Jiro Barriga Toyama is one of a few Madison mainstays to have already re-signed for the club / Photo courtesy Chattanooga Red Wolves SC
It’s cliche to say that champions are built in the offseason, but in USL League One, it’s also the truth. With preseason quickly approaching and roster builds in full swing around the league, here’s a look at the moves your club has made so far.
When you look at the players who have departed Chattanooga, it’s tempting to say that the Red Wolves lost a lot this offseason. Leading goalscorer Greg Hurst and midfielder Conor Doyle departed for Union Omaha, while standout defender Leo Folla moved on to the USL Championship’s FC Tulsa.
But the club re-signed a slew of other key players like Ricky Ruiz, Jason Ramos, and Marky Hernandez, and has made some eye-catching additions. Striker Rafa Mentzingen is a proven League One producer, with six goals and seven assists during the 2019 campaign. Jose Carrera Garcia and Daniel Navarro bring Championship experience, and the signing of former U.S. youth national team defender Jonathan Esparza is an exciting young prospect in a new look defense.
Don’t sleep on the Jimmy Obleda project in Chattanooga.
Aside from the retirement of J.C. Banks, Madison is one of the few League One clubs without a significant number of departures so far. New Head Coach Carl Craig will have some fantastic new signings at his disposal, and it seems like something promising is brewing up in Wisconsin.
Madison’s strength last year was its defense, which allowed the league’s second-fewest goals. But its attack failed to score at a rate to keep up with the leaders, ranking seventh (which was also the position in which the Flamingos finished). A few key pieces of that defense have already re-signed, including Trinidad & Tobago international Josiah Trimmingham and Christian “Pato” Diaz. The attack has surrounded promising young talents like Michael Vang and Noah Fuson with two experienced forwards in Jake Keegan and Derek Gebhard, while Madison mainstays Eric Leonard and Jiro Toyama have also committed to the team for 2021. Could this be the year things finally come together for the Flamingos on the field?
The old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” sums up Greenville’s offseason so far. The defending title-winners did an excellent job keeping the key players who helped them lift the trophy last season in place, re-signing names like Dallas Jaye, Brandon Fricke, Evan Lee, Tyler Polak, Noah Pilato, Alex Morrell, and Lachlan McLean among others.
Another key re-signing took place on the sideline, where Head Coach John Harkes agreed to a contract which will see him remain with Triumph SC through 2023. The only addition so far is Don Smart, a savvy veteran with proven League One goal-scoring experience. Smart should help replace the production lost with Jake Keegan’s departure for Madison.
The Revolution II’s late season winning streak in 2020 was one of the most fun things to happen in League One last year. As you’d expect with a young side, the team was inconsistent for much of the season before finding its feet late on, and claimed impressive wins over both Greenville and Richmond.
The team has signed a good deal of players without much professional experience, and how they’ll come together is anyone’s guess. But the return of key figures like Joe Rice, Connor Presley, Ryan Spaulding, Tiago Mendonca, and Maciel bodes well for this squad, especially since those players now have a year’s experience playing together in the league under their belts.
Ahead of North Carolina FC’s first season in League One, the club’s signings thus far have been positive.
Club legend and captain Nazmi Albadawi is back for the 2021 campaign, and will be one of his side’s most important players this season. Midfield general Pecka, who played in nearly every match for NCFC in the Championship last season and led the team in assists, is also set to play a major role in the team’s fortunes. Former Clemson standout Malick Mbaye should see an increased presence in the matchday lineup.
The team’s only announced new signing so far looks a fantastic one, bringing in Josh Coan from FC Tucson. Coan is an NCFC Academy product, and will return to his hometown club after a promising first season as a professional. The ceiling is high for the young forward who tallied four goals for Tucson last season.
It will be tough for North Texas to replace the value of former USL League One All-League Team members Ronaldo Damus and Justin Che, who left for Orange County SC and on loan to Bayern Munich respectively.
But this is a young team that is always well-prepared under Head Coach Eric Quill, and should again be one of the most entertaining sides to watch in League One in 2021. New signings Alejandro Santana Viniegra and Christian Kendji Wagatsuma Ferreira both add creativity to the squad, while returners Alex Bruce, Gibran Rayo, Nicky Hernandez and Derek Waldeck will look to help the team repeat or improve upon last year’s third-place finish.
The Kickers have had an outstanding offseason so far, and Darren Sawatzky’s side won’t lack motivation this year after a disappointing end to 2020.
Wahab Ackwei headed two hours north to join the Championship’s Loudoun United FC, but the rest of the squad is a mixture of key returners and high-level new signings. Among the former are reigning League One MVP and Golden Boot winner Emiliano Terzaghi, defender Ian Antley, goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald, and midfielder Mumbi Kwesele.
The additions include a bright young creative midfielder in Nil Vinyals, a proven League One defender in Esteban Calvo, and another solid goalkeeper in Austin Aviza. Watch out for Richmond in 2021.
Tormenta has been one of the busiest clubs this offseason, with plenty of arrivals and departures as they look to build on the positive momentum that began during the final six games of last season under Head Coach Ian Cameron.
Two of the club’s top players in Pablo Jara and Marco Micaletto are sticking around, along with young talent Luca Mayr. The club made multiple quality signings of players that once played for its League Two squad, including Adrian Billhardt and Kobe Perez.
Azaad Liadi is an addition of real promise, while the defense should benefit from a fully-fit Lars Eckenrode and the signing of Luis Rodriguez, who brings experience from the Colombian first division.
It’s technically been quite a long offseason for Toronto FC II, which sat out the 2020 season due to restrictions on cross-border travel between the U.S. and Canada. The club picked up the options on defenders Themi Antonoglou, Luke Singh and Nyal Higgins, midfielders Antonio Carlini and Nicolas Ovalle Raffo, and forward Jordan Perruzza who signed an MLS contract with the club.
The team doesn’t yet have any goalkeepers or forwards signed to its 2021 team, so we likely won’t know more about how this squad will look until the season start date is nearer.
Like Chattanooga, Tucson will have to deal with the loss of multiple key 2020 players in the 2021 season. Carlos Merancio and Niall Logue each joined Championship clubs, while Azaad Liadi, Josh Coan, and Esteban Calvo joined other League One sides.
The good news for Tucson is that midfield linchpin Charlie Dennis signed a new deal to keep him at the club, and Wallis Lapsley, himself a Championship goalkeeper last season, is a ready-made replacement for Merancio between the posts.
Shak Adams and Sam Biek are also staying put, and former UCLA standout Alex Knox is an intriguing addition at outside back.
Omaha secured a second-place finish in its inaugural season by playing some really impressive soccer under Head Coach Jay Mims, and wasted no time in re-signing its top players.
Rashid Nuhu, Evan Conway, Ethan Vanacore-Decker, and Damia Viader are all back for 2021, alongside a long list of names from last year’s squad. The Omaha front office has opted for quality over quantity in terms of new signings -- Greg Hurst and Conor Doyle both arrive from Chattanooga as top League One players, and this team is looking like a title contender once again.
Fort Lauderdale CF has not publicly announced the addition of any new players at this point.