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2023 Season Preview: Top Forwards

By ETHAN TRIEBSCH -, 03/15/23, 12:30PM EDT


League One to retain bulk of productive forwards from season ago

With the league set to retain 72% of its forward-based goal-scoring production from a season ago, a handful of familiar names will certainly grace the scoresheet in 2023. The league will also welcome a pair of USL Championship standouts in Dane Kelly and Steevan Dos Santos, whose 131 combined goals account for nearly 3% of the league's 4,771 goals scored since its inaugural 2011 campaign.

Elsewhere, league legend Emiliano Terzaghi will aim to claim an unprecedented fourth-consecutive MVP award, former Tottenham Hotspur FC man Kazaiah Sterling will look to help Tormeta FC defend its crown, and the pair of North Carolina-based clubs will hope to see production from an impressive collection of attackers in the Independence's trifecta of Khori Bennett, Dane Kelly and Tresor Mbuyu and NCFC's daunting duo of Garrett McLaughlin and Oalex Anderson.

Did we miss anyone? Let us know which forwards are going to have the biggest impact on your favorite club at @USLLeagueOne.

Emiliano Terzaghi, Richmond Kickers

Was there ever any doubt as to who would top this list? The first player in American outdoor professional soccer history to be named Most Valuable Player in three consecutive seasons is back in Richmond to extend his unreal production at City Stadium. Emiliano Terzaghi – the league’s all-time leading scorer by a wide margin – returns to RVA for his fourth season after the three-time Golden Boot winner became the first player in league history to score 10-plus goals in three or more seasons. Prior to arriving stateside, Terzaghi developed in the youth ranks of Argentine Primera División’s Club Atlético Banfield. Terzaghi would go on to make 24 appearances for el Taladro, accumulating a combined five goals and assists across the second and youth teams. The Argentine forward also made a pair of brief stops with then-top-flight side Club Atlético Temperley and later Club Atlético Boca Unidos.

Kazaiah Sterling, South Georgia Tormenta FC

Tormenta FC’s All-League forward enjoyed a career renaissance in Statesboro with a club-record 13 goals in just 23 regular season appearances and led the league with a combined 22 goals and assists across regular season and postseason play. The former Tottenham Hotspur FC forward provided an attacking spark to help South Georgia to a 2022 USL League One Final victory via his Final MVP performance. Sterling’s 17 combined League One regular season and playoff scores not only are ninth all-time but also position him behind only Ricardo Pepi with a 0.81 goal per 90 minutes mark (min. three goals). The North London native made his professional debut in the UEFA Champions League at 19 years and 27 days old, making him the youngest Spurs player to appear in the European tournament. The former England youth international regularly appeared for the Tottenham U-23 side and has made over 100 appearances in European competitions including the UEFA Champions League, the Emirates FA Cup and the Premier League 2, among others. Sterling also spent time on loan with EFL League One sides Sunderland AFC and Doncaster Rovers FC and EFL League Two side Southend United.

Garrett McLaughlin, North Carolina FC

Nearly doubling his career goal total from two previous professional seasons, McLaughlin finished second in the Golden Boot race with 14 goals for NCFC. McLaughlin’s 14 scores were the most for NCFC since Daniel Rios scored 20 goals for the club in the 2018 USL Championship season. The All-League First Team selection led the League in expected goals (12.55) and led all forwards in duels won (151), fouls won (72) and clearances (16). McLaughlin enters his second season in Cary following time with Rio Grande Valley FC (2020) in the USL Championship and Toronto FC II in USL League One (2021).

Tresor Mbuyu, Charlotte Independence

Referring to Tresor Mbuyu’s stellar 2022 campaign simply as a ‘breakout season’ hardly does it any justice. In the 26-year-old Congolese attacker’s fourth professional season and third in Charlotte, Mbuyu exploded for 11 goals and eight assists in 27 league appearances. In an exceptional turnaround season, Mbuyu averaged a goal or assist every 116 minutes for Charlotte in 2022, compared to averaging just one score or helper every 436 minutes during the first three seasons of his career. The April 2022 Player of the Month and two-time Player of the Week served as a difference maker all season long, recording the best goals-added mark from shooting (0.73) and second-best goals added mark (3.01) in the league according to American Soccer Analysis. 

Irvin Parra, Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC

Veteran USL Championship forward Irvin Parra scored 12 goals in his first season with the Hailstorm to record his third season in either the USL Championship or USL League One with 10 or more goals. In addition to scoring or assisting three match-winning goals, Parra racked up the third-highest combined expected goals and expected assists mark (14.30) this season. Parra’s career took the Inglewood, Calif. native to Europe where he recorded 18 goals and nine assists in 102 appearances for lower-tier German sides FC 08 Homburg, SVN Zweibrücken and 1. FC Kaiserslautern II between 2012 and 2016. From Germany, Parra joined the Seattle Sounders FC organization where he recorded a combined 16 goals and assists in 26 appearances for the Tacoma Defiance and made two starts for the Sounders’ senior team in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. From Seattle, Parra went on to suit up for Orange County SC, Las Vegas Lights FC, San Diego Loyal SC and the Charlotte Independence, accumulating 32 goals and 14 assists amongst the clubs from 2017 to 2021.

Oalex Anderson, North Carolina FC

Oalex Anderson | Image Credit: North Carolina FC

Rounding out one of the league's most potent attacking duos alongside Garrett McLaughlin, Oalex Anderson exploded for a career-best seven goals and four assists in 2022. Anderson and McLaughlin's combined 21 goals were the third-most by a pair of forwards in league history, only trailing the title-winning tandems of Ronaldo Damus and Ricardo Pepi (North Texas, 2019) and Evan Conway and Greg Hurst (Omaha, 2021). Additionally, Anderson's mark of 2.70 goals added on the season was the most across his position group, according to American Soccer Analysis. Anderson joined NCFC in 2022 following a season with the Richmond Kickers, where he made 31 appearances during the 2021 season, collecting five goals and three assists. Between 2015 and 2016, Anderson made a combined 34 appearances with Major League Soccer side Seattle Sounders FC and its USL Championship affiliate Tacoma Defiance, claiming MLS Cup 2016 in the process. Anderson has also represented his native Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on the international stage. Since registering his first cap with the senior national team in 2014, Anderson has logged 31 appearances for the Vincy Heat, scoring 15 goals across World Cup qualification, Concacaf Nations League, CFU Caribbean Cup qualification and international friendly play.


  • Christian Chaney, Forward Madison FC
    • Flocking across the country from Fresno to Madison, Christian Chaney was one of just nine players to record double-digit goals in 2022 and led the league in goals added from receiving according to American Soccer Analysis. Averaging over 11 goals per season since 2021, Chaney has a real shot of topping Madison’s single-season scoring record of eight goals. 
  • Steevan Dos Santos, Union Omaha
    • 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.
  • Khori Bennett, Charlotte Independence
    • After impressing as a preseason trialist, Charlotte signed the 25-year-old forward to his first professional contract ahead of the 2022 campaign. Just one of a handful of breakout stars for Charlotte, Bennett totaled 11 goals and four assists and earned Player of the Week Honors after tallying his first professional hat trick against Fuego FC on July 29. 
  • Jacob Labovitz, Greenville Triumph SC
    • Following a standout collegiate career at Farleigh Dickinson and Virginia Tech, Labovitz signed his first pro contract with Greenville ahead of the 2022 season. In the span of 12 matches between May and July, Labovitz exploded for 11 goals and two assists, earning Player of the Week honors in Week 16. Labovitz’s five-goal Week 16 not only saw the 24-year-old bag his first professional hat trick, but it also marked the highest-scoring week a player has recorded in league history.
  • Dane Kelly, Charlotte Independence
    • 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. Dane Kelly has 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. 
  • Noe Meza, Union Omaha
    • Noe Meza was one of the league’s most consistently productive first-year professionals a season ago. In his debut campaign, Meza led 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.



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