North Texas SC forward Ronaldo Damus (left) and Greenville Triumph SC goalkeeper Dallas Jaye (right) had standout regular-season campaigns and could be the key to their side's success in the inaugural USL League One Final.
The inaugural USL League One Final between No. 1 seed North Texas SC and No. 3 seed Greenville Triumph SC on Saturday night at Toyota Stadium offers each club the opportunity to write itself into the league’s history book as its first champion.
The big occasion also presents players with the chance to shower themselves with glory if they produce a season-defining moment to help their team lift the trophy.
With that in mind, and the finalists for the 2019 USL League One Awards having been announced earlier Thursday, I decided to spotlight the five players I believe are most likely to claim the inaugural League One Final MVP Award.
Let’s meet the nominees:
The Haitian forward, who is among the finalists for the league’s MVP and Young Player of the Year awards, may seem like an obvious choice for this list, but I’m not sure he would’ve made the cut if Semifinal hero Ricardo Pepi was going to be in the starting lineup. However, since Pepi will be linking up with the United States Men’s National Team ahead of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Brazil later this month, Damus will likely get his chance to lead the line for the league’s highest-scoring attack. The 20-year-old played out wide in his side’s 2-0 victory over Forward Madison FC last weekend but has excelled in the lone striker role this season when afforded the chance. Damus brings pace to get behind defenses and a clinical finishing ability, demonstrated by his league-leading 16 goals and astounding 31.4 shot conversion rate. If he finds the back of the net and North Texas wins on its home turf, the youngster will have a great chance at adding to his potential trophy collection.
Jaye will serve as the last line of defense for Triumph SC as it looks to shut down Damus and the rest of the high-powered North Texas attack. The Guam international shot-stopper, who claimed the League One Golden Glove with a 0.78 goals-against average in 27 regular-season appearances and is up for Goalkeeper of the Year honors, made four saves to record his 14th shutout of the campaign last weekend in his side’s 1-0 Semifinal victory at Lansing Ignite FC. Jaye has also had his fair share of success against North Texas this season, making seven saves and allowing just a single goal across three contests between the two sides. If Jaye makes a handful of stops in a third Greenville shutout at Toyota Stadium, or comes up big in a penalty shootout, he’ll get his gloves on another piece of silverware.
If North Texas wins the League One Final, it’s likely going to do so because of its ability to break down a staunch Greenville defense that conceded just 22 goals in 28 games during the regular season. One player that will play a pivotal role to that end is Arturo Rodriguez, who led the league with 10 assists and 72 chances created during the regular season. As one of seven players to complete at least 1,150 passes over the campaign, the 20-year-old midfielder will look to get on the ball and assert himself in the attacking third as he looks to link the play with Damus and others. Rodriguez, who like Damus is a finalist for the League One MVP and Young Player of the Year awards, also shares a keen eye for goal as he found the back of the net seven times in 28 appearances. Another strong performance on Saturday night could see him earn some justified recognition after a campaign that saw Damus and Pepi take most of the headlines.
Greenville Triumph SC midfielder Carlos Gomez continued his strong run of form in last weekend's 1-0 Semifinal victory over Lansing Ignite FC, assisting on Chris Bermudez's game-winning goal. | Photo courtesy Greenville Triumph SC
Going into a game of this magnitude, it certainly helps to have the confidence knowing that you’re at the top of your game. As acknowledged by his League One Player of the Month honor for September & October, Gomez is certainly hitting his best form at the right time. The center attacking midfielder scored five goals and made 18 key passes over his final six appearances of the regular season to push Triumph SC into the League One Playoffs. Last Saturday against Lansing Ignite FC, Gomez set up Chris Bermudez’s game-winning goal with an unselfish extra pass to allow the outside midfielder to side-foot home just shy of the hour-mark. If Greenville is going to lift the trophy, it is going to need to nick a goal or two and Gomez seems like the man of the hour to provide for Triumph SC’s attack.
While Gomez has been the man on form for Greenville, Chris Bermudez has been ‘Captain Clutch’. Despite not wearing the skipper’s armband, Bermudez has led by example over the final stretch of the season with some well-timed offense. The 20-year-old midfielder scored the latest of his three goals last weekend in Triumph SC’s 1-0 Semifinal victory at Lansing, adding to his previous road game-winners against playoff chasers Forward Madison FC (8/28) and FC Tucson (9/24). With the tally against Tucson coming in the 94th minute, Bermudez has shown a flair for the dramatic and been able to shine brightest when his team needs him most. Another opportunity could present itself on Saturday, and if it does, don’t be surprised if Bermudez – a former Alianza de Futbol trialist – takes the chance.