Climbing the USL Ladder : 5 Players Who Might Take a Step Into the Championship in 2022 (Pt.1)

*Photo Credit: David Silverman

As I’m writing this, news of players re-signing, leaving, and joining new clubs is flying around. I love the hullabaloo in soccer around the transfer market and all the mystery and intrigue it brings. It’s even more exciting in leagues like the USL as many players are on shorter contracts and it makes the merry go round that much more exciting! That brings me to the reason for writing today: there are a lot of players in the league who have great ability who deserve a closer look from a lot of great places, and in particular the USL Championship. Now, to qualify this, I am including players who I think MIGHT make the jump, not who are CAPABLE. I’ll add an honorable mentions article at the end with players who are capable but probably or definitely won’t in 2022. I’ve taken the time to identify five players who I think (and I reserve the right to be wrong) could make the jump in 2022, so be sure to check back over the next week or so to see who all makes the list! (side note: I’d love to add Brandon Fricke from the Triumph to this list because I think it’s a definite possibility, but I refuse to write about it because… what if it comes true? I will NOT allow myself to consider that possibility at this time.)

Goalkeeper: Joe Rice

If you’ve been following USL for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard about the heroics of Joseph Rice, the talented goalkeeper formerly from New England Revolution II. If you haven’t, you probably aren’t reading this because you don’t have social media — or the internet. Joe Rice is definitely a highlight reel goalkeeper, able to do things that you would normally see in a Spiderman movie. In 2021, he won save of the month FOUR times, was nominated for Goalkeeper of the Year, and was on three separate Teams of the Week. He even made an appearance for the Revs first team during their preseason tour.

This man is TALL tall at 6’4″ (or maybe I’m just not tall and confused) which is always a good thing for a goalkeeper to be when it’s used well. Joe is a great shot-stopper with incredible reflexes, anticipation, and he’s able to use that 6’4″ frame as an absolute wall when necessary. As a Greenville Triumph fan, I’m still mad/blown away by his absolute masterclass in October in which he made 9 (NINE) saves in an attempt to keep them in a game. The best way I can describe this is to say he could be considered the embodiment of the phrase “I tried my best” that night. It took a beautiful dead ball delivery from Allen Gavilane and bizarre mix up between Rice and Verfurth in which they basically collide for GVL to break the deadlock in what will remain my one of my favorite goals of the season, solely because of how bizarre it was.

In a team that had the second worst away record in the league, Joe Rice was a bit of fresh air and typically dealt with the added pressure well, having some great games on the road. A couple of notable ones being against the Greenville Triumph and the hard-earned clean sheet at Chattanooga in September. That being said, he wasn’t immune to the bad away game bug that seemed to plague NE in 2021, struggling with errors and discipline when playing away. All of his errors that led to goal (2) and red cards (1) came when the Revs played away from home. The errors came during two of his worst games of the season and might have signified a bit of a clouded mind due to frustration with the situation at hand. Struggles away from home were common in League One (only 3 teams won more than they lost away from home, all of those teams were in the playoffs), but it seemed to adversely affect the Revs II squad.

Credit: USL League One

He wasn’t that great at long balls, with the lowest completion percentage in the league. He made up for it with his total pass accuracy though, helping start the Revs II build up and keeping possession going. You can see above, Revs were another team in League One who liked building from the back. The composure on the ball from Joe Rice helped a lot. On the good side, he was very proactive, running out of his goal to collect loose balls or make saves more times per game than any other starting keeper in the league (had to play at least half the season to be included in the dataset for GKs). He was 3rd best in saves per 90 with 3.2 (2.44 at home, 3.65 away), #1 in clean sheets per 90 among starting keepers, and 3rd best from saves inside the box per 90. He was expected to concede 22.6 goals this season while only conceding 20, making his G-xG total -2.6, the best among starting keepers***.

*** The Toronto FC II goalkeeper situation was a confusing one this season with a lot of players splitting minutes. Caleb Patterson-Sewell had a great season when he did play this year and would have changed these results slightly, but he was two 90s under the requirement to be included in the dataset.

Overall, Joe Rice is a great goalkeeper with a big future. His confidence in front of the goal and with the ball at his feet will take him far. He’s out of a contract and will be looking towards his next steps. At 25, I’m sure he’s ready for an even bigger challenge. That being said, there are likely to be a few L1 teams in need of a good goalkeeper and he might want to stick around for one more season to get a full season under his belt. Who knows but the man himself? We’ll just have to see how it unfolds.

Likelihood of an upward move: 4/5, unless he doesn’t. (that’s how my rating system works, get over it)

One comment

  1. Bill Wilkinson · December 28

    Love the breakdown of Joe’s play. I can speak towards his work ethic when he is home in Fairfax. He grinds!! He wants to be the best he can be in all facets of the game, of course including his fitness, which I have witnessed first hand in his off time. His local friends and fans are rooting for him!! Great young man!!

    Like

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