The 2021 USL Championship Playoffs, presented by TwinSpires kick off this Friday night as 16 teams bid to be the one left standing with the trophy on Sunday, November 28 on ESPN, ESPN Deportes and SiriusXM FC.
Among all of the squads involved are a large contingent of USL League Two alumni, many of whom could play a key role in helping their sides to success this postseason. We’ve picked one from every club, and why you should be watching out for them over the next four weekends.
The 2021 Championship Golden Glove winner, Evan Louro has had a career year for the Tampa Bay Rowdies with 14 shutouts and a goals-against average of 0.74. The former New York Red Bulls U-23 shot-stopper – who went on to begin his career in the Championship with the Red Bulls II – has made more than 50 appearances across two seasons for Tampa Bay, missing only one start for the defending Eastern Conference title holders. If they’re to defend that crown, and claim the Championship Final, he’ll be essential to those efforts.
Additional League Two alumni include: Ian McGrane, Juan Tejada, Matthew Srbely, Zachary Steinberger, and Forrest Lasso
Jake Areman wasn’t a highly-touted prospect when he came out of Monmouth University having also played for the New York Red Bulls U-23s in League Two, but he’s grown into an integral part of the Charlotte Independence’s lineup in his four seasons at the club. Typically playing on the left of Charlotte’s four-man midfield, Areman has made 28 appearances this season and notched one goal and five assists. Now past 80 professional appearances in his career, he’ll take his place in a star-studded lineup that includes the Championship’s all-time leading scorer Dane Kelly and former Premier League winner Christian Fuchs as Charlotte tries to make a deep postseason run.
Additional League Two alumni include: William Bush, Thomas de Villardi, Hughart Shipman-Roberts II, Noah Paravicini, Shalom Dutey, Kevin Riascos, Clay Dimick, Tresor Mbuyu, Jake Areman, and Austin Pack
Five years ago, Russell Cicerone was a standout for the club now known as the Flint City Bucks, earning All-Central Conference honors while helping the club win the league title. Now he’s an established forward with the versatility to score and create in the Championship as he comes off a career-best season in his first year at Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. The 26-year-old Michigan native scored 16 goals and added eight assists in the regular season this year and will be hoping to lead the Hounds to a first trip to the Eastern Conference Final in the club’s history.
Additional League Two alumni include: Christopher Morrish, Daniel Vitiello, Preston Kilwien, Anthony Velarde, Casey Bartlett-Scott, Jacob Leeker, Todd Wharton, and Alex Dixon
There are a handful of players who are synonymous with winning in the USL Championship, and Speedy Williams is one of them. The Jamaican international – who played for Pittsburgh Riverhounds U-23 while at Robert Morris University – has carved out an exceptional career in the professional and international ranks, winning the Championship Final on three occasions and earning All-League honors. After an offseason move to Miami FC, he’s split time between club and international duty this year, but when it comes to the playoffs, Williams is always a player you can rely on in the heart of midfield.
Additional League Two alumni include: Connor Sparrow, Lance Rozeboom, Callum Chapman-Page, Boluwatife Akinyode, Ramon Martin Del Campo, and Christiano Francois
Brazilian playmaker Bruno Lapa shone in his first season in the Championship with Birmingham Legion FC, and while there have been some setbacks this season with injury the former SIMA Aguilas and North Carolina Fusion U23 standout is back and ready to be at his best for Legion FC this postseason. Birmingham will play its first home playoff game this weekend with Lapa joined by an impressive contingent of attacking pieces including Jamaican forwards Neco Brett and Junior Flemmings. If he can pull the strings effectively, it could be a good month for his side.
Additional League Two alumni include: Ford Parker, Jerome Williams Jr, Jake Rufe
Many years, it took the postseason arriving for Brian Ownby to fully come alive. Tied for the most goals in the Championship Playoffs with six in his career, this year the former Reading United AC standout has been fully healthy for a full campaign, and it has paid off handsomely. With 11 assists he finished tied for second in the league and Ownby also notched four goals in 26 appearances. If that’s an indicator of what’s to come, we could have another big postseason coming up from one of its historic part achievers.
Additional League Two alumni include: Simon Lefebvre, Alexis Souahy, Napo Matsoso, Sean Totsch, Christopher Hubbard, and Patrick McMahon
Mark Sebgers was one of the few holdovers from last year’s 901 FC side and this season has shown why the club was so eager to retain him after a loan stint late last season to Los Angeles FC. The former Chicago FC United right back has been a catalyst on the field but also one of the central leaders on the team as it reached the playoffs for the first time. Segbers has done it all this year – even playing as an emergency goalkeeper to preserve a win late against Atlanta United 2 – and he plays with a speed and tenacity that is brilliant to watch.
Additional League Two alumni include: Guiseppe Barone, Mitchell Guitar, Alan Winn, Raul Gonzalez III, Zach Carroll, Kadeem Dacres, John Berner
He might be best known as the player with the massive YouTube following, but Matt Sheldon has shown once again this year that when you strip it all down, he’s an excellent player as well. Making 28 starts and recording 45 interceptions and 39 tackles as well as his first two goals in the Championship, the former Ventura County Fusion player has found a strong niche in Tulsa and has been an essential part of their back-to-back postseason appearances.
Additional League Two alumni include: Daniel Gagliardi, Johnny Fenwick, Leo Folla, Lucas Coutinho, Sean Lewis, Joaquin Rivas, Michael Cunningham, Bradley Bourgeois
Since heading to El Paso prior to the 2020 season, Dylan Mares has been one of the central creative figures for one of the leading contenders in the Western Conference. Recording nine goals, 12 assists and 78 key passes in 46 appearances, the former Chicago Fire U-23 player played in every game as Locomotive FC reached the Western Conference Final a season ago. His ability in open play and from set pieces has been boosted this year by new additions like Luis Solignac and Diego Luna to the attack as the club looks to go at least one step further.
Additional League Two alumni include: Aiden Apodaca, Ricardo Zacarias
Having played for six different teams in his first four seasons in the professional ranks, it felt this year as though Marcus Epps found the right place for his talents to come through at San Antonio FC. A former Second Round MLS SuperDraft selection in 2017, Epps played two seasons for the Chicago Fire U-23 prior to his pro career and this year helped drive San Antonio’s attack alongside fellow winger Jose Gallegos as the two sat 1-2 in dribbles completed in the league (Gallegos 99, Epps 80). That has made Epps a notable attraction for San Antonio’s attack that it will hope can provide postseason success.
Additional League Two alumni include: Jose Mercado, Oliver Wright, Santiago Patino, Sam Gleadle, Chris Lema, Cameron Lindley, Emil Cuello, Justin Dhillon, Connor Maloney, Ryan Roushandel
There’s been no-one that’s had the season Hadji Barry has had in the Championship this year, with the Guinean forward equaling the single season scoring record with 25 goals as he led Colorado Spring Switchbacks FC to its first postseason appearance since the 2016 season. A former player for Orlando City U-23 before the Lions selected him in the First Round of the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, Badji has produced a fine Championship career and now sits just outside the top five in the league’s all-time leading scorers. The Switchbacks are ready to follow his lead this postseason.
Additional League Two alumni include: Zach Zandi, Steven Echevarria, Jordan Burt, James Ockford, and Mathew Mahoney
One of the players to have won both the USL League Two and USL Championship title, former Ventura County Fusion standout Rodrigo Lopez headed to Rio Grande Valley FC as part of the club’s fresh start under Head Coach Wilmer Cabrera. The experience and quality the 34-year-old still brings was in evidence for the Toros as he recorded five goals and six assists in 31 appearances as the club closed the season on a three-game winning streak to reach its first postseason since its inaugural season in 2016. Lopez's experience will be vital again now as he looks to add to the Championship title he won with Sacramento Republic FC in 2014.
Additional League Two alumni include: Wan Kuzain, Kyle Edwards, Emilio Yaza, Baboucarr Njie, Camden Riley, Grant Robinson, and Josue Soto
After coming on strong late in the 2020 season for Phoenix Rising FC assisting others, Santi Moar’s second season at the club has seen him pick up the goalscoring mantle. With a team-high 16 goals as well as four assists as he played every game of the campaign, the former Charlotte Eagles standout has burnished his reputation as one of the top players in the league while leading Rising FC to the best record in the Western Conference. The Spaniard and his teammates will now be looking to add the one piece of silverware they’ve yet to earn in claiming the USL Championship Final at the end of the month.
Additional League Two alumni include: Tobi Adewole, Joseph Calistri, and Aodhan Quinn
After a long career in the top flight both in Major League Soccer and overseas, Dillon Powers returned to the United States midway through the season to link up with Orange County SC and has shown the quality he brings to the field on a consistent basis. A former player for the Austin Aztex in League Two in his home state of Texas, Powers has made 14 appearances and 13 starts since his arrival while recording a 71 percent tackle success rate and 83.6 percent passing accuracy rate in the center of midfield, where he’s served as a solid holding midfielder for opponents to try and get around.
Additional League Two alumni include: Christopher Wehan, Seth Casiple, Sean Okoli, Brent Richards
When it comes to San Diego Loyal SC this season, young South African forward Tumi Moshobane might not be the first name that jumps to mind. While he’s not been a regular starter game-in and game-out – the South African started 18 of the club’s 32 matches in the regular season – he’s made his minutes count with a team-leading 10 goals as well as two assists and 16 key passes to help SD Loyal to its first postseason berth. A former player for the Charlotte Eagles, Moshobane will be hoping to add to those numbers in the coming games.
Additional League Two alumni include: Elijah Martin, Grant Martin, Grant Stoneman, Austin Guerrero, Corey Hertzog, Sal Zizzo Jr., Ebenezer Ackon, Morgan Hackworth, Chase Boone, and Jack Metcalf
In a season of fluctuating lineups as Oakland Roots SC found its level in the Championship, one of the almost constants was Akeem Ward, who defensively held down the left side of the field impressively as the side grew throughout the year. A former Lane United FC and Chicago FC United player in League Two, Ward found his own consistency after first playing for D.C. United, Loudoun United FC and Birmingham Legion FC in his first year before a move to North Carolina FC in 2020. Now on the West Coast, the future is looking bright for the 25-year-old defender.
Additional League Two alumni include: Taylor Bailey, Ben Beaury, Jonathan Rodriguez, Paul Blanchette, Zeus de la Paz, and Quincy Amarikwa