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.
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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.
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.
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).
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.
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 | 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.