Some of the top goalkeepers from a season ago - Carlos Merancio, Paul Christensen and Adrían Zendejas to name a few - are either enjoying USL Championship play or retirement. 2023's group of shot-stoppers will be highlighted by the return of some household names and the emergence of a batch of new stars.
Did we miss anyone? Let us know which goalkeepers are going to have the biggest impact on your favorite club at @USLLeagueOne.
Now just one appearance shy of becoming the first player in League One history to reach 100 regular season appearances, Akira Fitzgerald is back for his fifth season in RVA in what will be the Japanese-American goalkeeper’s 13th professional campaign. The 2021 Goalkeeper of the Year and back-to-back All-League selection faced the most shots and most shots on target in a single season in league history in 2023. In response, Fitzgerald recorded the most saves in a single season in league history with 105 with a save percentage of 75%. Fitzgerald developed collegiately at Wake Forest before the Chiba, Japan native began his professional career with North Carolina FC in 2011. With NCFC, Fitzgerald made 85 appearances from 2011 to 2016 before joining USL Championship side Tampa Bay Rowdies.
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.
Image Credit: South Georgia Tormenta FC
After taking over goalkeeping duties from Pablo Jara in the second half of the 2022 campaign, TJ Bush solidified Tormenta FC's first-ever run to the postseason and a League One title. Bush's 14 regular season and postseason appearances were crucial to South Georgia's title run, as the second-year professional went 9-2-3 with six clean sheets and 45 saves on 56 shots on targets faced. Bush made the most of his chance between the sticks, leading the league in save percentage (80.36%) and clean sheets per 90 minutes (0.43). A multiple All-CAA First Team selection at James Madison University, Bush was drafted 80th overall by Seattle Sounders FC in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft before signing his first professional contract with the Charlotte Independence. Bush made his first professional appearance in May 2022 which featured a clean sheet in a 2-0 victory over FC Tucson.
After helping North Texas SC hoist the inaugural 2019 USL League One Final trophy, Carlos Avilez again returned to the League One Final just three years later, this time with Chattanooga. Avilez saw action in 31 of Chattanooga's 33 matches, posting six clean sheets, 58 saves and a league-high two penalty saves. Avilez's stellar 2022 campaign was recognized with Save of the Month, Save of the Playoffs and Save of the Week honors. A product of the FC Dallas Academy, Avilez made 32 appearances with North Texas between 2019 and 2020, won the League One Final and finished atop the table in 2019. In 2021, Avilez made a pair of appearances for South Georgia Tormenta FC where he developed behind Pablo Jara. The former United States and Mexico youth international signed with Chattanooga ahead of the 2022 season, leading the League One original to its best-ever finish.
Leading the charge between the posts in Fuego FC's inaugural 2022 campaign, Ofek Antman proved incredibly effective in professional soccer's return to Fresno. The Israeli 'keeper racked up the third-most clean sheets on the season (7) to go along with 67 saves and a save percentage of 67%. Ofek was recognized with Save of the Month, Save of the Week and Team of the Week honors. Before heading to Fresno, Antman most recently competed for Panserraikos FC of Super League Greece 2 and captained the Lions for two seasons. A native of Haifa, Israel, Antman previously played for Israeli clubs Ironi Nesher FC, Hapoel Ra'anana AFC and Hapoel Acre FC in Israel’s second division, Liga Leumit. In 104 professional appearances, the 26-year-old goalkeeper has recorded 40 clean sheets.
Playing a huge role in a largely successful debut season for the Hailstorm, Johan Peñaranda helped Northern Colorado concede just 38 goals on the season - a mark tied for the third-fewest across League One a season ago. The 2022 League One Save of the Year winner had a stellar first professional campaign, appearing in 18 of the club's 30 regular season contests. The 22-year-old started 17 of those and recorded 47 saves and five shutouts while posting a save percentage of 71.2% and a 1.13 goals-against average. Additionally, Peñaranda's passing score of 16.88 is the highest among returning goalkeepers according to American Soccer Analysis. A product of the New York City FC Academy, the former United States youth international competed collegiately at the University of Pittsburgh and Florida International University before joining the professional ranks with second-division Costa Rican side AD Municipal Santa Ana.