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Championship Awards Watch - October

By USLChampionship.com Staff, 10/04/19, 4:15PM EDT

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As the final month of the season arrives, where do the races for individual honors stand?

As this weekend’s slate of games arrives, there are just 61 matches left in the 2019 USL Championship regular season, leaving a short amount of time for players to make a final impression for end-of-year honors. After another busy month of action in September, writers Nicholas Murray and John Arlia are back to survey the awards scene, with some races looking closer than others as we reach the business end of the campaign.

Goalkeeper of the Year

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27 GP
73 Saves
13 Shutouts
0.81 GAA
Zac Lubin

Zac Lubin

Phoenix Rising FC

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Phoenix Rising FC
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26 GP
65 Saves
10 Shutouts
0.77 GAA
John McCarthy

John McCarthy

Tampa Bay Rowdies

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Tampa Bay Rowdies
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22 GP
54 Saves
12 Shutouts
0.68 GAA
Matt Pickens

Matt Pickens

Nashville SC

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Nashville SC

ARLIA: As far ahead as McCarthy was after the first few months of the campaign, it’s crazy to think that this award is looking likely to come down to the final weekend of the regular season. On top of that, the Rowdies goalkeeper is almost looking like the odd man out now, as Lubin edges him in shutouts and saves while Pickens boasts the best goals-against average of the three. While I do think that the Nashville netminder’s GAA is a little inflated because he’s played less than the others – splitting time between the sticks with Connor Sparrow – NSC does have the best defensive record in the league at the moment, conceding just 25 goals in 31 games. If Pickens plays the final three games of the regular season and adds a shutout or two along the way, the 37-year-old veteran would have a good chance at grabbing the silverware.

MURRAY: The only player older than Matt Pickens to make more appearances in the Championship this season is the Charlotte Independence’s ageless wonder Jorge Herrera, but like a fine wine he’s seemed to get better as this year has gone on. With NSC having three home games left in the season, it’s going to take a major letdown for him to miss out on the Golden Glove – especially with a save percentage of 78.3 percent. The only dark horse I see here is potentially Kyle Morton of Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, who has been stellar in posting 11 shutouts as the Hounds have made their way to the top of the Eastern Conference, but since McCarthy won the Championship’s Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2014 it’s been hard for goalkeepers under Bob Lilley to get full credit, no matter how good their performance, because of the belief that Lilley’s system plays to their advantage.

DEFENDER OF THE YEAR

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30 GP
9 Goals
6 Assists
173 Recoveries
Carl Haworth

Carl Haworth

Ottawa Fury FC

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Ottawa Fury FC
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29 GP
68.5% Duel Success
145 Clearances
170 Recoveries
Joe Greenspan

Joe Greenspan

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

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Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC
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24 GP
146 Recoveries
57 Tackles Won
78.1% Tackle Wins
Bryam Rebellon

Bryam Rebellon

El Paso Locomotive FC

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El Paso Locomotive FC

MURRAY: We’re starting to run into the dilemma we faced with Ken Tribbett earlier this season with Haworth, who has started popping up in his old role as a right winger instead of at full back as Fury FC has had to manage its squad over the final quarter of the season. I still think he’ll get votes here as a defensive candidate – 41 interceptions, 38 tackles and 55.2 percent of duels won combined with his set piece expertise make him a two-way player in the vein of 2015 winner Bryan Burke – but the past month has really shone a light on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, and with that a finalist for the award a season ago in Joe Greenspan. The Hounds now lead the league in shutouts with 15, and with 145 clearances (4th in the Championship), a duel success rate of 68.3 percent (third among players with at least 100 duel wins) and a 75 percent aerial duel success rate (126 of 168), Greenspan is a big reason why that’s the case.

ARLIA: I’d just like to let the record show that ESPN play-by-play voice Mike Watts and I picked Greenspan as our Defender of the Year at the beginning of the season, so I’m more than happy to see you heap this justified praise on him now. Instead of continuing on that path, however, I’m going to focus on the return of Bryam Rebellon, who was one of our candidates back around the midseason awards. The Colombian fullback has put up some impressive numbers, making 57 successful tackles (most by a defender) at a 78.1 success rate while also winning 67.2 percent of his aerial duels and chipping in attack with a pair of assists. El Paso’s defensive record ranks second in the West and has come on strong of late, with Rebellon playing a key role out wide.

YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR

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20 GP
15 Goals
6 Assists
19 Chances Created
Douglas Martinez

Douglas Martinez

Real Monarchs SLC

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Real Monarchs SLC
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27 GP
8 Goals
4 Assists
42 Chances Created
Felipe Gernandez

Felipe Hernandez

Swope Park Rangers

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Swope Park Rangers
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31 GP
148 Recoveries
57.5% Duel Success
67.6% Tackle Success
Caleb Richards

Caleb Richards

Tampa Bay Rowdies

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Tampa Bay Rowdies

ARLIA: I think we’re getting to the point that this is Martinez’s award to lose as the Honduran forward continues to add to his goal tally despite seeing less time after a call-up to Real Salt Lake of Major League Soccer. His 15-goal haul currently ranks fifth in the league – tied with Phoenix Rising FC forward Adam Jahn – and has helped the Monarchs climb to fourth place in the Western Conference. Hernandez has certainly made tremendous strides this season, adding an end product to his game that wasn’t quite there the past few seasons, but there’s also an argument to be had about whether he’s even the most qualified Swope Park player for this award. I continue to be impressed with Richards, who has started every game of his debut season for one of the league’s top-five defenses, but I think it’ll be hard for voters to overlook Martinez’s numbers.

MURRAY: I appreciate you bringing up Hernandez having a rival for this award at Swope Park, because it means I get to talk about Wilson Harris, who was my preseason pick for the award back in March. I agree that this award is likely Martinez’s to lose, but it’s been impressive how Harris has picked up the pace over the final third of the season. Since August 1, only Reno’s Danny Musovski and Fresno’s Jaime Chavez have scored more times than Harris’ eight tallies, and Harris has been banging in goals at a rate of one every 80.3 minutes. It’s probably arriving too late to get him on the finalists podium this year, but as a set-up for 2020 it’s really exciting to see.

COACH OF THE YEAR

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22-3-6 Record
80 Goals
14 Shutouts
+50 Goal Diff.
Rick Schantz

Rick Schantz

Phoenix Rising FC

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Phoenix Rising FC
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16-7-8 Record
+19 Goal Diff. (2nd in West)
13 Points Gained From Losing Position
Adam Smith

Adam Smith

Fresno FC

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Fresno FC
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17-4-10 Record
29 Goals Conceded
15 Shutouts
522 Disciplinary Pts. (56 Below League Avg.)
Bob Lilley

Bob Lilley

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

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Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC

MURRAY: Thanks to Phoenix Rising FC’s 20-game winning streak, this has felt like a bit of a foregone conclusion that Rick Schantz will deservedly pick up Coach of the Year honors, especially with his side still in range of posting league records for points and regular-season wins to add to its record-setting goals total. But, shout-out to Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC’s Bob Lilley, who is doing things with the Hounds that the club hasn’t seen in more than a decade. In fact, it was 15 years ago in the USL Pro League – a precursor to USL League One at the Division III level, if you will – that the Hounds ended their only season on top of a division. Lilley now has the Hounds on course to do that against some fierce competition in this year’s Eastern Conference with a group of players that are just a wonderfully cohesive unit.

ARLIA: There’s no understating the jobs that Lilley and especially Schantz have done to lead their teams to the top spot in their respective conferences, but there’s certainly also an argument that can be made for Adam Smith doing the best coaching job of anyone in the league this year. The Foxes’ second-year improvement has been incredible as the side has already racked up seven more wins and 17 more points than it did a year ago, despite having three games remaining on its schedule. Fresno is in pole position to finish second – 10 spots higher than a season ago – and will almost certainly host its first ever playoff game at Chukchansi Park. And if that wasn’t enough for you, how do you like his 1-0-1 head-to-head record this season against Schantz and Rising FC? That’s a pretty impressive resume.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

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29 GP
22 Goals
15 Assists
81 Chances Created
Solomon Asante

Solomon Asante

Phoenix Rising FC

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Phoenix Rising FC
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28 GP
18 Goals
2 Assists
24.7% Conversion Rate
Daniel Rios

Daniel Ríos

Nashville SC

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Nashville SC
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31 GP
14 Goals
9 Assists
82 Chances Created
Jared Stroud

Jared Stroud

New York Red Bulls II

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New York Red Bulls II

ARLIA: Well, if we were ready to ship the MVP trophy to Asante back in August, there’s certainly nothing that’s going to change our minds at this point. The Ghanaian forward continues to add to his impressive resume, reaching 15 assists for the first time in his Championship career, while maintaining a four-goal lead over Rios for the Golden Boot. There’s no doubt that Asante is the best player on the best team, which is certainly the formula after Emmanuel Ledesma edged out record-breaking goalscorer Cameron Lancaster in last year’s race. Now, all that’s left for Asante is to chance down Lancaster’s 25-goal haul from last season and help Phoenix break the points and wins records that Ledesma’s FC Cincinnati side established a season ago.

MURRAY: Since you talked about Asante, I get to talk about the other two potential finalists here, and someone else within reach of a nice accomplishment to wrap up his season. First, it’s been wonderful to see Daniel Rios follow up his All-League First Team season with North Carolina last year with another great campaign in Nashville. He’s got a chance to be the first player to record back-to-back 20 goals seasons in the Championship history with two goals in NSC’s final two games, and I really hope he gets there. Then there’s Jared Stroud, who is within one assist of joining Asante in recording double-digit goals and assists, a feat that because of its infrequency in the Championship’s early years I’ll always be impressed by. Even when Kevin Molino won both the Golden Boot and Assists Champion awards in 2014, he fell one assist short of a double-double. The other player who’s in range to accomplish that this year? That’s Tulsa Roughnecks FC’s Rodrigo Da Costa, who’s continuing to do good work even after the Roughnecks’ season faded after a great start and is one goal away from a double-double having recorded 11 assists this season. Hopefully he’s a player the club’s new ownership can build around in 2020.

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