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BEST ON BEST: Who Would Win a Match Between Menace, Fusion U-23 Alumni?

By Staff, 07/29/21, 4:00PM EDT


Both League Two Finalists have had a strong history of notable players come through their ranks

When you think about the history of USL League Two, what maybe comes to mind most alongside the players that went on to achieve professional success at the club and international level is the league’s historic clubs, who have been fixtures in the league and their communities, recorded surprises in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and contended for titles.

This Saturday’s 2021 League Two Final Presented by Motel 6 features two such clubs, with the Des Moines Menace holding a longer history than any club in Major League Soccer with its inaugural season having arrived in the same summer of the FIFA 1994 World Cup on these shores, and NC Fusion U-23 – then known as the Greensboro Dynamo – kicking off in the professional ranks in 1993.

As a result, both clubs boast a notable alumni list of players that competed in League Two prior to their professional success. Ahead of Saturday’s game at Valley Stadium, we’ve put together an 18-player squad from both clubs that would mark the best of the best in each club’s history.

Which team would come out on top? Well, that’s for you decide. Check out the two rosters and then cast your ballot. 

North Carolina Fusion U23

GK – Clint Irwin: A member of the Dynamo in 2008-09, Irwin broke through in unconventional fashion as the goalkeeper in the Charlotte Eagles’ run to the Quarterfinals of the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup that saw the side beat both FC Dallas and the San Antonio Scorpions. The following year he latched on with the Colorado Rapids as their third goalkeeper, and after injuries made the most of his chance in Major League Soccer. More than 200 appearances in the regular season and playoffs later, he’s built one of the more remarkable careers in American soccer.

D – Daniel Lovitz: Making 16 appearances across two seasons, Lovitz was part of the side that reached the 2012 League Two Final alongside another member of this back line. Since then, he’s gone on to a stellar career in Major League Soccer where he currently competes for Nashville SC, and has made 13 appearances for the U.S. Men’s National Team as a solid left-sided option on the back line.

D – Sebastien Ibeagha: A stalwart on the side’s back line for three seasons, during which he made 25 appearances, Ibeahga was named to the 2012 League Two All-League Team as a key figure in the club’s successful run to the League Two Final that season. Success in the professional ranks proved more elusive, but after earning the USL Championship’s Defender of the Year award in 2016 with San Antonio FC the 29-year-old joined New York City FC for the 2017 season and has remained there ever since, making 64 appearances as a reliable back line option.

D – Sheanon Williams: After looking to turn pro in Europe after his freshman season at the University of North Carolina in 2008, Williams returned for a second season with the Dynamo in 2009 that saw him earn All-Eastern Conference honors after recording six goals and four assists in 12 games for the side. That led to a chance with the Harrisburg City Islanders in the USL Second Division in 2010, and soon after a move up to the Philadelphia Union, where he became a key part of the club’s lineup. Williams recorded 200 regular-season appearances in Major League Soccer before retiring after the 2018 season.

D – Zach Loyd: A standout at the nearby University of North Carolina, Oklahoma native Zach Loyd played for Carolina for three seasons, making 25 appearances and earning All-Eastern Conference honors in the 2009 season. That preceded a professional career that spanned more than 200 games at FC Dallas across all club competitions, winning the MLS Supporters Shield and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup while also making three appearances for the U.S. Men’s National Team.

M – Sam Cronin: Such was the prodigious talent Cronin possessed, he competed in League Two for the Dynamo prior to his first appearance at Wake Forest University, recording three goals in four games as an 18-year-old in 2005. Cronin spent four seasons with the Dynamo and recorded 39 appearances in all before going onto a professional career that saw him record more than 280 appearances across all competitions and win two Canadian Championships with Toronto FC and a Supporters Shield with the San Jose Earthquakes. Cronin also made a pair of appearances for the U.S. Men’s National Team prior to his retirement following the 2018 season.

M – Kirk Urso: A former U.S. youth national team player, Urso made 25 appearances for the Dynamo across the 2008 and 2009 seasons – playing his first games for the side prior to his freshman season at the University of North Carolina in 2008 – before beginning his professional career in 2012 with Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew SC. Tragically, Urso passed away in his rookie season due to arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, a preexisting heart condition. In the years since, both the Crew and North Carolina have established team awards in Urso’s honor, while UNC unveiled the Kirk Urso Student Section when it opened its current home venue in 2019.

M – Michael Lahoud: Now the broadcast analyst for Austin FC, Lahoud spent three seasons with the Dynamo and made 30 appearances for the club between 2006 and 2008, recording nine goals and 10 assists over the final two seasons. He went on to make more than 250 appearances in the professional ranks across North America, including more than 120 appearances in Major League Soccer and more than 50 in the USL Championship. Lahoud also competed internationally, making four appearances for Sierra Leone.

M – Warren Creavalle: After making 10 appearances for the Dynamo during the 2010 season, Creavalle went on to make more than 200 appearances in the professional ranks with the Houston Dynamo, Toronto FC and the Philadelphia Union, where in his final season he claimed the MLS Supporters Shield to cap a 10-season career. Creavalle also made four appearances for Guyana internationally, and has had a notable impact in the MLS Black Player for Change movement launched last year as the designer of the iconic t-shirts that were worn during the MLS is Back tournament.   

F – Cody Arnoux: An All-Eastern Conference selection alongside Loyd and Williams on the 2009 Dynamo team after scoring eight goals in seven appearances during his last year in League Two, Arnoux was notably signed by Premier League club Everton following his college career at Wake Forest University after a successful tryout at the club. While he didn’t make a First Team appearance for the Toffees, Arnoux also spent time with Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Real Salt Lake before returning to North Carolina to close out his career with former Championship club Wilmington Hammerheads FC, where he played four seasons.

F – Jon Bakero: The Spanish playmaker spent the 2017 League Two season with the Dynamo and recorded five goals in seven appearances before returning to Wake Forest University for his senior season. Now a standout for top USL Championship club Phoenix Rising FC, Bakero has recorded 65 appearances in the league in his career and helped Rising FC claim the Western Conference Title a season ago.

Bench: Scott Goodwin, James Riley, Jalil Anibaba, Khano Smith, Brandt Bronico, Justin Moose, Wells Thompson

Des Moines Menace

GK – Andy Gruenebaum: The Kansas native spent the 2005 season with the Menace and made 15 appearances in the regular season as Des Moines first earned a place in the playoffs as a runner-up in the Heartland Division before making an inspired run to the League Two Title as Gruenebaum came through in a 6-5 penalty shootout victory, earning Final MVP honors. From there, Gruenebaum went on to have a solid career in Major League Soccer, making more than 90 appearances with the majority coming for Columbus Crew SC, which had selected him with the third pick of the MLS Supplemental Draft in 2006.

D – Justin Davis: A longtime stalwart in the lower divisions of American soccer, Davis played two seasons for the Menace and recorded 11 appearances before joining the NSC Minnesota Stars to start his professional career in 2011, where he won a league title as a rookie, making 28 regular-season appearances. Davis remained in Minnesota for seven seasons and played five games in Major League Soccer for Minnesota United FC in 2017. He then joined Nashville SC for its first two seasons in the professional ranks in 2018 and 2019, where he made more than 50 appearances in the USL Championship to cap his career.

D – Kalen Ryden: The Menace were the first USL League Two side Ryden played for in 2010, with the native Oklahoman making 11 appearances for the side before his second season at Oral Roberts University. A player who could be described as a late bloomer, Ryden has achieved major success recently in the USL Championship, first winning the Championship Final with Real Monarchs SLC in 2019 before earning All-League First Team honors with New Mexico United in the 2020 season. Now considered one of the top defenders in the league, Ryden is a key piece in United’s backline.

D – Ezra Hendrickson: While a defender for much of his career, Hendrickson’s time with the Menace in their inaugural season in 1994 saw the future MLS Cup-winner as both a player and assistant coach serve as a striker, scoring 13 goals in his first season. Hendrickson subsequently went on to build a stellar career in Major League Soccer, winning MLS Cup and the Supporters’ Shield on three occasions apiece and earning the MLS double of winning the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup in the same season in 2008 with Columbus Crew SC. Now an assistant coach for the Crew, Hendrickson also previously served as Head Coach of the Championship’s Tacoma Defiance for its first three seasons, taking the side to the USL Championship Playoffs in its inaugural campaign in 2015.

D – Brent Kallman: A Nebraska native, Kallman played one season for the Menace in 2012 before turning pro after completing his college career at Creighton University with Minnesota United FC. The 30-year-old has been almost a permanent fixture at the club ever since, save for a brief loan stint with the Championship’s New Mexico United in the 2020 season, and has made 76 appearances for Minnesota in Major League Soccer since the club joined the league in 2017.

M – Tomas Boltnar: One of the true icons of League Two’s past, Boltnar played for the Menace for six seasons and made more than 100 appearances for the side overall, earning League Two MVP honors in both 2002 and 2003. A native of the Czech Republic who played collegiately for California University of Pennsylvania, Boltnar recorded 24 goals in 18 games in the 2002 season, scoring in all-but-one of the Menace’s contests, and then helped the side earn the League Two title in 2005. His 76 goals remain a club record, and in 2009 he was honored with a celebratory night by the Menace after his official retirement from the game.

M – Danny Cruz: A United States U-20 international at the time, Cruz played one season for the Menace in 2008 where he recorded three goals and two assists in seven games before turning professional in 2009 with Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo FC. Cruz made more than 100 appearances in the top flight before also competing overseas and in the lower divisions, where he began his transition into the coaching ranks. Currently the interim Head Coach at the USL Championship’s Louisville City FC, the 31-year-old is making an impressive impact in his new role on the sidelines.

M – Lebo Moloto: The South African native played for three seasons in Des Moines, making 34 regular-season appearances for the Menace while recording 11 goals and six assists. Moloto has since gone onto a successful career in the USL Championship, where he has recorded more than 150 appearances and notched more than 25 goals and 25 assists for clubs including Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, Nashville SC and his current club FC Tulsa.

F – Deshorn Brown: A future Jamaican international, Brown spent the 2011 League Two season with the Menace and recorded nine goals and three assists in 10 regular-season appearances. Since then, Brown has gone onto success both domestically in the United States, where he has recorded 22 goals in 78 appearances in Major League Soccer and 19 goals in 51 appearances in the USL Championship, while also making 15 appearances and recording two goals for Jamaican internationally. Brown currently plays for Northeast United in the Indian Super League, and last year helped the side reach the league’s postseason with a top-four finish.

F – Lamar Neagle: Spending two seasons with the Menace in 2007 and 2008, Neagle recorded six goals and five assists in 24 appearances before building a successful career in the professional ranks. Named the USL Second Division’s MVP in 2010 for the Charleston Battery – where he won the league title that same year – Neagle used that experience as a springboard to the top flight with his hometown Seattle Sounders FC. He subsequently made more than 200 regular-season appearances in Major League Soccer, winning the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup twice and MLS Supporters’ Shield once while also competing for CF de Montreal and D.C. United.

F – Chris Mueller: His time with the Menace during the 2016 League Two season might have been brief, but there’s been no denying the trajectory of the now U.S. Men’s National Team forward in the professional ranks. Selected in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, Mueller has recorded 20 goals and 22 assists in 97 regular season contests for Orlando City SC in his four seasons in the league and is now getting set to head to Scotland’s Premiership in January after signing a pre-contract with Hibernian FC – a partner to the USL Championship’s Charleston Battery – to join the club for the second half of its 2021-22 season.

Bench: Andrew Putna, Rashid Tetteh, Matt LaGrassa, Nicki Paterson, Lance Rozeboom, Tom Barlow, Walmer Martinez

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