With awards given out and the champions crowned, USL League One’s inaugural season is in the books. The first year was filled with talented players joining League One clubs from a variety of leagues and countries. With tons of talent from top to bottom, each team had a player who showed they’re ready for the next level during the 2019 season. Here’s a list of players I think can make the jump from League One to the USL Championship or Major League Soccer in 2020.
Top five in the league in interceptions, tackles won, and duels won, Diaz was Forward Madison’s most consistent player in the second half of the year. As good on the ball as he was off it, Diaz showed the ability to get up and down the flank with ease and finished second on his team in dribbles completed (44). With his propensity to get up the field to help offensively and his tireless work rate to recover or win the ball in dangerous areas, look for a USL Championship club or Madison’s 2019 MLS affiliate Minnesota United FC to come calling.
Leading the Kickers in clearances, blocks, interceptions and aerial duels won, Ackwei was the key player in a Richmond defense that kept 10 clean sheets. Ackwei had one of the highest tackle-success rates in the league at 76.7-percent and his strong tackles in midfield regularly allowed the Kickers to break forward and create chances in the attacking end. While Richmond has already announced Ackwei will return for the 2020 season, it’s not too hard to believe that a USL Championship club will try to pry him away from the Kickers at some point next year.
Despite finishing as runner-up in the Defender of the Year voting, Polak brought a lot to Greenville’s attack by controlling the flanks and midfield. One of the best readers of the game in League One, Polak finished the season ranked first in interceptions. The Omaha native was often depended on to stop counterattacks and offensive buildups, a challenge he gladly accepted, winning 61 percent of his duels and 56 tackles, while finishing with a 69-percent tackle-success rate. The First Team All-League selection was one of the league’s most consistent two-way defenders and could be looking to make a return to the USL Championship if the right club comes calling.
The USL League One MVP was easily the most composed player in the league, and it showed as he completed more than 1,300 passes and finished with a 92 percent passing accuracy rate. Rodriguez showed he’s capable of playing at both ends of the field at the League One level – the midfielder led the league in assists, chances created, duels, and tackles won. Rodriguez’s dominance in his first professional season should have the brass at FC Dallas ready to ink him to a Homegrown contract prior to the 2020 season.
Finishing one goal behind Golden Boot winner Ronaldo Damus, Perruzza scored 15 goals on just 55 shots and averaged a goal every 121 minutes, which ranked third in the league. He also ranked third amongst strikers in chances created, showing his ability to pick out a pass after drawing defenders in and creating space for others. A USL 20 Under 20 selection, Perruzza’s off-ball movement and clinical finishing should pique the interest of the club’s first team as he moves into the new Canadian U-20 National Team cycle.
In a constantly rotating defensive roster, Venter was the most consistent player on Tucson’s backline, ranking in the top ten in the league in all defensive categories. The center back showcased his defensive abilities throughout the season while proving to be an attacking threat on set pieces, scoring four goals on just five shots. Venter saw his FC Tucson teammates Austin Ledbetter and Kyle Bjornethun make appearances for the side’s parent club Phoenix Rising FC in the USL Championship in 2019 and should feel that’s an attainable goal for him in 2020 should he return to Arizona.
A good defensive midfielder is hard to find and Ualefi may have been the best in League One in its inaugural season. One of the most consistent players in the league, Ualefi made an impressive 45 interceptions and 63 tackles while winning 150 duels. Ualefi is also comfortable moving forward with the ball; he created 16 chances and put five shots on goal while completing 85-percent of his passes in 2019. The Brazilian proved to be extremely difficult to dispossess and showed a willingness to do the dirty work in front of the Red Wolves’ back four. With prior Championship pedigree at the Swope Park Rangers, plenty of teams at the next level could use Ualefi as a security blanket in midfield.
In addition to being responsible for almost a third of all of Orlando’s goals this year, De Souza also led the team in interceptions, duels won, and tackles. The midfielder was everywhere on the field in 2019 and proved to be a handful for opposing defenders to deal with in one-v-one situations. With Orlando City SC shaking things up at the top, the yet-to-be-named new head coach could give De Souza a shot at the first team in 2020.
Named USL League One Defender of the Year, Antley was a vital piece of Tormenta FC’s defense in 2019, leading his side in interceptions, tackles won, and aerial duels won. While he was impressive in the defensive third, it was Antley’s two-way ability that really helped him shine. The Atlanta native finished in the top two among League One defenders in goals, assists, and chances created. Producing six assists to go along with his six goals, Antley’s athleticism and versatility allowed him to be all over the field. Whether intercepting passes in the midfield, winning one-v-one battles in his defensive third, or making runs up top as a striker (no I’m not joking), Antley’s versatility is the main reason you’ll see him competing at the next level in 2020.