Some big names are coming to League One ahead of the league's fifth season. From the USL Championship's all-time leading scorer to European playmakers to current internationals, the batch of 2023 newcomers is deep. For the sake of this article, we're defining newcomers as those players that have yet to make an appearance in USL League One.
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The rich get richer, as the club with the highest roster value according to Transfermarkt signed one of the most prolific goalscorers in the history of the USL Championship. Just one of eight players in the history of the Championship to accumulate 70 or more combined regular season and postseason goals, the 33-year-old Steevan Dos Santos is making the jump to League One following eight seasons of Championship play. With the Rochester Rhinos, Ottawa Fury FC, Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies, the former Cape Verde international netted a whopping 73 goals across all competitions and claimed a USL Cup with the Rhinos in 2015. Before his career in the USL, Dos Santos also played abroad in Cape Verde with his hometown CS Mindelense, Norway with Ullensaker/Kisa IL, and Angola with Progresso Associação do Sambizanga.
The USL Championship's all-time leading scorer - by quite a wide margin - is returning to the Queen City with the Charlotte Independence as he takes a stab at USL League One for the first time in his storied career. One of just a handful of players to have played in every Championship season since its inception in 2011, Dane Kelly scored 111 combined regular season and postseason goals with Championship sides Charleston Battery, Sporting Kansas City II, Reno 1868 FC, Richmond Kickers, Indy Eleven, Charlotte Independence and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. The former Jamaica international forward has also suited up for Tivoli Gardens FC in the Jamaican National Premier League, DC United in Major League Soccer and Bnei Sakhnin FC in the Israeli Premier League. Kelly claimed a USL Cup with the Battery in 2012 and earned Most Valuable Player and Golden Boot accolades following his stellar 2017 campaign with Reno.
Image Credit: James Williamson
Chattanooga will rely heavily on the defensive abilities of Trinidad and Tobago international Mekeil Williams as he parts ways with the USL Championship following five seasons in the league. The 32-year-old Port of Spain native brings a wealth of experience to CHI Memorial Stadium having appeared 38 times for the Colorado Rapids in Major League Soccer and amassing 116 Championship appearances with the Richmond Kickers, OKC Energy FC and Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. On loan from W Connection FC in Trinidad and Tobago, Williams made his professional debut in Poland with second-division side Pogoń Szczecin in 2012 before moving to Denmark's second tier with FC Fyn later that year. In 2015, Willaims signed with Guatemalan side Antigua GFC and later won the 2016 Torneo Apertura with Coloniales. Williams has also appeared for the Trinidad and Tobago national team on 35 occasions, suiting up for the Soca Warriors in Concacaf Gold Cup, Concacaf Nations League and World Cup qualifying play.
Fresh off of a number of appearances in the UEFA Europa Conference League qualifiers and League of Ireland Premier Division play with St Patrick's Athletic FC just over four months ago, Scottish winger Billy King is taking his talents stateside for the first time in his decorated 11-year career. The former Scotland youth international began his career in the Heart of Midlothian FC youth system between 2004 and 2012. Turning professional at 18 years old, King made his Hearts debut in a Scottish Premiership match against Dundee FC in January 2013. Winning at just about every stop of his career, King won the Scottish Championship and promotion with Hearts in 2015, the Scottish Challenge Cup, Scottish Championship and promotion (again) with Rangers FC in 2016, and the FAI Cup with St Pat's in 2021. In total, King has amassed 43 goals and 51 assists in 306 professional appearances with Hearts, St Pat's, Dundee United FC, Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC, Rangers, Greenock Morton FC and Gillingham FC across league, domestic cup and international cup play.
There's only one thing to do when you lose your 25-year-old Brazilian midfielder that developed in the Fluminese FC youth system: sign another 25-year-old Brazilian midfielder that developed in the Fluminese FC youth system. Seriously. With 2022 All-League midfielder Gabriel Cabral heading to USL Championship side Miami FC in the offseason, Tormenta FC reloaded with another talented attacking midfielder in Pedro Fonseca. In his debut professional season, the Rio de Janeiro native captained Real Monarchs SLC and led the side with a combined 11 goals and assists in its inaugural 2022 MLS NEXT Pro campaign. Prior to his time in Herriman, Fonseca spent time in the youth ranks of Fluminese in Brazil, RCD Espanyol in Spain and C.S. Marítimo in Portugal before starring collegiately at the University of Louisville where he was a two-time All-ACC selection. While in college, Fonseca also featured for USL League Two side FC Golden State Force, helping FCGS Force to a club-best Fourth Round finish in the 2018 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, defeating USL Championship sides Orange County SC and Las Vegas Lights FC in the process. Fonseca also scored FCGS Force's lone goal against Major League Soccer side LA Galaxy in the Fourth Round of the national competition.
Last year, Frank Ross was in Deventer, Netherlands playing for Go Ahead Eagles in the Dutch Eredivisie. Now, the former Scotland youth international is in the heart of Appalachia and ready to suit up for expansion side Knoxville in the club’s first professional match. Growing up just outside of Aberdeen, Scotland, Ross developed in the youth system of local Scottish Premiership side Aberdeen FC from the age of just eight. After making his first-team debut with Aberdeen in 2015, Ross accumulated a combined 37 appearances and four goals with Aberdeen and Scottish Championship clubs Greenock Morton FC and Ayr United FC between 2015 and 2020. Most recently, Ross moved to the second-tier Dutch Eerste Divisie where he helped Go Ahead Eagles earn promotion to the top-flight Eredivisie in 2021.