How important is MLS experience in the USL?

As we explored Tuesday, Nashville SC’s currently announced roster includes three MLS veterans, including two — goalie Matt Pickens and defender Kosuke Kimura — with significant top-flight experience.

It’s common sense that a strong veteran presence would bode well for the team in its inaugural year of play. But how has MLS experience helped previous title-winning USL teams?

Let’s take a look!

2017 USL Champions: Louisville City FC

Louisville used the services of three players who had spent time with major top-level teams, two of them in the MLS. All three players were significant sources of offense, and all will return for the 2018 season.

MF/F Brian Ownby

  • MLS Experience:Houston Dynamo: 29 matches from 2012-14, 0 goals
  • 2017 season:7 goals (3rd on team)
    • 4 assists
    • 2nd in shots
    • 1st in fouls won
  • Analysis:Ownby had a venti-sized cup of coffee in three seasons in Houston but failed to contribute mightily to the team’s success. However, he contributed mightily in Louisville last year, appearing in 33 games (with 23 starts) and serving as an offensive catalyst.

F Cameron Lancaster

  • Top-Flight Experience:Tottenham Hotspur: 1 match, 27 minutes
  • 2017 season:8 goals (2nd on team)
    • 1 assist
  • Analysis:Lancaster has never played in the MLS, but we included him by virtue of his (very) brief play with Tottenham Hotspur. He wasn’t consistent top-flight material in England, but he contributed heavily to Louisville’s success last season. In fact, his 88th-minute goal (videoclinched the USL Cup over Swope Park. Lancaster scored the second-most goals on the team and will be back in purple to haunt defenses again in 2018.

MF Paolo DelPiccolo

  • MLS Experience:Montreal Impact and New England Revolution: No first-team action
  • 2017 season:1 goal
    • 4 assists
    • Second in passes
  • Analysis:DelPiccolo never got into an MLS match, but he’s another four-A (to borrow the baseball term) player who is well-served in the second tier. DelPiccolo was a durable distributor for the champions, starting all but one of his 31 matches and only coming off three times. Paolo ranked fifth on the team in key passes, pouring in four assists.

2016 USL Champions: New York Red Bulls II

The only reserve side to win a USL title, RBII benefited from the services of nine of its parent squad’s players. Included in that group: RBII’s top two keepers, its leading goal scorer (Brandon Allen) and its assists leader (Derrick Etienne). Three of the team’s top six goal scorers also spent time with the MLS side. Needless to say, MLS experience was vital for RBII.

2015 USL Champions: Rochester Rhinos

The pride of Upstate New York win the 2015 Cup using the services of only two players with MLS experience: midfielder Alex Dixon (13 games with Houston) and defender Grant Van de Casteele (1 appearance in Colorado). The duo had modest impact on the Rhinos: Dixon sent in two game-winning goals (and three total goals) in 15 appearances, and Van de Casteele played nearly 2,000 minutes, scoring one goal.

2014 USL Champions: Sacramento Republic

Sacramento debuted in style in 2014, winning the USL Cup after finishing the regular season with the league’s best record.  They benefited from their affiliation with the San Jose Earthquakes, using eight players with MLS experience. Three of the team’s four leading scorers were former MLS players or current players on loan from San Jose. So was starting keeper Jake Gleeson, who started 20 matches and earned 6 clean sheets while on loan from the Portland Timbers, for whom he had played four matches in 2011.


Of the past four title winners, two had a significant number of players with MLS experience and three counted top-flight vets among their team leaders. However, very few of those players had seen major time in the top flight before leading their USL teams to titles — nothing like what Matt Pickens and Kosuke Kimura bring to Nashville this season. Most were MLS prospects or “four-A” players caught between the first and second tiers — similar to Justin Davis, not established veterans with many years in the league.

Therefore, it stands to reason that Nashville will rely heavily on its three MLS veterans, especially the two with major rings on their top-flight trees. If the Boys in Gold can compliment that experience with dynamic young talent, the Roadies and Assembly will have a lot to sing about in 2018.

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