Aside from the departures of Jonathan Bolanos to the Nashville SC system and Gabriel Cabral to Miami FC, League One will retain six of eight midfielders named to the 2022 All-League First and Second teams. Shaping up to be one of the deepest position groups in the league, several teams locked down their star midfielder for 2023 while some of the league's best opted to try things out on another team.
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In his first season at CHI Memorial Stadium, all Moe Espinoza could do was score bangers for the Red Wolves. The All-League Second Team selection and two-time Goal of the Month winner proved indispensable to Chattanooga’s deep postseason run. The 23-year-old San Diego, Calif. native developed in the youth ranks of Liga MX side Club Tijuana from 2013 to 2019 before returning to his hometown where he made his professional debut with NISA’s San Diego 1904 FC/Albion San Diego in 2019. Espinoza made the move to Chattanooga ahead of the 2022 campaign and exploded for a club- and career-best 15 combined goals and assists to go along with an impressive 5.07 goals minus expected-goals mark - the highest such figure for any midfielder in 2022.
Following an ultra-productive 2022 campaign that saw José Carrera-García captain Chattanooga to a USL League One Final appearance and earn All-League First Team honors, the 27-year-old midfielder is set to return to California with Central Valley Fuego FC. The Ciudad Serdán, Mexico native grew up in Ontario, Calif. before starring collegiately at the University of California, earning All-Pac 12 First Team honors in 2017. Competing with USL League Two side FC Golden State Force while in college, Carrera-García helped FCGS Force advance to the Fourth Round of the 2015 U.S. Open Cup in which the pre-professional outfit faced MLS side LA Galaxy. Carrera-García made his professional debut with Liga de Expansión MX side Club Celaya in 2018 against Club Santos Laguna in Copa MX play. After 22 appearances with Celaya, Carrera-García returned to the United States to make 13 USL Championship appearances with Las Vegas Lights FC in 2020 before breaking out with the Red Wolves in 2021 and 2022. Alongside his two goals and eight assists, the Mexican midfielder dished out the most successful passes and won the most tackles across League One in 2022.
Leading Omaha’s young core, the third-year Owl and 2022 All-League First Team selection won – by far – the most duels in the league this season with 225 and was the second-highest scorer on the team with a career-best seven goals which nearly doubled his career goal total. Scearce’s two braces a season ago also served as the most in club history. Critical to Omaha's record-breaking advancement to the Quarterfinals of the 2022 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, Scearce scored the opening goal of the Owls' spectacular run and added to it with an assist in their victory against Minnesota United FC. Scearce started his collegiate career at Yavapai College, not too far from his hometown of Nogales, Ariz., before moving on to NCAA Division I play with Cornell University. Scearce signed his first professional contract with Union Omaha ahead of the side's inaugural 2020 season and has recorded 11 goals and six assists across all competitions since.
In his most productive season since being named to the All-League Second Team in the inaugural League One season, Rafa Mentzingen tallied six goals and four assists during the 2022 regular season before nailing a pair of massive match-winning goals in consecutive postseason rounds to send Chattanooga to its first-ever League One Final. In addition to recording 28 chances created and a team-high 166 duels won, Mentzingen's 2.04 goals added mark is the highest amongst returning midfielders according to American Soccer Analysis. The Rio de Janeiro native developed in a handful of Brazilian youth systems, including that of CR Vasco da Gama, before playing collegiately in the United States with Bryan College and Valparaiso University. Mentzingen made his professional debut with Lansing Ignite FC in League One's inaugural season, contributing to Lansing's second-place finish with his six goals and seven assists. During the COVID-19-shortened 2020 USL Championship campaign, Mentzingen scored thrice for Memphis 901 FC before heading east to sign with Chattanooga Red Wolves SC in 2021. In 50 League One regular season and postseason appearances with the Red Wolves, Mentzingen has racked up nine goals and four assists.
After a professional debut season with Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC in the USL Championship in 2021, Perez proved incredibly productive in his first season in League One with FC Tucson. Perez was tied for the team lead in goals with five and led his side with seven assists – more than quadrupling his combined career goals and assists total entering the season. The Frenchman’s 55 chances created were tied for the second most on the season as the All-League Second Team selection’s season was a bright spot in a largely disappointing campaign for Tucson. Perez moved to the United States to play collegiately at the University of Central Florida. He attended UCF for four seasons, making 50 appearances, and was named to the All-American Athletic Conference Second Team multiple times along with AAC Midfielder of the Year in 2018. Prior to college, Perez spent time within multiple youth systems in his native France, including that of Paris Saint-Germain and ES Troyes AC. While with Troyes, Perez made 33 appearances for the club’s reserve team Troyes II in the Championnat National 2.
Allen Gavilanes | Image Credit: Richmond Kickers
23-year-old midfielder Allen Gavilanes enjoyed a sizeable increase to his production in his second professional season. Following a standout collegiate and pre-professional career at Marist and with New York Red Bulls U-23, respectively, Gavilanes penned his first pro contract with Triumph SC ahead of the 2021 season. Since then, Gavilanes has tallied six goals and eight assists in 59 appearances with Greenville. Gavilanes nearly doubled his goal and assist numbers from 2021 to 2022, and – despite some key departures – Greenville will return all but one of Gavilanes’ fellow joint goal participants.