Bruno Lapa, Birmingham Legion FC
The USL Championship is set to return to play on April 24 after nearly five months off the pitch. With the season kickoff on the horizon, plenty of players both young and experienced are looking to showcase their skills among the best talent across the nation.
Here are ten players who once played in League Two to keep an eye on in the 2021 Championship season (in alphabetical order by last name).
Charleston Battery | Defender
This Trinidadian center back is a force to be reckoned with on the defensive front as he enters his fourth season with USL Championship’s Charleston Battery. Archer has been a key element of Charleston’s defense adding 63 clearances, 16 blocks and 23 interceptions in his 2020 season. Before joining the ranks of the USL Championship, Archer spent one season with South Georgia Tormenta FC 2 in USL League Two before earning his chance at the pros. This international standout recently made his first appearance with the Trinidad and Tobago national team after previous stints with the country’s U-17 and U-20 squads. Archer is a sure fire win out of the back for Charleston as they look to make a run for the USL Championship title in 2021.
League Two Club: South Georgia Tormenta FC 2
The Miami FC | Midfielder
Miami FC’s attack just became a lot more dangerous for the 2021 season with the addition of Christiano Francois. The right winger joins the ranks of Miami FC after a stellar season with Reno 1868 FC where he scored six goals and added seven assists leading Reno to finish the 2020 season with the best overall regular season record. Francois is no stranger to the rigors of USL Championship as he has tallied a total of 104 matches while scoring 20 goals and adding 28 assists to his name. As a member of four different USL Championship clubs in his last four seasons, François has helped his clubs reach the USL Championship Playoffs in all of those seasons, and competed in USL League Two for two seasons during his young career. It goes without saying that this Haitian native’s pace and ability will be a constant threat to all USL Championship defenders in the upcoming season.
League Two Clubs: Central Jersey Spartans, Baltimore Bohemians
FC Tulsa | Defender
Leo Folla has proven to be the ultimate USL pathway champion, as he has spent time in both USL League Two and USL League One with FA Euro New York and Chattanooga Red Wolves SC, ultimately earning him a shot with the Championship’s FC Tulsa. In his two seasons and 29 appearances with Chattanooga Red Wolves SC, Folla racked up the most clearances (97) of any Red Wolves SC player as well as adding the second most interceptions (41) in two seasons. The New York City native has also played a season overseas with Härnösands FF in Sweden. Folla’s USL path combined with his international experience will allow him to show off his growth in this year’s USL Championship season as he battles it out against the very best players in the nation.
League Two Club: FA Euro NY
Birmingham Legion FC | Midfielder
Lapa took the USL Championship by storm in his rookie season with Birmingham in 2020 as he started every match for Legion FC ultimately leading to All-League First Team honors in addition to leading the team in shots (26) and chances created (35), tied for the team lead in assists (5), and was second in goals (8). The Brazil native also managed to clinch a USL Championship Player of the Week honor for his two-goal, one-assist performance in his first-ever competitive match in black and gold. Needless to say, Lapa is aiming for a personal-best season in 2021 and is on his way to creating a name for himself in the American soccer system. Previous to his time in USL Championship, Lapa suited up for League Two’s North Carolina Fusion U23 and added four goals during his 2019 season with the club.
League Two Club: North Carolina Fusion U23
Tampa Bay Rowdies | Defender
The Tampa Bay Rowdies’ Forrest Lasso is the lone player to be a two-time Championship Defender of the Year honoree after his 2020 victory. If that accomplishment doesn’t speak for itself, this powerhouse defender has also snatched up All-League First Team honors for four consecutive years, equaling Richmond Kickers legend William Yomby. Lasso continued to impose himself as one of the most difficult players to succeed against in the Championship in 2020 as he led the league with 86 clearances and won 77.8 percent of tackles and 66.3 percent of aerial duels, while only being dribbled past five times in 16 games by opponents. Additionally, he also recorded three goals and one assist as he continued to be a threat on attacking set pieces. Lasso’s impressive career in the USL is marked by appearances with the Championship’s Charleston Battery, FC Cincinnati and Nashville FC in addition to a single season with a former USL League Two club. All eyes should be on Lasso this season as he makes a run to claim his third Defender of the Year title.
League Two Club: GPS Portland Phoenix
New Mexico United | Defender
Veteran defender Ryden will rejoin the Championship’s New Mexico United after a successful run with the club in 2020, which saw United record more shutouts (6) in its 15-game campaign than it had (4) throughout its inaugural 2019 season. Although these numbers reflect the success of the club as a whole, Ryden’s personal numbers do not get lost in the mix. Ryden’s passing accuracy rate of 85.3 percent ranked in the Top 10 of defenders to have played at least 13 games in 2020, while he also recorded 26 interceptions, 63 clearances and only conceded 10 fouls while being beaten off the dribble only twice. Ultimately, his calm yet intense style of play earned him a spot on the 2020 All-League First Team. The defender joined New Mexico after coming off of a top-notch season with USL Championship’s Real Monarchs SLC, earning Ryden a 2019 title-winning season. Before entering the professional ranks, Ryden was a standout for a former League Two club adding much-needed pressure out of the back. As New Mexico United enters its third season in the Championship, the fans should keep their eyes peeled for this unstoppable defender.
League Two Clubs: Des Moines Menace, Austin Aztex
Tampa Bay Rowdies | Defender
A Montego Bay, Jamaica native, Scarlett joins the Tampa Bay Rowdies for his second season after putting up an impressive run in 2020, which saw Scarlett record 74 clearances, 11 blocks, 43 interceptions and one goal. The USL Championship defender previously played three seasons with New York Red Bulls II, making 68 appearances and playing more than 5,000 minutes. He was the unquestioned leader of the Red Bulls II defense in 2019, leading the team in clearances (92), blocked shots (23), and interceptions (66.) He was drafted by the Red Bulls in the third round of the 2017 MLS SuperDraft but ultimately signed a USL Championship contract with the club. In addition, Scarlett recorded time with USL League Two’s Reading United AC and Lehigh Valley United before turning pro with the Red Bulls prior to the 2017 season. As for 2021 play, Scarlett has his sights set on a USL Championship title and a personal-best season.
League Two Clubs: Reading United AC & Lehigh Valley United
Orange County SC | Midfielder
Two-time Championship All-League honoree Chris Wehan is joining Orange County for the 2021 season in hopes of bringing success to his hometown club. The Laguna Niguel, California native is coming off of a hot season with New Mexico United earning him his second All-League selection as he recorded seven goals and five assists while leading New Mexico United to its second consecutive trip to the USL Championship Playoffs. The 2017 Championship Rookie of the Year with Reno 1868 FC, Wehan has recorded 29 goals and 26 assists in 89 appearances in the Championship across the regular season and playoffs, placing him seventh in the league in assists over the past four years. The League Two alum’s veteran status in the league and outstanding performances throughout earns him a well-deserved spot on the Players to Watch list for this season.
League Two Club: OC Blue Strikers
The Miami FC | Midfielder
Jamaican midfielder Williams is preparing to enter his first season with Miami FC after playing four consecutive seasons with USL Championship’s Louisville City. In his time with LouCity, Williams led the team in passing accuracy completing 86.8 percent of his passes in 2017 leading LouCity to the club’s first title win and a second consecutive win in 2018. Prior to his time with LouCity, Williams made 36 appearances in two seasons for the New York Red Bulls II, who in 2016 won both the USL Regular Season and Playoffs. He also represented the Jamaican National Football Team during its win over Trinidad & Tobago in 2010. Williams has since gone on to make 12 appearances for the Reggae Boyz with his last game being the 2-0 win against Aruba in October 2019. As Williams starts his new chapter with Miami FC, it will be exciting to witness how his presence will make an impact on the club’s season.
League Two Club: Pittsburgh Riverhounds U23
San Diego Loyal SC | Defender
This versatile defender is one to watch in 2021 as he is coming off of three successful seasons with the Championship’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. Primarily in the role as a center back, Vancaeyezeele made 75 appearances in three seasons with Pittsburgh, as he earned All-League First Team honors in 2020 and All-League Second Team honors in 2019 helping the team finish at the top of the USL Championship’s Eastern Conference in 2019. Even as a defender, Vancaeyezeele found a way to score some timely goals adding five in his career including two during the playoffs. The former USL League Two Mississippi Brilla FC alum, has totaled over 80 regular-season appearances, five goals and over 7,000 minutes in regular-season play and has proven to be an elite defender with 194 clearances and 170 interceptions. His dynamic play and composure in the back field is sure to boost the Loyal’s defensive presence in the 2021 season.
League Two Club: Mississippi Brilla FC