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The Roundup: 2020 Fans' Choice Awards

By Jack Ryan, Hartford Athletic, 11/13/20, 12:00PM EST

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The cold Connecticut off-season months can feel long without Soccer at Dillon Stadium. With so much going on in the offseason, you need to find a way to stay connected and updated. That’s where we come in! 

Welcome to the first installment of The Roundup! This weekly blog will keep you updated with all things Hartford Athletic, from player interviews and features to much more. The Roundup will also provide you weekly updates on what’s going on around the United Soccer League and the Soccer world in general! 

In this week’s edition, we recap the 2020 Fans' Choice Awards, news from around the USL including a familiar team who won't be in the Championship next season, and a story on Southampton’s early success in the Premier League. 

2020 Fans' Choice Player Awards

The votes are in and the fans have spoken.  

MVP: Danny Barrera

  • The captain, El-Capitan, and Hartford Athletic all-time assist leader, Danny Barrera is your 2020 Team MVP! The silky-smooth left-footed attacking midfield maestro contributed seven assists and two goals, one of which you likely know as the Immaculate Deflection against Philadelphia Union II. Whether it was his flicks around defenders, his pinpoint switches of play, or providing through balls to strikers, Danny was always involved in everything good Hartford did in the final third. As a fan favorite, the Athletic faithful will be hoping to see him with the armband again next season.

Defender of the Year: Sam Strong

  • The last name speaks for itself, Sam Strong proved to be one of the strongest and most reliable defenders for Raidi Jaïdi in the 2020 season. The first year defender earns the fans vote for the defender of the year! Whether he was going in for tackles or clearing with a header, Strong stood up to every challenge. He played on the right side of a consistent back three and provided great cover for the advancing wingbacks. Some fans have even compared his eye for goal to Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos. Sam popped up in the right places and scored two goals this past season. It was a Strong season for the defender from California, and one he’ll be looking to build on in 2021. 

Newcomer of the Year: Parfait Mandanda

  • In a category that saw the largest number of players receive votes, Parfait Mandanda earned the Newcomer of the Year Award from the fans. The 31 year old Congolese made a great first impression on the fans in the first game of the season against New York Red Bulls II. After catching a corner kick, Mandanda launched a punt up the field into the path of Ever Guzmán who rounded the goalkeeper to score Hartford’s first goal of the season. Along with his assist and MOTM performance, Mandanda added 3 clean sheets in 16 total starts. After this season, it is fair to say that fans won’t forget Parfait Mandanda’s name for a very long time.

Most Improved: Gabriel Torres

  • Fans were treated all season long to Gabriel Torres bombing up and down the sidelines and takes home Most Improved Player of the 2020 season. Gabi arrived from Chattonooga Football Club of the NPSL and went from unknown to one of the most recognizable Athletic players. He proved to be a dynamic wingback who defended well and attacked brilliantly. Torres’s marquee moment of the season came in a 2-1 win over Loudoun United. Gabi made one of his trademark buccaneering runs and smashed the ball in for the game-winner! Torres went from breaking into the team to becoming one of the first names on the team sheet and is well deserved of most improved on the season.

Moment of the Year: The Immaculate Deflection

  • The moment of the season was on ESPN, Sky Sports, and other networks all over the world. That moment was non-other than the Immaculate Deflection off of Danny Barrera's right boot. In the 90th minute against Union II, with postseason home-field advantage on the line, Danny Barrera pulled off the stuff of dreams. This goal proved to be crucial as Hartford needed all three points to have any chance at home-field advantage. The goal blew up around the Sports and Soccer media. Social media accounts like 433, FuboTV, Sporf, and NBC Sports all jumped on the sensational goal. This was a moment that Athletic fans will surely never forget. 

Around the USL: 

Three MLS affiliates withdraw from the United Soccer League 

United Soccer League sees an increase in viewership and overall coverage in the 2020 season. 

  • The USL saw a 500% increase in viewership for matches aired on the ESPN+ platform.
  • The USL also saw a 58% rise in local and national media coverage.
  • The USL also increased earned media coverage by 200% since the 2018 season.

Charleston Battery form a partnership with Hibernian FC of the Scottish Premier League 

  • Charleston Battery announced that they have formed a partnership with Hibernian FC. Hibernian FC plays in Edinburgh, Scotland, and is one of the oldest football clubs in the country. 

Around the World:

Partner club Southampton flying in the Premier League 

In the 2020 season, Hartford Athletic and its fans were treated to two great products of Southampton Football Club in England.

Former head Coach Raidi Jaïdi and winger Tyreke Johnson made immense impacts on the pitch and in the technical area. Now, the two are back on the south coast of England and their success in Hartford seems to have rubbed off on the Saints.

Southampton currently sit fourth in the Premier League standings and look like one of the most exciting teams in the Premier League. The Saints are unbeaten in six games and do not look like they are stopping for anyone. After dispatching Newcastle two goals to nil this past weekend, Southampton head into the international break just two points behind league leaders, Leicester City. 

With exciting young players and an energetic manager in Ralph Hassenhuttl, Southampton is worth the watch after the international break concludes. 

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