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One League Two alumnus to watch from every USL Championship team

By Staff, 03/09/23, 3:30PM EST


As the Championship season kicks off, familiar faces are likely to make an impact

2022 USL Championship winner Mitchell Taintor (Real Boston Rams, 2015) celebrates with San Antonio FC. | Photo courtesy Darren Abate / San Antonio FC

This year, every USL Championship team has a player that spent time in USL League Two at some point in their careers. Some are new faces to the Championship, while others are experienced veterans. As we prepare for another USL Championship kickoff weekend, here are the players you can expect to make a difference when watching them on ESPN+ starting March 11.

To qualify for this list, a player only needed to appear in USL League Two competition at any point before making their way to USL Championship.

Birmingham Legion: Diba Nwegbo

Forward - Vermont Green FC, 2022

Diba Nwegbo signed with Birmingham Legion on March 9, making him the most recent League Two alum to move to the USL Championship ranks. He led the Green in goals in 2022, providing moments of pace, technical ability and an electric ability to find himself in front of the net. The rookie will hope to make an immediate impact for the Legion.

Charleston Battery: Emilio Ycaza

Midfielder - GPS Portland Phoenix, 2018

Ycaza is a dynamic, do-everything midfielder that's going to be pushing towards the century mark in USL Championship appearances this season. The 25-year-old got 9 goal contributions last year from the middle of the park, while also putting his work in defensively.

Colorado Springs Switchbacks: Zach Zandi

Midfielder - Reading United AC, 2018

Zandi and Aaron Wheeler both hail from Reading United AC, nearly a decade apart. Now, they play as teammates for the Switchbacks. Zandi's coming off a career year for Colorado Springs, more than tripling his shots on target count from the 2021 season in only about 400 more minutes. The attacking midfielder added goal production to his toolbox, and at age 26, he's looking to expand it further.

Detroit City FC: Nathan Steinwascher

Goalkeeper - Michigan Bucks, 2013-15

Nathan Steinwascher's expertise between the sticks is well-documented - last year, he was called into action with over 120 shots on his net. He made 92 saves, several of the spectacular variety, and will be key to Detroit City's hopes in the upcoming season.

El Paso Locomotive: Ricardo Zacarias

Forward - Albuquerque Sol FC, 2015

El Paso's lone League Two alumnus, Zacarias was a playmaker extraordinaire for Locomotive FC in 2022. He gave them seven assists from the front last season in his 30 appearances, with 27 big chances created over the course of the season.

FC Tulsa: Bradley Bourgeois

Defender - Houston Dutch Lions, 2013

Bourgeois is set to lead out FC Tulsa's side once again, a decade after he did the same for Houston Dutch Lions. The center back was busy in 2022, clearing the ball nearly 70 times for Tulsa as they fought through the Championship season.

Bradley Bourgeois with FC Tulsa in 2022. | Photo courtesy Trevor Ruszkowski / Indy Eleven

Hartford Athletic: Luke Merrill

Defender - Salt City SC, 2022

One of the newest additions to the USL Championship ranks, Merrill enjoyed a successful season for Salt City SC. When Merrill appeared in the League Two side, they went 3-2-0 in the Mountain Division, including an important 3-2 win over Flatirons Rush. Without him in the team, they went 1-4-2 with a -5 goal difference.

He'll be looking to make a difference in his first run in USL Championship.

Indy Eleven: Aodhan Quinn

Midfielder - Seattle Sounders U23, 2013

Newly acquired from Phoenix Rising FC via an offseason transfer, Aodhan Quinn is a long-standing staple in the USL Championship. Quinn last put on a First Team All-League season in 2021, and is hoping to restore that form in Indianapolis this season.

Las Vegas Lights FC: Marcelo Lage

Defender - Boston Bolts, 2022

Our second rookie on the list, Lage is the second player in a row to join Las Vegas Lights FC after a successful season with Boston Bolts in League Two. Teammate Tyler Bagley also came from the Bolts in 2021. Lage will be hoping to make an immediate impact for the Lights in 2023.

Loudoun United FC: Dane Jacomen

Goalkeeper - West Chester United SC

Jacomen only started one match for Loudoun last season, and saved two of three shots put on his net. He'll be expected to be second choice goalkeeper again this season, but he'll continue to hone his game and push for an opportunity.

Louisville City SC: Sean Totsch

Defender - Chicago Fire U-23, 2013

Could it have been anyone else? Three consecutive seasons of USL Championship All-League First Team honors, Totsch is set for another dominant season in Kentucky, with sights on another deep run in the playoffs.

Sean Totsch with Louisville City FC in 2022. | Photo courtesy Em-Dash Photography / Louisville City FC

Memphis 901 FC: Aaron Molloy

Midfielder - Reading United AC 2016-18

Molloy was one of the most dominant players in the Championship last season, qualifying for his first All-League team alongside teammate Phillip Goodrum. He tied for second in the league with 10 assists and posted 72 chances created while winning 206 duels at a success rate of 64.4 percent

Miami FC - Mark Segbers

Defender - Chicago FC United, 2017

Segbers was a critical piece of the defense that helped Miami FC along to a playoff position last season. He won 35 tackles at a 67% success rate, made 45 clearances and 44 interceptions. He'll be looking to make another big impact this season.

Monterey Bay F.C. - Sam Gleadle

Midfielder - Albuquerque Sol FC, 2017

Gleadle scored eight goals in the 2022 season and added three assists from midfield in Monterey Bay's first season in USL Championship. He'll be looking to grow his own star as well as Monterey Bay F.C.'s when he takes the field this season.

New Mexico United - Chris Wehan

Midfielder - Seattle Sounders U23, 2014

After a historic season in 2017, Wehan continued with repeated successful seasons, and has been with New Mexico United since the club's first season. Last season, he put in nine goal contributions for the Western Conference side. The 29-year-old can now consider himself a veteran, and will be relied upon to make a major contribution.

Oakland Roots: Project 51O

Various positions - Project 51O, 2022

After the successful first season in USL League Two from Project 51O that saw them qualify for playoffs despite one of the youngest rosters in the league, a mass influx of talent comes to the Roots. Seven players from the League Two affiliate 2022 squad have registered as a member of the Roots this season, including youngsters Damario McIntosh and Javier Bedolla-Vera. Ones for the future, but a project to watch.

Orange County SC: Brent Richards

Defender - Portland Timbers U23, 2010

Richards passed 150 appearances in USL Championship at the end of last season, and the 32-year-old fullback will be pushing for many more. He's one of the remaining players from the elite 2010 Portland Timbers U-23 squad that won the USL League Two playoffs. Richards won Most Valuable Player that season.

Brent Richards with Orange County SC in 2022. | Photo courtesy Liza Rosales / Orange County SC

Phoenix Rising FC: Baboucarr Njie

Defender/Midfielder - Wake FC, 2019

Njie played nearly 2,000 minutes for Rising in 2022, with 14 90-minute shifts. He made 21 key passes and won two penalties, always in the mix for Phoenix. He'll be looking to continue to grow on the defensive end, where he was successful on 61% of his tackles.

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC: Joey Farrell

Defender - New York Red Bulls U-23, 2015

The Riverhounds have added eight League Two alumni in the last two seasons, but it's their acquisition of Joseph Farrell that makes an immediate impact for Pittsburgh. The defender played over 2,600 minutes for Phoenix Rising last season, putting in 100 clearances, 58 interceptions and a blistering 71% tackle success rate at the back.

Rio Grande Valley FC: Jonathan Ricketts

Defender - Dalton Red Wolves, 2019

An extremely active and involved full back, Ricketts completed more than 900 passes for the Toros last year, with 48 tackles won and 15 key passes. Only 25 years old, there's still room to grow, and he'll be hoping to make good on that on both ends for his second season in the Championship.

Jonathan Ricketts with RGV Toros in 2022. | Photo courtesy Christian Inoferio / Rio Grande Valley FC

Sacramento Republic FC: Danny Vitiello

Goalkeeper - Long Island Rough Riders, 2018

Known for his heroics in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, Vitiello's back in Sacramento and hoping to secure his place as one of the best shot-stoppers in the league. He saved 73.3% of attempts on his net last season, and conceded less than a goal per match in his 25 starts.

San Antonio FC: Mitchell Taintor

Defender - Real Boston Rams, 2015

The 2022 Defender of the Year and First Team All-League selection, Mitchell Taintor was the most valuable player on the defending league champions last season. He won over 60% of his duels, added five goals, and logged over 3,000 minutes. He's back for more in San Antonio after one of the most productive seasons anyone could hope to have.

San Diego Loyal SC: Evan Conway

Forward - Ventura County Fusion, 2019

No doubt Conway was cheering on the Fusion as they lifted their second League Two title in 2022, and the forward is looking to build on a successful first season in USL Championship. Nine goals after a title-winning season with League One's Union Omaha means Conway has found success everywhere he's been. The 25-year-old will be looking to continue his rise in 2023.

Tampa Bay Rowdies: Lewis Hilton

Midfielder - Ocala Stampede 2014-15

Part of the Rowdies since the start of the 2020 season, Lewis Hilton played all but 133 minutes of Tampa Bay's season in 2022. He had eight goal contributions from the midfield, with 56 key passes, 31 tackles won and 34 interceptions. The Rowdies' play ran largely though Hilton, and he'll be looking to have a similar impact in 2023.

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