Halfway through the 2012 USL-PRO season we have seen some great players ply their trade in the American third division. Here is my best starting XI from the first half of the season.
Dennis Chin has 8 goals from 24 shots in 17 games this season, which earns him joint-top place in the goal-scoring charts at this point in the season. The Orlando City hitman has the size to be a target at 6’3″ but also the quickness to turn defenders or run in behind.
On loan from the New York Red Bulls, Corey Hertzog has taking the league by storm scoring 7 goals and adding 2 assists in 9 games so far for Wilmington Hammerheads. That makes for an average of 1 point every 46.75 minutes, just about one half of play. His speed makes him viable in several set ups but his passing prowess and creativity means I want him to have the ball at his foot more as a deep-lying forward.
J.C. Banks has been making the case for league MVP and was a big part of stopping Rochester Rhinos‘ 8 game skid in the beginning of the summer. Banks has scored 4 goals while notching up a league high 8 assists. He’ll line up on the right side of midfield but could switch to the left with the same effectiveness.
Kevin Molino has played across the midfield in his career but always with an attacking mindset. Against Sporting Kansas City, Molino excelled and even managed to score a header in the hard-fought U.S. Open Cup loss. In league play, the Trinidadian has 6 assists, 3 goals, and 18 shots for Orlando City.
Jason Pelletier is a USL veteran currently playing in his fifth season with the Harrisburg City Islanders. Pelletier has 4 assists and 14 shots from midfield so far this year and can give you 90 solid minutes every game.
If you’re looking for a hard-nosed defensive midfielder who’s not afraid of a tackle, it’s hard to look past Shintaro Harada of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. Harada’s workrate through the first 15 games of the season has been unparalleled and in the games I’ve seen him play over the years, not once has the 31 year old Japan-native ever given up on a play.
You can call it a hometown bias, but my first selection has to be central defender Troy Roberts. Roberts leads the lead in minutes played and is the backbone of a Rochester Rhinos‘ defense that has only conceded 14 goals so far this season. The former L.A. Galaxy player has been a force in this league earning Second Team honors in 2011 and Best XI honors in 2010.
Dayton Dutch Lions‘ Mettin Copier is a prototypical central defender. At 6’3″ the Dutchman has the size to compete in the air, evidenced by his two headed goals this season. Also at just 23 years of age Copier has shown improvement so far this year despite his team’s poor record.
Colin Falvey has found success wherever he goes in U.S. soccer. He won titles with Wilmington in 2009 and Charleston in 2010. The Ireland-native can play in the middle or on the right and has seen 1350 minutes of action this season for Charleston Battery.
Though he has played in midfield before, Luke Boden plays as a left back for Orlando City this season. The 23 year old Englishman was part of the club’s Championship winning team in 2011 and has featured in every minute of the season for Orlando in 2012.
Both Rochester’s German goalkeeper Kristian Nicht and Charleston’s Andrew Dykstra are tremendous players. However only one of them can be named to the mid-season starting XI. Let’s compare the stats, then… On goals against, Dykstra beats out Nicht (7 GA in 13 games to Nicht’s 11 GA in 15 games). They are tied for shutouts at 7 a piece. Nicht has made 20 more saves than Dykstra (62 to 42). Nicht edges Dykstra in wins, 9 to 8 (although he’s played two more games) but Dykstra prevails in Goals Against Average 0.538 to 0.733.
It is with a heavy heart that I have to award the mid-season starting goalkeeper spot to Andrew Dykstra of Charleston Battery.
Reserves: First and foremost, Kristian Nicht would make quite the formidable back-up goalkeeper. The German shot-stopper hit the ground running by collecting 6 straight shut-outs to start the 2012 USL-Pro season.
22 year old center back Shane Johnson has performed above expectations in his rookie year with Richmond Kickers. The Virginia native played every minute of Richmond first 8 games of the season and has even picked up a goal so far this season.
Rochester’s Danny Earls has the ability to play as a left back, central midfielder, and right midfielder but his natural position is on the left wing. Earls has 2 goals, 3 assists, and 19 shots in 2012 since re-joining the Rhinos from MLS side Colorado Rapids
Charleston Battery has a tremendous midfield duo in Jose Cuevas and Nicholas Patterson. This tandem has been a big reason for Charleston’s success in 2012. Cuevas has registered 8 goals and 3 assists while Patterson has amassed 8 goals and 2 assists.
Bright Dike has impressive numbers too, 6 goals in 9 games for L.A. Blues on loan from Portland, and can hold up the ball well as a target forward.
Antigua’s Peter Byers has proven his ability in recent months. Byers has notched 3 goals and 3 assists in league play for Antigua Barracuda FC but also scored a goal against the United States in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying in June.
Do you disagree with any of these picks? Who would you select in their place? Sound off in the comments.