tyler Polak leaves open when he overlaps. This means that Politz is not only responsible for disrupting an attack but possibly launching one on his own. It’s this comfortability on the ball that has Poltiz as the 4th most passing defender in the league and the highest passing accuracy of any back with 85% and 74% in his opponent’s half. A critical component of Greenville getting down the sides.
Tyler Polak (Greenvile Triumph)
And since I mentioned him before, it’s only right to include one of the most versatile players in the league. Not only is Polak tied for 2nd in interceptions in the league, he leads the league with 18 tackles won and the next defender in line barely making half of that amount. Polak is an engine and works extremely hard on both sides of the ball, offensively contributing eight chances created, 12 crosses, and an assist. Polak has been plugged up top, in the back, and is a consistent midfield tenant, someone that is a valuable type of player for any team and a big part of why Greenville has only given up 4 goals in 6 games.
Connor Antley (Tormenta FC)
Did I put four defenders from two teams in the best XI? Sure did! And this one is my Player of the Month. Connor Antley currently leads the league in assists, has created six chances, is tied for 3rd in the league with 11 interceptions, has won 14 of his 17 aerial duels, 12 clearances, and oh yeah, two goals. Antley has had the best month of any player and it’s not even close. Top 10 in over eight offensive and defensive categories, Antley is causing havoc for attacking players and even defenders, with his size, speed, and skill on the ball. He stands out the most by showing you his skill on both sides of the ball, reading interceptions and then immediately springing a counter attack. A big contribution to Tormenta being the best counter attacking team in the league.
Ualefi (Chattanooga Red Wolves SC)
Defensive midfielders don’t get a lot of love, so I’ve got two of them. Ualefi may be Chattanooga’s most important player and has to cover more ground than anyone on the field. Doing that, Ualefi has racked up 10 interceptions, three blocks, 29 duels won, and leads the team with 273 passes, with 70% successfully in the opponent’s half. Chattanooga has lost more duels in the middle of the field than any other team and Ualefi is the only one with a positive in that column. Adding three created chances (two leading to goals), along with two crosses, Ualefi has time after time made important stops and has contributed to 33% of the Red Wolves’ goals on the other side of the ball.
Wahab Ackwei (Richmond Kickers)
Ackwei started the year in the back for Richmond and found himself higher and higher up the field week after week. Since being in the midfield, Richmond have only lost one game (which will happen when your captain gets two yellow cards within ten minutes), a big part of their turnaround of winless in their first three to winning their next three, is Ackwei. 2nd in the league with 33 clearances, tied for 3rd in interceptions, and setting up two key passes, Ackwei’s disruption in the midfield is perfect for Richmond to execute the possession style Coach Bulow wants. He and Matthew Bolduc are the only players for Richmond to play every single minute, a stat that means a lot more than it looks.
Steven Beattie (Chattanooga Red Wolves SC)
Top 3 in the league in goals, crosses, and chances created (three, 20, and 9 respectively), Steven Beattie is the most important offensive player for Chattanooga. Responsible for four of Chattanooga’s six goals so far this season, Beattie can chaos anywhere on the field. His skill on the ball causes defenders to panic during 1 on 1 situations, a skill that has racked him up 17 fouls drawn and dangerous free kicks. Beattie’s presence on the field is always focused on by opponents and his 93 duels faced is proof of that. Tied for 2nd in the league and only beat by Tormenta’s Charlie Dennis.
Nick Moon (Lansing Ignite)
My most exciting player so far this year, Nick Moon was created in a lab by Coach Nate Miller to embody everything Coach wanted in his players, and you won’t convince me otherwise. Nick Moon has already been plugged into three different positions/roles in his first 6 games, and has flourished each time. A goal, four chances created, ten crosses, seven interceptions, 11 tackles, four clearances and 38 of his 61 duels won, Nick has excelled as a back, midfielder, and even a winger. But Nick’s greatest attribute doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. Showcasing his athleticism, Nick is the perfect player for Coach Miller’s press which can cause heavy touches and bad passes. In Lansing’s nine goals this season, Nick is responsible for three of them by causing bad passes or interceptions that lead to goals. A utility player that any Coach would die to have.
Marco Micaletto (Tormenta FC)
When it comes to the #10 position, this was the hardest decision to make. Micaletto, Lucas Coutinho, and Joe Gallardo all have a case for this spot. In fact, let’s look at the stats:
Chances Created: 9
Passing Accuracy: 80%
Chances Created: 8
Passing Accuracy: 72%
Chances Created: 10
Passing Accuracy: 78%
What’s the stand out stat from above? Interceptions. So, why is that important?
It tells the story of where Marco is on the field and his involvement defensively. Leading the three players in clearances and fouls won to conceded ratio, Marco’s defense is important for Tormenta but more so what results from it. As the best counter team in the league, Tormenta relies on interceptions or balls won midfield, that are immediately followed by quick passes to spring a counter, this where Marco is the best in the league. His vision and skill on the ball may be the best in the league and allows him to take any defender, or two, or three. He is constantly dribbling the way Steve Nash never picked up his dribble when he was under the rim and it allows for players to make the appropriate runs for his 76% passing accuracy in the opponent’s half. (Another best of the three). With two successful crosses showing he’s a threat down the side (Joe and Lucas do not have any), Marco is the type of player that you trust on both sides of the ball.
Sitting at top of the @USLLeagueOne table, @Tormenta_FC has shown their ability to leave defenses completely helpless against their counter attack. How do they do it? Here’s my breakdown. #USL #WeAreOne pic.twitter.com/NuJZhV32XR
— Jason Weintraub (@HomeSweetSoccer) April 5, 2019
Ricardo Pepi (North Texas SC)
Is this a bit of a cop out pick? Nope. Pepi has the most goals in the league so far and has only played two games. Does it seem fair that a player that’s only played two games is making a best XI of the month list? I think so, especially when the rest of the strikers in the league have had 4 extra games to catch up. Undefeated in their first four games, North Texas SC has looked confident on the ball, sound defensively, and not playing like the teenagers most of them are. Ricardo Pepi embodies this with his great hold up play, one touch passing, and clinical finishing. Scoring a goal every 45 minutes, Pepi has put six shots on target in nine total shots. A 44% goal conversion rate. While a striker like Alex Morrell (my close 2nd) is the more well-rounded striker with eight created chances, two goals, and an assist, when I look at who’s the best player to have 18 yards in front of the goal, I’m going with the best finisher, a physical presence, and someone who draws the most attention to open up the sides. That’s Ricardo Pepi.
Another @USLLeagueOne note:
I was stunned at the confidence @northtexasSC had on the ball. Handled pressure well with quick & precise passes. Outside of a little hat trick,Pepi also impressed me with his one touch passes which is important for his position #NTXvCHT #USL #WeAreOne pic.twitter.com/IvtwHRzPn9
— Jason Weintraub (@HomeSweetSoccer) April 1, 2019