Omaha have lofty expectations for first-time head coach, experienced roster | Image Credit: Union Omaha
PAPILLION, Neb. - Union Omaha have continued to set the standard for League One, progressing to the playoffs for the third consecutive season and blazing new trails for the league in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. That said, the 2021 champions failed to advance to the League One Final for the first time in its three-year history and saw the departure of inaugural Head Coach Jay Mims following the sesaon. The expectations for new Head Coach Dominic Casciato will be high, but those hopes are certainly attainable with the roster built around the first-time head coach.
An absolutely stellar start to their title-defending campaign, the 2021 League One champions started the season 12-3-10 across all competitions, becoming the first League One side to advance to the Open Cup’s Round of 16 and defeat multiple Major League Soccer sides in the process. Unfortunately, it would be the following 11 matches that would define Omaha’s season. A dismal 2-5-3 run to end the regular season paired with a league-record 13 draws, the second-most points dropped from a winning position in league history (18) and a league-low 34 goals meant Omaha fell from its position atop the table and just barely snuck into the playoffs as the five-seed. Omaha's 2022 season came to an unceremonious and abrupt end as eventual league runners-up Chattanooga ushered the defending champions out of the postseason via a 101st-minute Rafa Mentzingen winner.
After exporting the top four goalscorers from their title-winning 2021 campaign to a quartet of USL Championship sides and shattering the League One transfer record by selling 2022 League One Young Player of the Year nominee Ryen Jiba to Minnesota Untied FC, the Owls have been tasked with retooling their squad in back-to-back offseason. First-year pros Noe Meza and Joe Brito contributed with 13 and four combined goals and assists, respectively, and are back for their second season in Nebraska. Omaha was able to retain a key group of veterans in JP Scearce, Rashid Nuhu and Conor Doyle to go along with a group of exciting newcomers in veteran USL Championship goalscorer Steevan Dos Santos, former U.S. youth national team star Joe Gallardo and USL Championship-winning and Comoros international defender Alexis Souahy.
Noe Meza | Image Credit: Union Omaha
Possibly overshadowed a bit by the explosive midseason form of Greenville’s Jacob Labovitz, Noe Meza was one of the league’s most consistently productive first-year professionals a season ago. Meza was a collegiate star at Seattle University from 2016 to 2021, culminating in the Sunnyside, Wash. native being named the 2021 WAC Men’s Soccer Tournament MVP and becoming the Redhawks’ all-time leading scorer. In his debut professional season, Meza had the appearance of a seasoned veteran, leading the Owls with nine goals and four assists while becoming the first active League One player to score against MLS opposition in Omaha’s remarkable Open Cup victory over Chicago. A three-time Team of the Week member, Meza earned Player of the Week honors following a three-goal Week 21.
Rashid Nuhu | Image Credit: Union Omaha
Named Goalkeeper of the Year for the first time, the back-to-back Golden Glove winner and two-time All-League Second Team selection broke into the First Team for the first time in his three-year Omaha career. The Ghanaian led the league with a 0.98 goals-against average and helped Omaha to the fewest goals conceded during the season (33). Despite missing seven of Omaha’s 30 league matches, Nuhu helped Omaha to an 8-4-11 record when between the sticks and earned the second-most clean sheets in the league (9). His 22 goals conceded in the regular season were the fewest amongst goalkeepers with 20 or more matches played. The Ghanaian 'keeper starred collegiately at Fordham before he was selected with the 70th overall pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft by the New York Red Bulls, making four appearances for the club’s USL Championship aﬃliate in 2019.