Off the back of announcing the winners of the Championship’s Fans’ Choice Midseason Awards today, it’s time for USLChampionship.com’s John Arlia and Nicholas Murray to weigh in on where the races for each of the individual awards this season stand after a fascinating month of action throughout June.
MURRAY: I’ll be honest, it’s starting to feel a little bit like a two-horse race right now between Tampa Bay’s John McCarthy and Phoenix Rising FC’s Zac Lubin both here and in the race for the Golden Glove. That’s got a lot to do with the teams they play for as well – if your team is having success, then your players are going to be putting up good numbers too – but the interesting thing about Ketterer is that he’s produced an almost supernatural ability to deny opponent’s penalty kicks. The El Paso shot-stopper has saved all three penalties he’s faced this year, and with eight shutouts is right up there outside of goals-against average with the top two.
ARLIA: At the start of June, I said that this was officially John McCarthy’s award to lose. Well, the Rowdies goalkeeper hasn’t fallen off enough to cede the silverware in my opinion, but his and Tampa Bay’s minor blip in form did just so happen to line up with three straight shutouts for Lubin and Rising FC. While Ketterer has been a consistent backstop for Locomotive FC throughout its inaugural season – and as you mention a brick wall on penalty kicks, which could come in handy down the line – I completely agree that this is a two-horse race as we get into the second half of the season. I still favor McCarthy for the time being, but Lubin is starting to gain ground.
ARLIA: The more I look at the numbers, the more impressed I am by what Ken Tribbett has accomplished in the center of Nashville’s defense this season. In the 13 games that he has played, Tribbett has made 101 recoveries, 63 clearances and won 96 duels at a success rate of 71.64 percent, which ranks as the highest among all Championship defenders that have won at least 50 duels this season. Nashville is clearly a different team with Tribbett in the lineup as evidenced by the fact it has conceded more goals (9) in the four games without him than in the 13 games with him (8). I’ve picked Diakite all along and I think he may still have an edge right now since he’s played more games for a better defense, but it’s a close call.
MURRAY: Getting nominated for the Midseason award managed to successfully jinx El Paso’s Bryam Rebellon and Tampa Bay’s Pape Diakite this past weekend, but the numbers say at least for Diakite that’s been a rare mistake this year in the middle of a solid defense. He’s only been dribbled past by an opponent twice this season while playing every minute bar one game, is approaching 100 duels won and recoveries and still leads the league with 103 clearances. We shouldn’t sleep on what Jermaine Taylor is doing in Austin, though, where he has a double-digit lead on his closest rival in interceptions among defenders and has a higher passing accuracy rate than both Tribbett and Diakite.
MURRAY: We’ve got a new Tampa Bay Rowdies player here instead of the still prolific Juan Tejada, but even though Caleb Richards clearly got some help from an enthusiastic Norwich City FC fanbase in winning the Fans’ Choice Midseason Young Player of the Year award there’s some real merit to his overall candidacy. He’s 20 years old, has played every minute of the regular season for a top defense and has made more interceptions that his backline counterpart Pape Diakite with 18 this season. It’s impressive to say the least.
ARLIA: For sure, Richards has a had a fantastic season so far – even to the point where we are starting to question whether he might challenge Diakite as Tampa Bay’s top defender – but I do have a feeling that it might be tough for a defender to win this award. Williamson is currently tied for second in the Championship with seven assists and if he gets a significant run out for T2 down the stretch, his offensive numbers will be hard to deny. The same goes for Hernandez, who seems more likely to stay with Swope Park throughout the remainder of the campaign and added to his impressive goal haul with his seventh of the season last weekend.
ARLIA: The similarities between Collins and Schantz at the top of this race absolutely fascinate me. They both took over their respective clubs early last summer and are leading the conference midway through their first full season at the helm. Both of their teams are sitting on 10 wins and have put together some impressive streaks over the first half of the season (Tampa Bay 13 games unbeaten, Phoenix eight straight wins). The big difference between the two is that Collins has the Rowdies in first in the East after missing the playoffs a season ago, while Schantz’s side was expected to be this good despite significant changes to the roster. It’s nip and tuck, and there’s no doubt that they’re both doing a tremendous job.
MURRAY: In my mind, unless one team runs away with everything this could end up being the most interesting vote at the end of the season because there are so many coaches doing great work with what they have. There’s a certain amount of recency bias to Rennie being on here, but it’s hard to argue with what he’s doing as Indy has the best points-per-game average in the league right now (2.13), a literal fraction ahead of Collins (2.12). Then you’ve got what Troy Lesesne is doing with New Mexico United and Mark Lowry with El Paso Locomotive FC in their expansion seasons and plenty more besides, it’s going to be fascinating what the voters are looking for when the season ends.
MURRAY: When all four of us picked Solomon Asante to win this award in preseason, this was the player we were expecting. No-one had scored seven goals in a calendar month in the Championship before the Ghanaian did in June this season, and you need to go back to May 2018 to find the last player to do so, Ethan Zubak of the LA Galaxy II. With 12 goals and nine assists he’s clearly going to get the double-double he just missed out on last year, and with it has a chance to put himself on the same level as 2014 Most Valuable Player Kevin Molino – now of Minnesota United FC – who was the only player in the league’s history to be both Golden Boot and Assists Champion in the same season.
ARLIA: As much as I enjoy watching my predictions trend positively, I think I’m still in shock about how quickly Asante’s candidacy came to the forefront of our discussion. He wasn’t even an honorable mention on our list less than 30 days ago, but now he’s front and center after going off for seven goals and four assists across Phoenix’s five games this month. Frater and Kiesewetter have been great stories and phenomenal finishers throughout this campaign, but I don’t think this is even as close as the Golden Boot race makes it out to be right now. However, we’ve seen just how quickly things can change, so who knows where we’ll be a month from now.