The pandemic heavily disrupted the 2020 USL Championship season. The final was cancelled, multiple teams folded, and the league became a mess. But following an offseason of change, the second tier of American soccer is back! With the new campaign underway, now is the perfect time to look at the best USL Championship players in 2021.
Dane Kelly – the Championship’s all-time leading goal scorer – may have left Charlotte Independence earlier in the year, but there are still plenty of star names to discuss. Join me as I look at the top players in the USL Championship in 2021.
Junior Flemmings – Birmingham Legion
- Age: 25
- Position: Forward
Since joining the league back in 2016, Junior Fleming’s has always been viewed as one of the USL Championship’s top players. But last season, the Jamaican took his game to another level.
The pacey forward clinched the Golden Boot in 2020, netting 14 goals in 14 matches for Phoenix Rising. At the end of the campaign, he swapped Arizona for Alabama – teaming up with Birmingham Legion. Best known for his blistering pace and technical control, Fleming’s is a key player for his country. In fact, he started all five games for the Reggae Boyz at the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Fleming’s’ goals helped Phoenix reach the Championship final last year, but the pandemic denied him the opportunity to fire his team to glory. Without a doubt, Birmingham supporters should hope that he can bring the same kind of success to BBVA Field this year.
Solomon Asante – Phoenix Rising
- Age: 30
- Position: Winger
It’s impossible to talk about the best USL Championship players in 2021 without mentioning the league’s reigning MVP.
Oh, and let’s not forget that he was also named 2019’s Most Valuable Player.
Among a host of other things, Solomon Asante has been the Championship’s king assist over the past couple of years. After notching up 17 assists in 32 games in 2019, the Ghanaian winger topped the assist leader board for a second season running in 2020 – posting nine.
Asante has been a revelation since arriving from Africa in 2018. If he continues to shine for Phoenix in 2021, he is destined to break even more records.
Forrest Lasso – Tampa Bay Rowdies
- Age: 27
- Position: Centre-Back
You don’t win two Defender of the Year awards without being a good player, right?
Forrest Lasso picked up the first of his two accolades back in 2018, guiding FC Cincinnati to a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference. Last year, he emulated his achievements as Tampa Bay made it to the Championship final. The giant central defender was a rock at the heart of the Rowdies’ backline last year, helping his side finish with the second-best defensive record in the East.
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Lasso led the Championship with 86 clearances in 2020. He also won 61.6% of his duels and 66.3% of his aerial duels – and even managed to score three goals for his troubles!
Arguably the best defender in the league, there is absolutely no denying that Lasso is one of the best players in the USL Championship in 2021.
Mathieu Deplagne – San Antonio FC
- Age: 29
- Position: Right-Back
100+ Ligue 1 appearances? Check. Minutes in the UEFA Champions League? Check. Two full MLS seasons in the bank? Check.
I know what you’re thinking – this guy sounds overqualified for the second tier of American soccer.
Eyebrows raised when FC Cincinnati decided to release Mathieu Deplagne at the end of the 2020 campaign. After all, the Ohio expansion team needs all the defensive help it can get.
Given that French right-back Deplange has over a century of appearances for Montpellier HSC under his belt, it’s safe to say that Cincy’s loss is San Antonio’s gain.
Augustine Williams – LA Galaxy II
- Age: 23
- Position: Forward
Having finished just one goal shy of Fleming’s on the Golden Boot leader board last season, Augustine Williams is pretty unlucky to have missed out on an MLS contract with the Galaxy this year.
That said, fans of the USL Championship will be more than happy to consistently enjoy Williams’s skills.
The Sierra Leone native chalked up 13 goals and two assists in 16 outings last term, scoring almost 45% of his team’s regular-season goals. He showcased his talents with back-to-back braces against Las Vegas Lights and netted a double against Orange County.
If the 23-year-old continues to flourish for the Galaxy’s reserve team, don’t be surprised to see him starring in Major League Soccer in the not-too-distant future.
Devon Williams – Miami FC
- Age: 29
- Position: Central Midfield
It is difficult to think of many players who have enjoyed the kind of success that Devon “Speedy” Williams has experienced in the USL Championship.
Now at Miami FC, Williams – who has 12 Jamaica caps to his name – will be hoping to add to his impressive silverware haul in Florida.
The 29-year-old possesses all the right attributes to be a dominant force in the centre of the park. His passing is always on point, he chips in with goals, and you’ll always find him at the top end of the leader board when it comes to metrics like tackles, interceptions, and duels.
You simply can’t leave Williams out of the “top USL players in 2021” conversation.
Cameron Lancaster – Louisville City
- Age: 28
- Position: Forward
A product of the Tottenham Hotspur academy, Cameron Lancaster learned his trade alongside guys like Harry Kane. Of course, the Englishman hasn’t quite hit the heights of his former teammate. But his USL Championship record speaks for itself.
As you can see, Lancaster’s output means he has been one of the USL Championship’s best players for many years.
Unsurprisingly, the striker won the 2018 Golden Boot, having netted a phenomenal 25 goals in 30 matches. His efforts also saw him break the Championship record for most goals in a single season that year.
During another standout campaign in 2020, Lancaster’s exploits saw him reach the 50-goal milestone in regular-season USL matches – achieving that feat in just 111 appearances.
Needless to say, the record-breaking Louisville forward is set for another big season in 2021.
Jose Gallegos – San Antonio FC
- Age: 19
- Position: Attacking Midfield
The Championship’s 2020 Young Player of the Year award was respectively won by Sporting Kansas City graduate Wilson Harris. However, nobody would have been shocked if Jose Gallegos scooped the prize.
The former USL Academy starlet enjoyed a stellar breakout season for his hometown club, San Antonio. Not only did he rack up two goals and three assists, but he also created 23 chances. No other SAFC player created more last term.
On top of that, Gallegos completed 41 dribbles – the second-most in the entire league. The Texan spent two weeks training with German giant Bayern Munich earlier in the year, underlining his outrageous dribbling ability and undeniable maturity.
He returned to San Antonio for the 2021 USL Championship season, but it feels as though his big transfer is just around the corner.
Hayden Sargis – Sacramento Republic
- Age: 18
- Position: Centre-Back
Along with Gallegos, Hayden Sargis was a finalist for the 2020 Young Player of the Year award. At just 18 years old, the 6ft centre-back slotted seamlessly into Sacramento’s backline last season and quickly adapted to the professional game, despite having no previous experience at senior level.
Sargis ended up featuring in all but two of the Republic’s 16 regular-season matches in 2020, posting some impressive numbers in the process. He finished the campaign with 46 clearances, 15 interceptions, and six blocks.
With stats like that, it is hardly surprising that Sacramento head coach Mark Briggs has already tagged Sargis as a potential future captain for the club. The teenager is already one of the best USL Championship players in 2021 – and he is only going to get better.
Evan Louro – Tampa Bay Rowdies
- Age: 25
- Position: Goalkeeper
In 80 appearances for New York Red Bulls II, Evan Louro only managed to keep 14 clean sheets. During his debut season at Tampa Bay, the former US U20 goalkeeper achieved eight shutouts in 19 matches.
With Lundt now at FC Cincinnati, Louro is arguably the best shot-stopper in the league.
Louro played a pivotal role in the Rowdies’ run to the final last term. The team finished the regular season with the second-best defensive record in the East before Louro added another shutout to his tally in the playoffs. The 25-year-old was on the fringes of the Red Bulls’ first team a couple of years ago. If he continues to make waves in Florida, he could soon find himself on the radar of other MLS clubs.
That concludes my take on the best players in the USL Championship in 2021. The second tier of American soccer has been producing high-quality players ever since its inaugural season back in 2011, with many of the leading performers going on to sign with MLS clubs. Who knows? Maybe some of the top USL Championship players in 2021 will earn themselves a transfer to Major League Soccer soon.